Getting Better Mileage

Over the past two weeks, the price of gasoline has risen about two cents a gallon. The first price hike of the summer comes just as families are hitting the road for one last summer adventure.

But it's possible to conserve gas and save yourself a lot of money in the process by making a few changes in your driving and car maintenance habits. Robert Sinclair from The American Automobile Association has a few suggestions on The Saturday Early Show.

In its July/August issue of Car & Travel, AAA tallied up the most common and costly "little things" that waste gas. To calculate how much money each bad habit burns, they assumed that cars get 25 miles per gallon and that drivers pay $1.35 a gallon.

However, AAA's newest numbers say the average price of gasoline stands at $1.41. People are paying about six cents more than the number originally cited by AAA. And, if you drive an SUV, you only get between 17 and 20 mpg, not 25. In short, the average amount of money wasted by each of the below bad habits probably errors on the low side.

None of the gas-wasting habits may come as a surprise to you, but the amount of money wasted may be an eye-opener.

Ragged-Running Engine: $540
Dirty or misfiring spark plugs, bad oxygen sensor or other bum components can cost you a whopping $540 a year in wasted gas.

"An out-or-tune engine - one that runs rough, accelerates poorly, hesitates or fails an emissions test, for example - consumes far more gas than a well-maintained one. Old spark plugs can reduce fuel economy by 30 percent; a faulty oxygen sensor can cut it by 40 percent." (Car & Travel)

Solution: Take your car in for a tune-up as directed by the manufacturer. This is something many people like to put off - financially, that decision could cost a bundle.

Hard Driving: $500
Hard driving means screeching to a halt or accelerating quickly from a dead stop. Such "overly spirited driving" can knock anywhere from five to 33 percent off fuel economy. Speeding is another component of hard driving.

"On the highway, speed bleeds gas - and dollars. Think of it this way: for every five mph increment you travel above 60 mph, you're paying about 10 cents more per gallon." (Car & Travel)

Solution: Anticipate changes in traffic flow so you can ease into stops and starts. Steady speeds save gas; use cruise control when possible.

Overpaying For Octane: $100
Less than 10 percent of cars on the road actually require "premium" gas but 20 percent of all gas consumed is premium. That means a lot of people are paying at least 17 cents more per gallon than necessary. Premium gas does not improve fuel economy or boost power ... so don't think you're squeezing something "extra" out of your engine when you spend more on gas. Thanks to so many technical advances, only high-performance vehicles (meaning high-end BMWs or Mercedes) really need high-octane gas.

Solution: Read your owner's manual and only use premium gas if the manufacturer specifically calls for it. Some older cars may also need a gas upgrade.

"If you have an older car and regularly hear a sound like marbles inside a tin can (especially when you accelerate or climb hills), try 89-octane mid-grade." (Car & Travel)

Under-Inflated Tires: $90
Logically, the rounder the tire, the less energy it requires to roll. So get pumped up! According to Goodyear, even tires that are only 4 to 5 psi (pounds per square inch) below recommended inflation pressure reduce gas mileage by ten percent. Four to five psi is a very, very small number; you definitely could not tell that your tires needed air just by looking at them.

According to Sinclair, 60 to 70 percent of people drive around on tires that are not properly inflated. This one is also a safety concern - tires not properly inflated are more prone to blowouts.

Solution: Check your tire pressure frequently. Once a week is ideal; once a month should be the minimum.

Nonessential Cargo: $5
This one doesn't cost you much money, but it is a gas-waster that doesn't occur to most people. And, if you chronically use your car as a "half-way house" or storage facility, the money can add up. Those golf clubs, baseball equipment, lawn fertilizer or box of books slows you down and eats into your wallet. This is something that especially important to keep in mind when packing for a road trip. Every 100 pounds of weight reduces fuel economy by two percent.

Solution: Use your garage for storage, not your trunk.