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Gas Busters

On the Road Extreme Driving

cars.com On the Road Weekly Publication

10:42 AM EDT, June 7, 2011

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There's a secret weapon to fight the rising cost of gas.
Look in the mirror.


By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

No matter what kind of vehicle you own, the best way to minimize pain at the pump is to maximize your car's fuel efficiency.

You can do this by altering your driving habits, particularly if you're an aggressive motorist. To paraphrase TV's Dr. Phil McGraw, the most efficient way from A to B is not always at the most feverish pace. Foot-to-the-floor acceleration, hard braking and driving at high speeds will push the gas gauge towards empty faster.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, jack-rabbit starts and sudden stops reduce a vehicle's fuel economy by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds and by five percent in the city. Driving at 75 mph uses 13 percent more fuel than cruising at 65 mpg, and 25 percent more than at 55 mph.

Unnecessarily assertive braking wastes the fuel your car uses to get up to speed. Drive smoothly and anticipate the movement of traffic, using the brakes as little as possible. Engaging the cruise control on the highway helps maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas.

Unless you live where the temperature regularly runs into triple digits, use your car's air conditioning sparingly. Running the AC causes the car's engine to work harder and consumes about 20 percent more fuel, according to the EPA. Instead, keep the windows open and enjoy the breeze when driving around town. But be sure to keep the windows closed at highway speeds to minimize wind drag, which also forces the engine to work harder. The EPA says driving with the windows open while cruising on the highway can decrease a vehicle's gas mileage by about 10 percent. Instead, use the vents to bring in outside air.

Don't let the car idle for long. An idling car gets zero miles per gallon. Turn off your car's engine while sitting at a curb, such as when you're waiting to pick up the kids from school. Also, it's unnecessary to let the engine warm up for more than around 30 seconds after a cold start. Unnecessary idling wastes more than half a gallon of fuel for every hour the engine is running.

The most significant way to reduce your car's fuel consumption is to drive less. Taking several short trips rather than one longer trip with brief stops can use twice as much fuel. This is because when the engine is warmed up, it runs at peak efficiency.

Small changes in driving habits can add up to big savings over time. And they'll add up more quickly if the price of gasoline continues its upward trend.