Saving gas: Don't forget the rental car

Consumer Reports News: July 21, 2011 08:38 AM

With gas prices at all time highs, you're probably looking to cut your fuel costs. But your personal car isn't the only one you should think about. There's also the rental. Whether you're going on vacation, moving, or renting a vehicle for any other reason, here are some gas-saving measures you can take.

• Don't rent more car then you need. Rental companies often offer promotions for free or low-cost upgrades to larger vehicles. Before you bite, consider the impact on mileage. Do you really need a bigger car, minivan, or SUV? Check federal mileage estimates on various vehicles. While your actual mileage probably will differ, the federal estimates are good for comparison.

• Check the tire pressure. When one of our staffers recently rented a Toyota Corolla, the rental company assured him the tires had been set to their proper pressure. But when he checked, he found that each of the tires was a few pounds too low. Our tests showed that dropping tire pressure by 10 pounds reduced highway mileage by one mile per gallon. And the wrong tire pressure can lead to tire failure or otherwise affect vehicle safety. Set the pressure to the manufacturer's recommendation, which typically is found on a sticker in one of the door wells or in the glove box. Try to check when the tires are cold, which means when they're out of direct sunlight and haven't been driven more than a few miles in the past few hours; otherwise the reading may be too high.

• Familiarize yourself with the vehicle. It wasn't until he was nearly half way on a trip from New York to Chicago that one of our staffers realized his rented Camry was in third gear, instead of overdrive, a waste of fuel.

• Get online. When traveling, you likely won't know which gas stations are the least expensive. Stations near highways tend to have higher prices. If you'll be online during a trip, check gas-price websites. Some, such as, offer free apps for your smart phone. If you don't have online access from your car, see if a rest stop has a wi-fi hotspot that you can use with your laptop.

• Don't drive erratically. Driving at a steady speed and avoiding hard accelerations and stops improves gas mileage. Using cruise control can help. So find out if the rental is equipped with that feature.

• Don't speed. For most vehicles, once you exceed 60 mph, fuel efficiency begins declining dramatically.

• Avoid weight. Every 100 pounds of weight reduces gas mileage by around 2 percent. So don't pack more than you'll need. And try to avoid carrying anything on top of the vehicle, which can create mileage-reducing drag. When we installed a large car-top carrier on a Camry in our tests, gas mileage dropped by six miles per gallon.

• Fill 'er up. Don't forget to refill the tank before returning the car. Otherwise you'll pay the rental company a premium to do it for you. We've seen companies charge as much as $8 a gallon. If the tank is not full when you get the car, make sure the current level is noted on the rental agreement and refill the car only that much. Keep the gas receipt just in case you need to proof. Or use your cell phone camera to take a picture of the fuel and mileage gauges together. Some rental companies offer a fuel-purchase option that lets you pay in advance for a full tank refill at a price based on local stations. But you won't get any credit for gasoline that's in the tank when you return the vehicle.

For more gas-saving tips, read our story on And visit our Guide to Fuel Economy.

Anthony Giorgianni

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