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10 tips to improve fuel economy and save money on gas

Consumer Reports News: March 08, 2011 01:18 PM

Gas prices have been rising steadily by double digits in recent weeks around the country, and they now average $3.52 a gallon nationwide. Gas prices hit the second largest one-week increase last week of 19 cents since the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) began tracking prices at the pump in 1990. The only week that had a larger increase was in September 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. However, we are still below the all-time record of $4.11 a gallon that was recorded on July 7, 2008.

One factor for this large jump is attributed to the crisis in Libya, which supplies about three percent of the oil used in the United States. The top five oil importers are Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Venezuela, which account for 72 percent of the total oil imports used in America. The EIA suggests there is a 35 percent chance that the average retail price for regular gasoline could go higher than $3.50 a gallon this summer, with a 10 percent chance that it could exceed $4.00 per gallon.

This summer may not be a repeat of the summer of 2008 when gas prices rose over the $4.00 mark, but motorists do need to be prepared if it does happen. While one option is to buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle or alternative-fuel car, there are a number of ways to save money on gas on your existing vehicle.

Here are 10 tips you can do to save money at the pump:

  1. No idling. There is no need to warm up your car or keep your car running while waiting for passengers. The general rule-of-thumb is to turn off your car if you know you’ll be stopped for more than 30 seconds. Don’t worry about the starter, it is designed for multiple, repeated starts.
  2. Keep your tires properly inflated. In our tests, we found fuel economy is reduced when tires are not inflated to where they should be. Do this when the tires are cold (before the vehicle has been driven or after no more than a couple of miles of driving). Use the inflation pressure recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer, not the maximum pressure embossed on the tire’s sidewall. The recommended pressure is usually found on a placard on a front doorjamb, in the glove compartment, or in the owner’s manual.
  3. Slow down. Slowing from 75 to 55 mph boosted gas mileage 33 percent in testing performed on a family sedan and a large SUV.
  4. Be a smooth operator. Avoid hard acceleration and braking whenever possible. In our tests, frequent bursts of acceleration and braking reduced mileage by 2 to 3 mpg on a Toyota Camry we tested. Once up to speed on the highway, maintain a steady pace in top gear.
  5. Combine trips. Avoid making multiple short trips or try to combine all errands into one trip. If you can, avoid rush hour as sitting in traffic burns more gas and emits more pollutants.
  6. Drive light. Reduce the amount of cargo you have in your vehicle--clean out all the useless junk in the trunk--and take off your roof rack when you’re not using it. This will lighten your load, reduce drag, and aid fuel economy.
  7. Ride share. Carpool to work or ride with other families to school or sporting events. Better yet, ditch the car altogether and use public transportation or bike/walk to do errands or get to work.
  8. Skip gas-saving products. In our tests of some gas-saving products that promise better fuel economy, including Fuel Doctor and Fuel Genie, we have not found any that work. Simply put: Don’t waste your money.  
  9. Check your route. With GPS systems, it is now even easier to track traffic and choose alternative routes, but keep in mind that traveling at a consistent speed without many stops or traffic lights is best for fuel economy. Some GPS devices have an “Eco” function to factor fuel consumption into its route plans. 
  10. Track gas prices. There are a number of smart phone apps such as Gas Buddy and AAA’s Tripik  that will help you find the cheapest gas in your area.

For more on saving fuel and to find the best cars for fuel economy, see our guide. Also, check out our special section on alternative fuels to learn about fuels of the future including hybrids and electric cars such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.

Liza Barth and the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center

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