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Ten ways to get better gas mileage

  • Story Highlights
  • Save gas by switching off the engine at long lights or in heavy traffic
  • Most cars get best efficient mileage driving between 45 and 55 mph
  • Lighten your load by taking out golf clubs, toys
  • Combine errands into one trip to avoid driving extra miles
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By Craig Howie
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(AOL Autos) -- Got the urge to save some cash? When economic times get tough, consumers look to wring out as many savings as they can from their daily budget.

Although your SUV might guzzle gas, trading it in when there's such a low demand could cost you more.

Although your SUV might guzzle gas, trading it in when there's such a low demand could cost you more.

Commuting or running errands, the choice of your ride and how you drive it can add up to significant savings for your pocketbook. We've come up with 10 tips on how to save gas and cash, all of which have the added bonus of helping to save the environment.

Reduce idling

Motorists can take a leaf out of the book of Palm Bay Police Department, which in May banned its officers from idling patrol cars at traffic stops and crime scenes.

It's part of a bid to reduce the department's annual fuel budget of $560,000 or about 15,000 gallons a month. Other measures include trading in its fleet of Crown Victoria's for Chevy Impalas and sidelining motorcycle units.

Previously, officers preferred to idle their cars to keep in-car computers online or help cool the car in the hot Florida sun. Police officials predict a substantial saving in gas and costs, and cities across Ohio, Minnesota and Massachusetts are following suit.

Consumer savings can be made by switching off the engine at long lights, when waiting in heavy traffic or when waiting to pick someone up.

Go slow

The Department of Energy calculates that for every five miles a motorist drives above 60 mph, a fuel efficiency loss of between seven and 23 percent occurs (depending on make and model).

Most cars get the most efficient mileage figures between 45 and 55 miles per hour. Any jump to 65 mph significantly reduces fuel efficiency, while a further jump to 75 mph over long periods can result in an expensive return to the pumps.

Set off a little earlier to compensate for lost time, and look out for drivers reacting angrily to a slow driver ahead of them, which happens more frequently than you'd think in major metropolitan areas. Cruise control also helps maintain a common speed and avoids wasteful engine revving.

Go manual

Most manual boxes will save you cash on buying -- expect to pay more than $1,000 extra for a standard automatic transmission over a manual option at a dealership -- and when you're on the road.

Choosing your own gear allows you to shift up earlier or into neutral on downhill stretches or when approaching lights. Be aware that many car companies now gear their automatic boxes for optimal fuel consumption and keep in mind these two caveats: In many states, coasting is illegal; and never, ever switch off the ignition, which may shut off the power steering or brakes. Yikes! AOL Autos: Best used fuel-efficient cars

Maintain the power train

These tips, from, are straightforward and any costs will be offset by fuel savings: Keeping your engine properly tuned can result in efficiency savings of 4 percent (but fixing a faulty oxygen sensor could affect as much as a 40 percent increase in efficiency).

Check and replace air filters, to keep impurities from damaging your engine, to improve mileage by 10 percent. Keep tires properly inflated for a 3.3 percent efficiency increase. Badly inflated tires can shade efficiency 0.4 per cent for every 1 psi drop in pressure.

Use a recommended grade of motor oil and look for product that says "Energy conserving" on the API performance label, to improve mileage 1-2 percent. AOL Autos: Fuel-efficient used cars for sale


Basically an extension of long-practiced truck driver techniques, hypermiling burst on to the scene late last year when gas soared above $3 a gallon.

Basic tenets of the controversial practice, which advocates say can improve efficiency by as much as 40 percent, include: Pumping up tires to the maximum rating on their sidewalls, which may be higher than levels recommended in car manuals; using engine oil of a low viscosity; and indulging in the controversial practice of drifting behind other vehicles on the highway to reduce aerodynamic drag.

Some safety officials point out that the jerky slowing and speeding up required to effectively tail another motorist may eliminate fuel savings, and could lead to a nasty crash and expensive repair bill. AOL Autos: Cars with 30 MPG for $300/month

Lighten the load

Think you need that spare tire in the back? Chances are you will some day, so whether you want to eliminate that all-important spare wheel is a choice energy-efficient motorists will have to make.

Clearing all that junk out of your car -- in some cases heavy junk like golf clubs, car parts or kids' toys -- can result in significant savings. The EPA estimates that for every 100 pounds of weight your car carries, fuel efficiency dips by 2 percent.

Taking away all that stuff in the back can result in safer motoring in general, in the event of a head-on crash, nothing heavy will spring forward from the back to the front. AOL Autos: Fuel-efficient hybrid SUVs

Plan and combine trips

Making three trips to the same strip mall to the supermarket, video store and salon didn't make much sense when gas was cheap and certainly doesn't now that gas is pushing $4 a gallon.

Vehicles also emit more pollutants in the first minutes after startup as their emissions systems haven't fully warmed and are therefore functioning less efficiently. Try to run errands in off-peak hours when roads are less crowded.

And remember, for shorter trips, chances are you have a rusty old bike in the back shed that you could dust off and recondition. As an added incentive, keep in mind that any weight loss resulting from this choice will also help your gas efficiency. AOL Autos: See fuel-efficient used crossovers for sale

Buy/trade smart

My neighbor, a building contractor, just sold his 2003 Ford F250 and is on the lookout for a more fuel-efficient model. Trouble is, with dealers long realizing the trend toward smaller vehicles, he got about $8,000 less for his massive truck than he expected, a situation many Suburban or Explorer drivers are now experiencing.

If your bid to save cash is more about your bottom line than going green, it might be worth pulling out a pencil and doing some quick calculations. Yes, you can save a thousand bucks a year by trading a 14 mpg guzzler for a smaller 22 mpg daily runner, but will these savings be offset by trading in at a time when demand for big SUVs is at an all-time low?

Similarly, can the higher prices dealers are currently charging for premium hybrids add up to savings on the base model (many of which, like the Camry, at 31 mpg, pull in pretty good efficiency)? Get out that pencil before you take a wrong turn. Video Watch pros and cons of hybrids »

Model behavior

Think hybrid. Think diesel. Think CUV. Think small. Most car makers have a cache of fuel-saving models on their forecourts right now. So much so, you'll be spoiled for choice. Check out our regular features on AOL for the best deals out there and which hybrids, SUVs or small cars we think are the best for your needs.

So retro

Want the most fuel efficient car out there? How about a Geo Metro? This long-ridiculed wonder from the 1990s has sprung into demand as a result of its 50 mpg efficiency. Buy one, or something like it, and drive it with pride -- perhaps while wearing a large hat and big sunglasses.

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