Originally created 05/01/06

Tips save gas, ease pain in neck



Like most of you, I've developed a crick in my neck lately from driving past gas stations. Every morning and every evening, I glance over to see how much the prices have gone up that day - and some days I have to do a double-take.

The real pain in my neck, though, comes from actually stopping at the pumps and trying to fill up without going bankrupt.

My car isn't a gas guzzler, but it burns enough to worry me. Unlike my previous car, it has six cylinders instead of four, an automatic transmission instead of a manual, and is heavier, taller, and more brick-shape. Still, its EPA rating is 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg highway.

Normally, I get 26 or 27 mpg on the highway, but on one leg of a recent trip to a wedding, I drove 130 miles on four gallons of gasoline. My basic math skills tell me that was 32.5 mpg.

That number tells me one of two things happened: It was jet fuel I pumped into my tank, or else Aaron Clements knows what he's talking about.

Mr. Clements, a co-owner and technician at C&C Automotive in Augusta, was the guest speaker at a recent training session at my newspaper office called Lunch 'N Learn. While we ate, Mr. Clements told us how to care for our cars, respond to an accident and, best of all, save fuel using five inexpensive tips.

His talk came two days before my trip, and I used his tips that weekend. Here is some of what he said and how I put it to use:

1. Keep tires inflated to the proper pressure. Properly inflated tires are harder, so they roll easier, overcoming more friction. When pumping them up, don't use the pressure listed on the sidewall; that's the maximum the tire will hold. Instead, go by the number in the owner's manual or on the label stuck to the car's doorsill or the glovebox lid.

I keep a portable pump in my car; it's powered through the cigarette lighter. I also keep a tire gauge. When I left on that trip, my tires were at the exact 30 pounds per square inch my car requires.

2. Check the engine's air filter and replace it if necessary. It's simple to uncover the filter and remove it. If it looks filthy, spend $4 or $5 on a new one. If a flashlight won't shine through the filter, it's too clogged to keep.

I had already checked my filter when I changed my oil that week, so I was ready.

3. Use the cruise control whenever possible. No one can drive as efficiently without cruise control as with it, Mr. Clements said. Drivers tend to goose the gas pedal or hit the brakes too much, making the engine rev up and then down. Cruise control keeps a steady pace, conserving fuel.

I used my cruise control whenever I wasn't in a city or in heavy traffic.

4. Take weight out of the trunk. Weight, along with such things as inertia and speed, is fuel economy's enemy. Remove those sacks of dirt, cases of soft drinks, sports equipment and anything else you don't need that day.

I was ahead of Mr. Clements on this one. I have a small crossover utility vehicle, and I already had removed the back-seat bottom cushions so I could fold the seat backs and have a flat surface for our suitcase, dress clothes and other stuff. In fact, I rarely keep the seat cushions in my vehicle unless I know I will be carrying more than my wife and me.

5. Take it easy. Newer cars don't need to warm up; just give the engine a few seconds to build up oil pressure, then drive away. Avoid jackrabbit starts and brake-squealing stops. Accelerate slowly, get up to speed and stay there. When you approach a stop sign, red light or congested traffic, ease off the gas and coast; that saves gas and brakes. If you think that will make you late, get on the road a bit earlier. What's the hurry?

I believe this tip is the one that boosted my mileage the most. On our trip, I left in plenty of time to get to the wedding. I drove mainly in the slow lane and at the speed limit (I've read that the most fuel-efficient speed is between 45 mph and 55 mph). I kept my eye on the signs and lights ahead so I didn't have to stop so much.

Mr. Clements' tips worked for me, so I plan to keep following them. I recommend them to you, too, until the price of gasoline becomes affordable again, and that could be a long, long time.

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.