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Improve Fuel Economy

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When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, it was immediately apparent that America had suffered a tragedy of epic proportions. The impact of this destructive storm would reach areas of the country far away from the coastline, and most of America would feel the wrath of the storm immediately through higher gas prices.

Business was basically shut down along the coastline in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The effects of this storm were so far reaching, it's impossible to even briefly address them, so we'll deal with just one small part of it that has a major impact on everyone: the petroleum industry. Gas. Oil. (We could also say "Black Gold, Texas Tea," but then we'd sound like the beginning of a popular sixties television show!) The stuff that heats our homes and makes our cars move. And the cost of buying this stuff has been on the way up. Big time. In part due to Hurricane Katrina, in part due to strong demand, and in part, perhaps, to corporate greed. Who knows exactly why, but it's no secret that the big oil companies have been making almost unbelievable record profits every quarter, so they must be making A LOT of money on a gallon of gas.

At any rate, that's another article. Here are some tips on what you can do to save gas, which will keep more money in your pocket, reduce your energy usage, and help you get the most mileage out of every gallon of gas.

Leave your car at home. This is pretty obvious, but it bears mentioning. If your car is sitting, it isn't using gas. Save the car for important trips where there isn't any other way to get there. Use public transportation where available, carpool with others, ride a bike, or walk. Bike riding and walking are good for you, and they're the best thing you can do for the environment as well. Try it, you might like it.

Combine trips. Do everything you need to do all at once. And try to time your trip so that it isn't during peak traffic times, as increased idling is a waste of fuel. Cars run richer at idle, which wastes gas. Exhaust emissions are also higher after a cold start and during periods of idling. Plan trips during off-peak driving times, if possible. Determine where you need to go, the best way to get there, and map it out ahead of time to avoid back tracking, which is a waste of time and gas. Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so eliminate the side trips and stay focused on where you need to go. And park the car and walk inside the bank, dry cleaner, or fast food place instead of idling at the drive thru window.

Maintain your car properly. Check tire inflation, front end alignment, make sure your air filter is clean, be certain your emissions equipment isn't overdue for a check up, and check on when the last tune up occurred. These things combined can cut your fuel efficiency drastically, so they are very important. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance, which takes more horsepower to overcome. Bad alignment also creates resistance, as the tires aren't hitting the pavement squarely, which creates drag, premature tire wear, and an unsafe vehicle. A dirty air filter can cause a rich fuel mixture, which is a waste of fuel and can be detrimental to your engine over the long term.

Emissions control components can really wreck fuel economy, as well as cause performance and reliability issues for your vehicle. Make certain these items are serviced and/or replaced on schedule, as the cost goes up the longer you put it off. A loss of 1 or 2 miles per gallon adds up quickly, and over time you've easily spent what it would have cost to do the repair in the first place.

Clean out the trunk or cargo area. Many people needlessly carry around extra weight they don't need to. All of which uses additional power to move and stop your vehicle. This costs you money. If you don't reasonably anticipate the need to carry something around with you, don't. An extra can of tire inflator and sealer for emergencies is fine, but do you really need to lug around heavy tools, or those boxes of garage sale stuff you just had to have? How about all that soccer equipment for the kids? Less weight = better mileage. Look at it this way: if you were going to go on a long hike and you were wearing a back pack, you wouldn't load it up with a lot of heavy things you aren't going to need, would you? Then why do that in your car?

Modify your driving habits. This is one of the top two things you can do to improve efficiency and your overall mileage. Accelerate smoothly, anticipate the need to slow down, and remove your foot from the gas to allow the vehicle to decelerate some on its own.

Avoid quick acceleration, slow and steady is best. Think smooth. Imagine there's a raw egg between your foot and the gas pedal. Don't break it, be gentle. This good advice has been offered many times over the years, and it's still one of the best things you can do as a driver to improve your gas mileage. Constantly speeding up, slowing down, then speeding up again is a HUGE waste, and you will pay dearly for this bad driving habit at the pump! You really aren't saving any time by rushing, as statistics show you don't arrive at your destination much earlier than you would have if you'd taken it slower, so you might as well relax and not get stressed out over it. How often do you see another car fly by and disappear in the distance ahead, only to catch up to them at the next light? Trust us, statistically you're going to gain maybe a minute or two, but you drastically increase your chances of being in an accident or getting a moving violation ticket, which drives up your insurance costs as well as your blood pressure. It's just not worth it!

Watch your speed. Not only do higher speeds use more fuel, they also increase resistance, which creates the need for additional power to move your vehicle. The amount of time gained driving 65 mph vs. 55 mph is marginal, but fuel costs go up about 15 percent for that extra 10 miles per hour of speed. And if you travel 70 mph instead of 55 mph, costs go up even more—around 21 percent—and that's a lot!

The cost of keeping your cool. Air conditioning is considered a necessity by many today, and in some areas of the country it's dangerous to your health to not have it. Its use reduces mileage by several miles per gallon, depending on your vehicle, but in hot temperatures it can be wise to forego the fuel savings in favor of your health. In moderate weather, open air vents or set HVAC controls to admit outside air, and keep in mind that on some cars, the compressor runs whenever the controls are in any position other than vent.

Rolling down windows creates additional drag, which can reduce mileage by 10 percent, same goes for that sunroof. Keep the car closed up when possible, it's safer for you, and it's better for your wallet. But a comfortable driver is an alert driver, so use the air conditioning when necessary, but instead of setting the controls for sub zero temperatures, turn them a bit warmer. You will still be in a much cooler environment than outside, and your compressor will have less work to do, which will reduce the load on your engine, and save gas.

Use the right oil viscosity for the season. Lighter weight oils flow better in all temperatures, and as such use less horsepower from your engine to circulate. Generally, lighter weight oils are best for cooler temperatures and circulate better in a cold engine, and heavier oils are best for the warmer months and provide the best protection at high speeds when the engine heats up, but check your owner's manual for specific recommendations. Of course, engine protection is the key element here, so don't switch to a lighter weight oil in an attempt to gain better gas mileage if you are taking the chance of sacrificing your engine by doing so. Northern states may be able to use lighter weight oils year round, while hot desert areas might need a heavier oil all year long. Just make sure you're using the right viscosity for the conditions you'll be driving in, and change your oil and filter regularly.

Take it easy on a cold engine. Long warm up periods are a waste of time and fuel, but if the temperatures outside are frigid, or if the car has been sitting for several days, give it a minute or so before you start out. And take it easy until the car is warm. Lubricants don't flow as well at low temperatures, and while letting the car sit for 5 minutes before you leave isn't necessary, (unless you need this time for frost or ice removal from your windows), neither are top speeds or fast acceleration. Be easy on your car, it will thank you by lasting longer and keeping repair bills down.

Fill up at the right time. Gas pumps usually deliver fuel and charge you according to volume, which is the amount of gas you pump into your tank. However, in most areas gas pumps do not account for the density of that fuel. At high temperatures, the density of gasoline is less, which means you get less for your money. Fill up early in the morning or late in the evening, when the temperatures are coolest. The fuel you pump will be more dense at this time, giving you more for your money. And the savings is considerable over time.

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