Saving Fuel Becomes More Important

Photo by Dave Kunz

Hardly anyone reading this needs to be told that gas prices have risen at a rate normally only seen in the Gulf States right after a devastating hurricane. Most days last week, the numbers on those big signs jumped overnight, as much as 20 cents in one instance.

The situation is supposed to be temporary, but obviously people who chose a fuel efficient car in recent years are a little better equipped to deal with the sticker shock. If, for example, you drive a car that can manage 40 miles per gallon (many hybrid and even some non-hybrids can achieve this), even this huge price increase is only running you an extra $5-6 for 200 miles worth of driving.

The Automobile Club of Southern California has just published its 2012 Green Car Guide, obviously planned as a resource for being a little gentler to the environment. But “green” also translates to “fuel efficient” in most every case, so their new publication is also helpful in finding a car that’ll maximize each gallon.

If you happen to be in the market for a new car, it can be a big help, available to Club members in print form or to anyone via their web site. We’ve seen a trend in recent years of people seeking to improve their fuel economy, and cars overall are more fuel efficient than they were five years ago.

But what if you need to keep the car you have; can it be a little more fuel efficient? Of course. You just need to start paying attention to your driving habits. The Auto Club says the things that’ll work best are to slow down, drive smoothly, and accelerate more gently.

The web site Edmunds.com agrees, and even has results from tests they’ve run over the years, doing back-to-back comparisons on several types of vehicles. Some of the advice we’ve been given over the years works, and some actually doesn’t help much.

First up: driving gently instead of roaring away from every intersection with your foot on the floor. The testers at Edmunds found that this could improve your gas mileage by as much as 37 percent in some cases, and an average of 31 percent in the vehicles they tested.

The same goes for driving the speed limit, instead of tempting fate and exceeding it. Traveling at, say, 75 miles per hour instead of 65 can really waste fuel. Edmunds’ testing revealed that keeping speeds at the posted limit saved an average of 12 to 14 percent.

Along those lines, using cruise control on a long drive can save you 7 to 14 percent, says Edmunds. Yes, your car is smarter than you when it comes to applying the throttle smoothly and maintaining speed.

But not every tip you may have heard actually works. Edmunds editors put the old “turn off the a/c and open the windows” trick to the test. (The conventional wisdom was also that it was better to keep a/c on when traveling the freeways, as the airflow into the open windows was worse on mileage than the air conditioner working.) In the end the difference either way was negligible, so stay comfortable and leave the air on if you like.

Finally, it’s been drilled into our heads that improper tire pressure is a big fuel-waster. As it turns out, when Edmunds actually did the testing the difference was only about 1-3 percent. Obviously you still need to keep your tires properly inflated for safety reasons as well as tire wear, so don’t just ignore them.

Most folks were probably taught these little tips over the years, especially every time gas prices started rising rapidly. But when the price goes back down, it’s likely that those old fuel-wasting habits start creeping back in to our driving. Put them to use, and that pain at the pump might hurt just a little bit less.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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