June 22, 2000 -- The skyrocketing price of gasoline has forced every American driver to focus on fuel economy. Suddenly, with gas selling for $2 or more a gallon, economy matters again.
But there is some good news: You can economize without rushing out and buying one of those new-fangled hybrid electric cars or making a major dent in your lifestyle. Squeezing more miles out of a gallon of gasoline isn't rocket science. Here are five simple tips for happy, and fuel-efficient, motoring.
1. SLOW DOWN JUST A BIT
When gasoline prices spiked in the early 1970s, America switched to a 55-mile-an-hour speed limit. No one wants to go back to that particular slow lane, but you'd be surprised how much you can save by easing off on the accelerator and driving 65 instead of 70 miles an hour. For each hour you drive 65, experts say you'll save at least $5. If you drive a sport-utility vehicle or a pick-up truck, your hourly savings will be more than $10.
2. DRIVE SMARTER
Your vehicle's overdrive gears are specifically designed for optimum highway driving. Switch to overdrive and you'll reduce your engine speed. That reduces both fuel consumption and engine wear without sacrificing speed. Another highway fuel saver: cruise control. Using cruise control helps you maintain a constant speed and reduces fuel consumption, too. And, while you're at it, change to regular-grade gasoline. Most vehicles on the road today are specifically designed to operate on fuel with a "regular" octane rating of 87. Pumping mid-grade or premium gas with higher octane levels can cost as much as 20 cents a gallon more and it won't improve your car's performance.
3. TUNE UP AND SAVE
Studies have shown that a poorly tuned engine can increase fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent. Following your car's recommended maintenance schedule--it is listed in your owner's manuals--will save fuel and increase your vehicle's performance. And be sure to keep your tires properly inflated: Under-inflated tires cause a 6 percent rise in fuel consumption. (Tires lose about a pound of pressure per square inch every month and about a pound for every 10-degree drop in temperature.) And, while you're at it, make sure to change your car's air filter in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. A clogged oil filter can reduce your car's fuel efficiency by as much as 10 percent.
4. CHANGE YOUR DRIVING HABITS
"Warming up the car" is an American tradition. It's also unnecessary for most modern vehicles--and it wastes fuel. Take those snow tires off, too. They're great for traction in winter, but miserable for fuel economy in the summer and fall. Avoid carrying unneeded items in your trunk. Every hundred pounds of excess weight reduces fuel economy by 2 percent. Then move the stuff you'd load on your roof rack into the space you've created in the trunk. A fully loaded roof rack is an aerodynamic drag and knocks another 5 percent off your fuel economy.
5. MANAGE YOUR TRAVEL BETTER
You know this one, you just forgot. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer, multi-purpose excursion covering the same distance. Make a list of what you need to do and then cut down the number of single-purpose errands you run.