With apologies to any and all excellent drivers younger than 20, auto shop teachers have this straightforward advice for motorists who want to save money on gasoline:
“Stop driving like a teenager.”
Translation: Avoid sudden stops and starts. Don’t drive aggressively. Slow down.
The return of $4-a-gallon gas has renewed interest in fuel-efficient cars and also called attention to money-saving driving techniques -- things that didn’t seem to matter so much when gas had tumbled to more-affordable levels during the recession and its aftermath.
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It’s a given that buying a fuel-efficient car makes greater financial sense when gas costs a lot.
Consider, when gasoline costs $4 a gallon, a hybrid that averages, say, 45 mpg and is driven a typical 15,000 miles a year will cost $1,333 for fuel during that year.
A conventional compact car that gets 25 mpg will cost $2,400 for gas to cover those same miles -- $1,067 more than the hybrid.
And covering the same ground in an SUV that gets 15 mpg would cost $4,000 for fuel -- $2,667 more than the hybrid, and $1,600 more than the compact.
The differential explains why smaller cars helped drive automakers to improved sales during April as oil and gas prices were surging.
Beyond trading in your car for something smaller or more efficient, there are many tried-and-true methods for getting every possible mile out of every gallon of gas, no matter what kind of car you drive.
The solutions aren’t exciting, but taken together they can make a big difference -- hundreds of dollars per year in fuel savings.
Each 5 miles per hour you drive over 60 mph is like paying an extra 24 cents per gallon for gas, when gasoline is selling at $3.96 per gallon, according to the government’s fueleconomy.gov.
“Think about sticking your hand out the window at 30 mph and sticking your hand out the window at 70 mph,” said Ted Bohn, a research scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory in Lamont, Ill., and an adjunct engineering instructor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “There’s a lot more force on your hand. That’s the same force that your wheels have to push the car forward, and it goes up exponentially” at higher speeds.
Slowing down a bit also can keep an engine running at its most efficient level. Pushing it harder costs more.
Check your tires
An underinflated tire is going to have more rolling resistance. If you have four tires that are severely underinflated and you air them up, you could save yourself quite a bit of fuel.
Change the oil regularly
With today’s computer-controlled engines, using the proper oil is important. Each engine is designed to run on a designated oil.
Don’t haul extra stuff
Golf clubs, extra weight that you added for more traction in the winter, the landscape blocks you bought over the weekend then forgot about -- all can hurt gas mileage. Manufacturers have realized this, and are making lighter cars.
Additional pointers from fueleconomy.gov:
n Avoid excessive idling: “Idling gets 0 miles per gallon,” the site points out.
n Use cruise control: “Using cruise control on the highway helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas.”
n Plan and combine trips: “Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.”