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Drivers find ways to cut fuel use

It could involve driving less, driving smarter or getting a car into better shape.

By JEAN HELLER
Published May 2, 2006


Susan Rodriguez says she is "really, really" changing her driving habits to save gasoline. But all she seems to be doing is making other drivers angry.

"I used to drive 10 miles over the speed limit, figuring I could get away with that," said Rodriguez, 37, a sales representative from Tampa. "Now if I'm on the interstate and the speed limit is 65, I drive 55. If it's 70, I drive 60. I read that the 55-to-60 range is where you get the best mileage, and I do see a difference.

Problem is, people pass her, lay on the horn or even cut her off.

"I'm not going fast enough for them," she said. "I don't care. I'm saving money, and they're not."

With spiraling prices emptying wallets, and analysts predicting that fuel conservation initiatives won't affect prices and supplies for years, consumers are finding their own ways to maximize gas mileage.

Now, the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have come up with an extensive roster of fuel-saving tips.

Driving more efficiently

--Curb aggressive driving: Elimination of speeding, rapid acceleration and hard breaking can add 5 percent to 33 percent fuel efficiency, which translates into a savings of 15 to 96 cents a gallon (based on fuel price of $2.91 a gallon.).

--Stop speeding: Though all vehicles reach peak fuel efficiency at different speeds, generally, every five miles per hour you drive over 60 mph costs you 7 percent to 23 percent in fuel efficiency, adding 20 to 67 cents a gallon to the cost of gas.

--Reduce weight: Empty your trunk, truck bed and back seat of things you don't really need to carry. Every 100 pounds you add to a vehicles weight reduces efficiency about 2 percent and can cost you 3 to 6 cents a gallon.

--Avoid excessive idling: If you are stopped at a rail crossing, a long light or are waiting for someone, turn off your engine. Turning the engine on again costs far less in fuel than letting it run. You get no fuel efficiency idling.

--Use cruise control: Maintaining a constant speed saves gas.

--Use overdrive gears: The engine will run at lower speeds, saving gas and engine wear.

George Sturm, 75, of Clearwater said he became a contract driver for All American Courier "just because I got tired of sitting around the house," and has taken all of these steps to get better mileage.

"Still," Sturm said, "gas costs me $25 to $30 a day. I'm lucky to earn $20 a day after expenses. But if I didn't do these things, I'd be earning nothing."

Keeping your car in shape

--Get a tuneup: It will add 4 percent to fuel efficiency and save as much as 12 cents a gallon. Fixing a serious problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage by 40 percent. The sensor reads oxygen flow in the engine. If it's not right, the engine will burn too much gas or lose power.

--Install new air filters: They can represent increased fuel efficiency of 10 percent, effectively saving 29 cents a gallon.

--Inflate tires properly: Having tires that roll optimally over the road will increase fuel economy by 3 percent and save as much as 9 cents a gallon in gas. Tom Mitchell, a handyman from Land O' Lakes, said he noticed his fuel efficiency went up three to five miles a gallon after he had a leaky tire repaired. "And I wasn't wasting time pumping it up every morning," he said.

--Use the recommended grade of motor oil: It will add 1 to 2 percent to fuel efficiency, saving 3 to 6 cents a gallon.

Combine trips, errands

--Try to do a day's worth of errands in one trip. Starting a warm engine between destinations eats a lot less gas that spacing out errands and starting the engine cold each time. Plan a route to cover as few miles as possible. Larry Arth, a Realtor in Pinellas County with Keller-Williams, said he's trying to do a better job of planning his day "so I don't wind up driving back and forth over the same territory."

--If you can, stagger your work hours to avoid peak traffic and long waits in traffic jams.

--Telecommute when possible. Howard Anderson of Clearwater, a computer technician, stopped driving altogether, moving his business into a spare room in his home. "I take my car out once a week to keep the battery charged and the tires round, but that's it," Anderson said.

--If you own more than one vehicle, commute in the most fuel efficient and leave the other at home.

--Take advantage of car pool opportunities.

--Consider public transportation.

Travel smart

--Take your vacation, but if you drive, consider a destination closer to home in a place where activities are within walking distance of your accommodations.

--Avoid roof racks and pack light: A roof rack or carrier might allow you to get away with a vacation in a smaller car, but a loaded roof rack increases weight and drag (wind resistence). A loaded roof rack can reduce fuel efficiency by 5 percent. Take only as much as you can get in the trunk.

Buy a new car

Assuming fuel costs of $3 a gallon and travel of 15,000 miles a year, the difference between a vehicle that gets 20 mph and one that gets 30 mpg is $750 a year, or nearly $3,000 in four years.

[Last modified May 2, 2006, 02:56:15]


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