August 27th, 2009 1:30 AM by Korene L Clopine-Seaman
WITH GAS PRICES edging ever higher, it's little surprise that many would-be vacationers plan to postpone their road trips this summer and even this fall and winter.
"This is basically a price issue," says Mike Pina, a spokesman for AAA, which predicts that fewer drivers will take to the road throughout the summer months. "Consumers are stuck with high fuel prices, higher airfares — which are due to higher fuel prices — and a softening economy."
For those who still plan on braving the highways, the usual tactics — shopping around for cheaper gas1 or using a gas rewards2 credit card — will prove much less effective than in years past. Instead, the only way drivers will see any substantial fuel savings is to stay on top of their car's maintenance and start driving more conscientiously.
"You can't control prices at the pump, but you do have some control over how much fuel you use," says Rozanne Weissman, a spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy. The nonprofit recently launched the Drive Smarter Challenge3, a web site that helps consumers figure out how much they can save annually, just by changing their driving habits. "When you add these seemingly small things together, it adds up to hundreds of dollars in savings."
A potential $733 from now until Labor Day, in fact, if you try everything on my list:
(Note: Unless otherwise stated, my calculations for each example assume the car stays true to its advertised average mileage per gallon, will be driven 4,500 miles over the 16-week summer period — mileage amount is calculated based on Edmunds.com estimate that the average person drives roughly 15,000 miles per year — and that the price of gas is $3.80 a gallon. Estimates of fuel economy and savings come from research by the Federal Trade Commission, FuelEconomy.gov, the Alliance to Save Energy and Edmunds.com.)
Prime Your VehicleThanks to normal wear and tear, cars become less fuel-efficient over time. And while it's impossible to alter your car in a way that would increase its fuel economy beyond the manufacturer's estimated mileage per gallon — the Environmental Protection Agency has tested and dismissed hundreds of products that claim to do just that — you can get your car back in top-notch shape and maximize its fuel efficiency. Here's what you can do and how much you can save:
Check your tires: $29Under- or overinflated tires change the way a car handles, both adding drag and accelerating wear, says Weissman. That, in turn, reduces fuel efficiency by 3.3%, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Look at your driver's side door panel or owner's manual to find out the proper inflation for your tires and make sure to check the pressure at least once a month. Over the course of 4,500 miles of summer driving, a 2008 Acura RL owner could save $29.
Forgo premium fuel: $86Unless you drive a Dodge Viper or other high-end sports car that lists premium fuel as a requirement in its owner's manual, you should use regular unleaded gas, says Phil Reed, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com4. "[Premium fuel] boosts engine performance, but not fuel economy," he says. "The savings in price would be far greater." Someone in California, for example, filling his 2008 Saab 9-3 weekly with $3.98-a-gallon unleaded (87 octane) instead of $4.31 premium (91 octane) would save $86 over the course of the summer.
Get a tune-up: $129"Maintaining your vehicle is one of the most important things you can do to aid fuel efficiency," says Shruti Vaidyanathan, principle vehicle analyst for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. A faulty engine can reduce fuel economy by 4%, for example, while a clogged air filter knocks off about 10%, according to FuelEconomy.gov, a Department of Energy-sponsored site. Fixing up a 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan before driving 4,500 miles over the summer saves $129.
Change Your BehaviorDriving responsibly is the key to reaping some of the fastest and most substantial gas savings, says Reed. But only if you practice these driving behaviors consistently. Here's how:
Slow down: $95If you speed, you might as well be paying $4 a gallon (or more) for gas. Every five miles per hour you drive above the speed limit adds 20 cents per gallon to your fuel bill, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. A 2008 Mazda CX-7 owner who consistently drives 10 miles above the speed limit over 4,500 miles of summer driving, for example, will pay an extra $95. Don't trust yourself to stay within the limit? Use cruise control.
Combine errands: $107Cars use much more energy for cold starts (i.e; when the car hasn't been driven in a couple of hours and the engine is cool), says Vaidyanathan. In fact, making several cold-start trips, say, to the store, the dry cleaners and the babysitter, will consume twice as much fuel than if you combine errands and make them all in one run, according to FuelEconomy.gov. An owner of a 2008 Ford (F5) Focus, who combines 10 errands (each requiring 10 miles of driving) into two weekly trips could save $107 over the course of the summer.
Let go of your aggression: $95Rapid acceleration and hard braking reduce fuel economy by about 10%, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Pushing your car to the limit constantly burns more fuel than maintaining a steady speed. It also adds to wear and tear. A 2008 Jeep Liberty owner who drives 4,500 miles at steady speeds without riding the brakes could save $95 over the course of the summer.
Pack light: $17Hauling a cargo carrier, kayaks or other gear on top of your car decreases fuel economy by about 5%, according to FuelEconomy.gov. "They affect your car's aerodynamic performance and adds drag," explains Jim Kliesch, senior engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environment-focused nonprofit. Overpacking the trunk doesn't help, either. Every 100 pounds of added weight reduces fuel economy by about 2%, reports the Federal Trade Commission. By packing two 50-pound suitcases instead of four, and foregoing the rooftop cargo carrier, the owner of a 2008 Chevrolet Impala could save $17 over the course of a 1,300-mile road trip.
Swap vehicles: $25If you have more than one vehicle, drive the more fuel-efficient one, advises Kliesch. "Don't discount even a small difference in miles per gallon," he says. It adds up over time. A family splitting 4,500 summer driving miles 80-20 between a 2008 Honda (HMC6) Accord and 2008 Honda CRV instead of 50-50 could save $25 in gas.
Look for gas incentives: $150To help lure in visitors, hotels and tourism boards are offering incentives7 to help offset travel costs such as discounted room rates or gas station gift cards. Hotel chain Best Western is offering $25 with any two-night stay through Dec. 14. Yet more offers stem from individual chain properties, or bed and breakfasts. Spend your week's vacation at the High Haven House Bed & Breakfast Inn8 in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and get a gas card for $75 to $150, depending on where you're from. Someone driving a 2008 Toyota Prius from Atlantic City, N.J., could get there and back on about $64 in gas, reaping an $86 profit on the gift card offer.
Have a Safe and Enjoyable driving experience!