After being cooped up in the house all winter, you may be heeding the call of the open road. Though the price of gasoline is currently a bargain, all those miles can still cost you a chunk of your budget.
The average American drives just over 15,000 miles each year, which adds up to an $8,625 expense, based on the Internal Revenue Service standard mileage rate. We may not drive as many miles in Alaska, but the miles still add up. Let’s take a look at how to save money as we hit the road this summer.
Forget aggressive driving. When you speed, floor the gas pedal and stomp on the brakes, you will decrease your gas mileage by one-third if you are on the highway or by 5 percent in town. In addition, aggressive driving is riskier, so reducing these habits might just save you more than gas.
Slow down. Though each of our vehicles reaches its maximum efficiency at different speeds, the mileage plummets at speeds over 50 miles per hour. Increasing your speed by as little as 5 mph once you have reached 60 mph means that you are spending 24 cents more per mile to drive. Just like reducing aggressive driving, it is safer if you reduce your speed. If you are out on the road, use the cruise control to maintain a constant speed, which saves gasoline.
Cut down on excess weight. An extra 100 pounds in a vehicle reduces your mpg by 1 percent. A loaded roof rack or a carrier mounted on the roof adds weight and creates wind resistance, which decreases mileage.
Avoid idling your vehicle. It will use a quarter to half a gallon per hour to leave the engine running. People often ask whether it is more efficient to turn off the engine or just leave it running. When parked, turn it off. To restart only takes a few seconds of fuel.
Anticipate what’s ahead. Be watching the road ahead for slow traffic and traffic lights. By looking ahead, you can avoid obstacles. Letting up on the accelerator not only saves gas, but it also may help you avoid braking, which wears out those brake pads.
Group your trips. Multiple trips with a cold engine can use up to twice as much gasoline as one trip covering the same distance when the car is warm.
Keeping your vehicle in good shape will also increase gasoline mileage. A tuneup can mean an increase of 4 percent in fuel efficiency. Tires that are properly inflated and aligned not only saves wear and tear on the tires, but it also increases handling and safety, and can increase the mileage by 3 percent. Check your owner’s manual for suggested tire pressure and measure it when the tires are cold. Internal pressure goes up when the tires are warm.
There are lots of items sold to help increase gas mileage. Be skeptical. The Environmental Protection Agency has tested several gizmos and found that very few have added any additional mileage. And when one did work, it improved the mileage only slightly. The greater damage is that some of these items can harm your vehicle or increase emissions. Check out the Federal Trade Commission website at http://1.usa.gov/21izhMU for the lists of products tested and their success rate.
One more way to save on gasoline is to simply don’t use your car. Here in town, you can catch a bus, ride a bike, car pool or even walk. All these will reduce the amount of gasoline used, reduce the wear and tear on the vehicle and preserve the value of your vehicle.
Hitting the open road can help you fill your wanderlust this summer, but make sure that you don’t overspend on gasoline.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201.