Originally created 05/24/04

Good question

How can I save money on gasoline?

Q. I plan to take several long driving trips this summer. With gas prices so high, I'm afraid I'll need to spend a fortune to fill my tank. Is there any way to save money on gas?

A. It's going to be hard to completely avoid spending a lot on gas this summer. Still, experts have some tips to help stretch each gallon for a few extra miles.

One of the most common pieces of advice is to make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure. The American Automobile Association says a car's fuel economy is diminished by half a percent for every pound of air pressure below recommended levels.

"Riding on underinflated tires is like driving with a parking brake partially on," said Rich White, spokesman for the Car Care Council, an auto industry group.

Going a long time between tuneups can be even worse. An untuned engine can burn as much as 50 percent more gas than it should, according to AAA. Make sure worn-out spark plugs and old air filters are replaced because both waste gas, experts say.

Driving foolishly is another big gas-waster.

The U.S. Department of Energy says aggressive driving can cut your car's fuel efficiency by up to 33 percent on the highway, costing as much as an extra 49 cents a gallon.

And a lead foot may cost you more than just the price of a speeding ticket: Every five miles-per-hour above 60 mph is the equivalent of paying an additional 10 cents per gallon, according to the DOE.

Letting your car idle for long periods is another no-no - it can burn more gas than restarting the car's engine, according to AAA.

Using cruise control and overdrive when appropriate can also save gas, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

When it's time to fill up again, AAA recommends using regular unleaded gas, rather than premium, unless you're driving certain sports cars or high-end luxury vehicles that require it.

"Usually, (premium gas) is not necessary," said Jim Rink, of AAA Michigan. "The key thing is to always check your owner's manual."

After you fill up the tank, make sure you tighten the gas cap. About 147 million gallons of gas vaporize each year because 17 percent of vehicles have damaged, missing or loose gas caps, according to the Car Care Council.

There is also some obvious advice: If you have more than one car, take the one that gets better gas mileage. A Department of Energy Web site, fueleconomy.gov, can help you compare mileage.

Thorough planning of trips and routes - and combining errands into one trip - have obvious advantages too.

Also, travel light and avoid putting luggage and car-top carriers on the roof, since they reduce the aerodynamics of your car.

"I would say, when in doubt, leave it out when you're packing. An extra 100 pounds can cut fuel economy by a percent or two," said White of the Car Care Council.

One unsettled question is air conditioning. Though your car may burn more gas with it on, there's a long-standing debate over whether or not its effects are worse than the extra drag caused by driving with the windows down.

"While air conditioning may suck up gas, there are some other things you can do (to save gas) and have a much more pleasant vacation with it on," said White.

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