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11 money-saving fuel economy tips

Consumer Reports News: June 21, 2012 10:23 AM

With school being out and summer having officially arrived, it is time to curb the pain between fill ups and spend your money on things that are more fun than petroleum. Below are some proven tips to help you spend less at the pump.

Compare prices. Some GPS navigators and smart-phone apps let you size up local gas prices from your car. We recently reviewed GasBuddy and found the free application to be a useful means for comparing local prices. It's very quick and easy to use. We found that prices at independent stations can be lower for what is often the same gasoline used in name-brand stations, but sometimes it's formulated without additives advertised to "clean" your engine.

Pass on premium gas. If your car is designed to run on regular gasoline, as most vehicles are, don't waste your money on premium. It won't make your engine run any better, and the only real difference you're likely to see is about 20 cents more per gallon. To find out if your car needs top-grade gas, check the owner's manual, or fuel-filler door. If premium is "required," then stick with it. If premium is "recommended," then it is optional. Peak, at-the-limit performance may decrease, but it is not likely to be noticeable to the typical driver.

Reduce drag. Don't add to your car's aerodynamic drag by carrying things on top of the roof or hanging off the back of your vehicle if you don't have to. When we installed a large car-top carrier on our Toyota Camry, gas mileage dropped by a notable 6 mpg when we drove at 65 mph. Ski season is over; take off the unused rack. And even though kayak season is in full swing, remove the carrier when not in use.

Tire inflation. In our tests, we found fuel economy is reduced when tires are not inflated to where they should be. Check your tires' pressure and top off as needed when they're 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.

Skip the gas-saving gadgets. After testing several devices that were claimed to improve fuel efficiency, we have yet to find one that provides a significant difference in gas mileage or acceleration. And we're not alone. The EPA's website lists scores of such devices that the agency tested, with similar disappointing results.

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, including recent Garmins, have an "Eco" function to factor fuel consumption into its route plans.

No idling. There is no need to warm up your car or keep it 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.

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.
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.

Watch your speed. The faster you drive on the highway, the worse your gas mileage will be. We saw fuel economy in our tested Camry drop 5 mpg when we increased our cruising speed from 55 mph to 65. Driving at 75 mph cost an additional 5 mpg.

Drive smoothly. Avoid hard acceleration and braking when possible. In our Camry, for example, frequent bursts of acceleration and braking reduced fuel economy by 2 to 3 mpg.

For more gas savings tips, see our video below and check out our guide to fuel economy.

Debunking fuel-economy myths
Survey: High gas prices motivate drivers to change direction

Jeff Bartlett

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