Southern California residents got sticker shock when average gasoline prices shot up over $4 a gallon this week and they could climb even higher, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. The Automobile Club of Southern California is recommending strategies that drivers can use to conserve gas right now and also reduce annual fuel use by up to 50 percent.
“Motorists can significantly reduce fuel consumption and save money by simply adjusting their driving style,” said the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center’s Chief Automotive Engineer Steve Mazor. “Driving style impacts motorists’ wallets because warming up an engine, speeding and ‘jack rabbit’ starts can needlessly use precious fuel.”
Driving style and vehicle operation recommendations include:
- Optimizing your daily driving. Maintain steady speeds. A car uses extra fuel accelerating. Cruise control may be a fuel saving option for motorists who drive a lot because a steady speed conserves fuel. This is helpful when driving on level roads. However, cruise control can actually hurt your mileage if you drive on hilly terrain.
- Minimizing last-minute braking. Anticipate traffic conditions. Be alert for slow-downs and red lights and coast up to them, if possible. Drive smoothly, avoiding “jackrabbit starts.” The faster you drive, the more fuel used. Remember, however, that traveling slower than traffic flow can cause a safety hazard.
- Using the air conditioner only when necessary. Air conditioning reduces fuel economy by about 5 percent and more in an older model vehicle. The rule of thumb on hot days is to open your windows when you are driving slowly (under about 45 mph), but close them and turn on the air conditioner at higher freeway speeds. Driving with the windows open can increase the aerodynamic drag, and this effect increases proportionately with speed.
- Making sure you’re shopping around. Looking for low gasoline prices in their local communities may save motorists money, according to Mazor. Consumers can easily shop around online by using tools such as the free AAA app, which automatically displays the lowest gas price near the user on the home screen. Traveling long distances to save a few cents wastes fuel and may cost motorists more money.
- Don't haul extra weight in the passenger compartment or trunk. Reducing extra weight can save up to 2% fuel economy for every 100 lbs. removed depending on the weight of the vehicle. Also lose the roof rack, if it’s not being used regularly. Carrying things on a roof rack increases aerodynamic drag and reduces fuel economy – year round.
More tips to save gasoline and money include:
- Read your owner’s manual for the recommended fuel for your vehicle. If it says “regular unleaded gasoline” is recommended, using anything else is a wallet-drainer, and if it says “premium required” you must use it for proper vehicle operation. (However, when your manual says mid-grade or premium “recommended,” read carefully; sometimes it indicates you can use regular unleaded to save money, but you may experience reduced power and/or a small reduction in fuel economy.)
- Look into gas rebate programs and other credit cards that provide a rebate every time you fill up. Some grocery stores also provide a gasoline discount program.
- For families that have more than one vehicle, select the most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets the task at hand. Don’t automatically jump into the SUV or truck when the sedan will do. Consider renting a fuel-efficient vehicle for vacations and long trips to save on fuel costs. Conversely, consider renting a full size truck instead of buying it if you only need its capabilities occasionally. Use the most energy-conserving vehicle you own as much as possible.
- Tracking your fuel economy; if it drops suddenly, have the cause determined and corrected.
- Consolidate trips and errands to cut down on driving and number of miles driven. Plan your route and look for a location where you can take care of all or most errands. Avoid excessive idling. Parking your vehicle and walking into the store or restaurant instead of using a drive through will save gas and the walking may improve your health. Choose a shopping center where you can park and walk to most of the stores you need.
- Look at your work schedule; can you shift your working hours to avoid bumper-to- bumper traffic? Is car-pooling an option? Both can save gas and reduce vehicle wear.
- Comparison shop by telephone, the Internet or through newspaper ads to reduce driving.
- Properly maintaining your vehicle is critical in reducing gas use, according to Mazor. Under-inflated tires, for example, can cut fuel economy by up to 2 percent per pound of pressure below the minimum recommended level. Worn spark plugs and dirty air filters also increase fuel consumption.