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How to save gas driving the car you already own

Any car can be a greener car

A gas pump this week in West Hollywood. (AP)


We learned today that — no surprise — the prices of EV, hybrid and economy car models have shot up at a faster rate than other already-quite-expensive used cars, in direct response to the rise in gasoline prices. On the bright side, we've also learned that the price of crude oil has stabilized somewhat, and Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have made progress in peace talks. But even if those promising trends continue, the prices we're paying at the pump might not ease for weeks or even months.

So, nobody likes high gas prices, yet now is a terrible time to buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle. But good news: You can get more efficient in the vehicle you've got. Any car can be a greener car. Love the one you're with.

It's just a matter of smart ownership and careful driving, bordering on hypermiling. If you're new to that term, it just means getting everything you can out of every drop of gas. If you're someone who turns the lights out when he leaves the room or is good about saving and eating leftovers, you'll enjoy a bit of hypermiling.

Following even the simplest of the steps listed below can ease the damage to your wallet: 

In general

-- Drive less. Admit that some, maybe much, of our driving is not essential. Widespread employer acceptance of working from home helps some of us on this count.

-- Get organized. When you eventually do emerge from your home office lair to buy more frozen pizzas and Pop-Tarts, try to run all your errands in one outing.

-- Is there more than one vehicle in your fleet? Park the guzzler. As you probably already have.

-- Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Check them often, at least monthly. Bring along a portable tire inflator so that airing them up is easy and convenient.

-- Maintain your car to ensure peak efficiency. Is your air filter clean? Your vehicle consumes far more air than it does gasoline.

-- Avoid long warmups. When you start the car, don't idle unnecessarily. The time it takes you to buckle your seatbelt is enough of a warmup. Every second your car is idling, its fuel economy is exactly zero miles per gallon.

Once under way

-- Avoid idling in traffic. If your car is equipped with stop/start, activate that. Otherwise, if you'll be sitting still for more than a minute, turn the engine off.

-- Baby it. Feather the accelerator. Next to idling, you get the worst mileage when you accelerate from a stop. This is Newton's first law — you are overcoming inertia. Just watch your car's real-time mpg readout and you'll see what a gas-suck it is to get a car moving from a stop.

-- Don't stop unless you really have to. This is inertia's flip side. Every braking situation wastes kinetic energy that you burned expensive gasoline to create. You'll always be better off to keep rolling. To accomplish this ...

-- Look far down the road. See what the light ahead of you is doing — and the light beyond that. Don't rush from stoplight to stoplight. If you try, it's surprisingly easy to keep your car rolling and almost never stop. Even if you have to crawl at 1 or 2 mph as you approach a red light, if you can keep it rolling you'll save gas.

-- Use the mileage readout. We mentioned your car's instant mpg gauge. Keep an eye on that throughout your trip. It's a great tool for teaching yourself to be a more frugal driver. Dashboard displays may or may not offer accurate calculations of your overall fuel economy, but the instant readout definitely shows you which driving styles work and which don't.

-- To summarize all of the above: Be smooth. In addition to gaining fuel efficiency, smooth driving habits will save you money in other ways — you won't need a brake job as soon, and your car will last longer from less wear and tear in general.

You are a leaf on the wind

-- Don't carry unnecessary weight. Unload anything you don't really need. 

-- Remove roof racks or anything on the outside of the car that creates drag.

-- Close windows and sunroofs for less drag as well. Especially at highway speeds, as we'll see in a moment.

-- A/C is OK. Closed windows might mean you have to run the A/C. You'll often see "turn off the A/C" as a fuel-saving suggestion, but modern air-conditioning systems don't burden the engine as much as they once did. If you're comfortable with the A/C off, every little bit helps. But if it's needed, well, don't sweat it.

-- Slow down. Drive the speed limit. On the highway, hold your speed to 60 mph or less. Cars are their most fuel efficient in a range of 45-60 mph. Drag increases drastically above 60, and fuel economy drops just as drastically.

-- Glide. If you have a modern car that's equipped with a coasting automatic transmission that can seamlessly disengage the engine and transmission when conditions allow, then learn how to use it. Otherwise, don't coast. But do look for opportunities to ease off the accelerator on downhill stretches and minimize braking.

-- Keep a constant throttle position. Sometimes it's best to use cruise control on the highway, though some systems can accelerate too hard and you might be better off being a human cruise control with a subtle foot.

-- Or, pulse and glide. In other situations you'll want to use this technique. Say, by increasing acceleration uphill then coasting down. Watch your instant readout and learn what technique's best when.

Plan ahead

-- Consider the terrain. Sometimes, a direct route is not the best choice if it's an uphill. A longer route that goes around the hill can be more fuel-efficient.

-- Consider the traffic. Favor lightly used routes with fewer cars to slow you down or stop you.

-- Consider the time. Along with WFH, some of us have more flexible schedules even on days we do commute. Avoid peak traffic times and the fuel-sucking delays they create.

-- Memorize your routine route. If you travel the same roads often, learn where best to accelerate, coast, and minimize braking. Avoid the highway lane, for example, that you know from experience will get backed up in a certain spot. On the route from the interstate to my house, I can coast through several turns and avoid touching the brakes anywhere except at one stop sign, and upon arriving in the driveway. 

-- Avoid cold temperatures. Again, if you can flex your time of travel, don't drive early in the morning when it's colder out. Cold weather kills fuel economy. The engine's less efficient, and the cold tires have more rolling resistance.

-- Clean out your garage. To help avoid cold starts, park your car in the garage.

-- Avoid hot temperatures. In case these high gas prices last into summer, try to avoid the hottest times of day to minimize heavy A/C use.


-- Avoid angering other drivers with these techniques. Sometimes those behind you might not understand or appreciate why you're crawling toward a stoplight. Be mindful of your surroundings. And maybe stay in the right lane so the jackrabbits can pass you by — on their way to the gas station to squander more of their money.

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