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Kate on Cars April 2012 - Forming Simple Habits = Saving Money on Gas


Kate on Cars April 2012

Forming Simple Habits = Saving Money on Gas

by Kate Jonasse

As I write this, gas prices in California average $4.34 per gallon – second only to Hawaii at $4.47 per gallon. In this article, I've narrowed down some practical gas-saving tips that anyone can use to save a bunch of cash without any gimmicks or radical lifestyle changes.

Step number one to getting better fuel mileage is to track it. Here are two ways to track your fuel mileage:

Rely on your car's average fuel mileage display. If your vehicle has one, you'll find it somewhere in or around the dash.

Calculate it the old-fashioned way. To do this, fill up your tank at the gas station and immediately record your vehicles mileage. Drive normally until your next fill up is needed. Fill up and record the mileage. Take the differences in mileage and divide by how many gallons you just put in the tank. Voila! Your vehicle's average fuel mileage, and your starting point.

Step number two is to try one or more of the tips below and repeat the calculations to see if you're getting better mileage over time. There are tons of gas-saving tips out there for the reading, but I know that for me, having a look at the numbers provides a sense of reality. Here are some of the more potent tips:

Tip #1 – Stop driving like a banshee.

Aggressive driving may be common, but it eats up fuel. In general, the less you step on the gas pedal, the less fuel is used. Remember to be safe, though, and speed up quickly enough when you're entering a freeway on-ramp. Drivers who change their habits to more moderate driving reported an average savings of 31% - this can save you $1.45 per gallon at California's present fuel prices! Rule of thumb – accelerate slowly when it's safe, and plan ahead so you can brake lightly.

Tip #2 – Think tortoise, not hare.

Like it or not, driving slower is one of the top ways to reduce fuel consumption. Substantial savings can be had on long trips. Studies show that every 5 miles per hour driven over the 60mph costs you an extra $.35 per gallon.

Tip #3 – Use your cruise.

Using the cruise control eliminates you from “messing” with the gas pedal ever so slightly while you drive. Slight movements of your foot can end up costing you $.30 per gallon. Don't try this in hilly terrain, though, or else the transmission might shift too much and cancel out the mileage-saving effect by trying to keep your speed steady.

Tip #4 – Keep you car in tip-top shape.

Avoiding that tune-up can cost you $.17 per gallon on average. Bigger problems, like a bad oxygen sensor, can cost you a whopping $1.74 per gallon – no kidding! That's a good reason not to ignore that check engine light – the fuel you burn (not to mention the potential catalytic converter damage) could be more than the cost of a prompt repair!

Tip #5 – If you’re not moving, turn the engine off.

Some hybrids do this automatically – shut the gas engine off at stop signs. A good rule of thumb is, if you're in your vehicle and not going to move for at least a minute, then shut the engine off. This can save you $.82 per gallon depending on how much you idle.

Things that matter but not as much as you may think:

1. Tire pressures. Low tire pressures are a serious safety issue that could cause a blow out and loss of control over your vehicle. For every 1 psi low your tires are, it's probably only costing you about a penny per gallon. Not enough to break the bank.

2. Air-conditioning vs. open windows. A/C compressors put a load on the engine and can cause more fuel to be burned. But open windows increase wind resistance or drag on a vehicle. So in many cases this drag reduces fuel mileage as much as running the A/C with the windows closed. That means go ahead and run the a/c and be comfortable.

3. Engine oil viscosity. Lower numbers generally equal thinner oil. Using a 10W-30 weight oil when your engine calls for a 5W-30 can cost you $.09 per gallon. Using too thin or thick and oil can damage your engine, so check your owner's manual or consult your trusted repair shop about the right oil to use, whether you're topping off or doing your own oil changes.


Combining some of these driving tips can save you nearly 40% on your fuel costs, depending on your starting point. Developing a few good simple good car habits can save you hundreds or even thousands per year. Consult your friendly auto repair shop for more tips on how to get better fuel mileage. Or email me with your questions – I'd love to help.