Liz grew up as a "grease monkey" to her father, who taught her to fix and work with many things. She also enjoys watching auto races.
Gas Prices Rise Faster Than They Come Down
The only entities that like the gas prices high are the big oil companies and their overpaid executives. Everyone else likes to save money and pay less for gas. But most people cannot afford to trade in their existing cars for a more efficient model, so what is poor John Q. Public to do?
Actually, there are quite a few things that can help improve your fuel economy and keep more dollars in your pocket. No matter where you live, what kind of vehicle you drive or whether it uses gas or diesel fuel, by following these tips, you can keep more of your hard-earned money in your own wallet.
1. Keep Your Vehicle Tuned Up
A car or truck in good running order uses less gas, and it uses the gas it does consume more efficiently. If your engine is misfiring, the timing is off, the oil is dirty, the coolant is low or the engine is running hot, these are all things that will siphon money out of your pocket.
Don’t forget to check the transmission fluid as well. If it’s low or dirty, that will affect your mileage as well. Anything out of kilter in the drive train (that’s from the engine back to the differential in the rear axle--unless you have front wheel drive) has the potential to rob you of cash if not kept in good working order.
"Tune-up" means something a bit different than it used to before the age of electronic computer-controlled engines. The principles remain the same, but it also means that you must take it into the professionals for a tune-up, as it now takes special equipment.
With tune-ups now out of the realm of the backyard mechanic, what else can you do to save money at the gas pump?
2. Stay on Top of General Maintenance
It is surprising how many people just drive and drive until a problem comes along. This ends up costing more money than taking good care of the vehicle all along. When you consider that the things you can do yourself are easy enough, why wait until an expensive problem happens?
Given that such problems usually crop up at the worst possible times, save yourself the headache, and be proactive.
Here in California, and in many other states, we have very strict smog and emissions regulations, and cars must be inspected every two years. Repairs must be made if the vehicle fails the test. So, in a sense, we are “lucky” that we must have our cars checked on this biennial basis. A problem is caught and can be fixed before it causes us grief on the road.
Maintenance Items to Check Regularly Include:
- Check the oil level, and top off if needed; be vigilant with regularly scheduled oil changes, and change the oil filter at the same time.
- Check the coolant level, and top off if needed (remember, you must use coolant, not plain water).
- Check the transmission fluid: it does not ‘burn up’ like engine oil, so if it’s low, there is likely a leak; check the seal on the pan at the bottom of the transmission.
- Check the air filter; change it if it's dirty. A dirty air filter will 'suffocate' your engine, causing it to use excess gas.
- Check the battery; if it’s a sealed type, you never need to add fluid. If it's not a sealed type, check the battery fluid and make sure it is not low. If it is, top it off using only plain, distilled water.
- Also check both battery terminals, making sure the connections are tight, and there is no corrosion, which shows up as a whitish powder--if you see the powder, don't touch it with bare hands--it's caustic!
- Check tire pressures at least weekly, being sure to check in the morning, or after car has cooled down in the evening. Tires that are warm will give a false reading
- Don’t run out of gas! Keep the tank at a minimum of one quarter to one half full at all times. If you run out of gas with a fuel-injected car, running the tank dry will cause a very expensive engine repair!
Not only is maintenance important to help your fuel economy, it is also a safety issue. Mechanical breakdowns on the road can put you in serious jeopardy from other traffic, especially if it is a sudden issue stranding you in a driving lane without a chance to pull off to the side.
How to Clean Battery Terminals
3. Tire Pressure Is Very Important
Checking the air pressure in the tires is a simple task that can be done in less than ten minutes, and is a major factor in improving MPG.
If your tires are low on air, even a little bit, they cause more drag as you roll along, and that reduces your gas mileage more than you might think. Under-inflated tires also cause more flex in the sidewalls, leading to cracking and premature tire wear.
Under-inflation can also cause problems with vehicle safety by causing handling difficulty, which may lead to collisions.
More isn’t necessarily better, however; over-inflated tires will wear out sooner, and can be dangerous. Remember: heat causes things to expand, including air, so a tire that is over-inflated can blow out due to this expansion, especially in hot weather; heat buildup, however, is not only from daytime temperatures, but also from the friction of the road as you drive along, even in cooler weather.
- Be sure to check the manufacturer specifications for your car to get the proper inflation. Often, the proper inflation can be found on a sticker on the inside edge of the driver’s door. Keep in mind that this applies only to the tires that came with the car, or same-type replacements.
- If you change to a different type or size of tire, ask the tire store about the correct inflation pressure for those tires.
- Also remember: if you are carrying a heavy load, you’ll need to increase tire pressure. Check the tire manufacturer's specifications to find out how much of an increase for your particular tires.
- A simple tire gauge is easy to use, and not expensive. If you do not know how to check the pressure yourself, or are physically unable to do so, most tire shops will check and adjust your pressure for free.
In these days of self-service gas stations, very few still offer air, and those that do are inclined to charge money. Even if they offer free air, there is no help; you do it all yourself.
How to Check Tire Pressure
4. Don’t Play Race Cars
It sounds obvious, but bears repeating: don’t speed. Stay at the posted speed limits. The faster you go, the faster you burn through your fuel. It’s simple physics. Judging from all the people you see on the road disregarding the speed limits, I often wonder if they have a wealthy relative to buy their gas for them.
Indy Cars get less than 2 miles per gallon at the speeds they travel. You won’t come close to those speeds on public roads, but the principle holds. Those high speeds on the racetrack come closer to being ‘gallons per mile’ than miles per gallon!
Of course, there is also the greatly increased chance of getting a very expensive ticket. Doing twenty miles per hour or more above the posted limit leaves the officer the option of citing you for reckless driving, and that’s a two-point violation, which stays with you forever on your driving record. That, in turn, costs you extra money annually for more expensive insurance. So fuel costs are not the only thing to consider for going too fast.
The other reason for not speeding is on the safety side of the fence; I’ll not belabor the point further than this gentle reminder: more fatal crashes happen at high speeds.
Burning up Gallons Going Nowhere
5. You’re Not on a Drag Strip
When starting up from a stoplight or stop sign, accelerate evenly and slowly, getting up to speed gradually. You don’t need to ‘beat the other guy off the line.’ It’s not a drag race. Such “jack-rabbit” starts radically reduce your gas mileage by causing a huge surge of fuel to be pulled in to get you going.
Top-fuel dragsters use up nearly 23 gallons of fuel just to start up, stage, do their ‘burnouts’ and run the quarter mile.
That’s a pretty sorry figure; you don’t want to use up fuel that fast. Even though we don’t use those special fuel mixes in our personal cars, the same principle applies. Again, on public roads, you won’t be doing those things! At least I hope not!
Roads with multiple signals are often set for a certain speed; go too fast, and you'll hit every red light. Every time you need to stop and start again, you use extra gas anyway, so try to match the exact speed limit (traffic permitting), and you'll increase your mileage!
This Is Not a Staging Light at the Drag Strip!
6. Some Other Driving Habits That Can Save You Money
Some habits we have acquired over time can cost us money. It pays to be aware, and make changes where necessary.
- Use cruise control on long drives when traffic permits; it’s much better at maintaining a set speed than a human. Don’t forget, however, cruise control doesn’t apply brakes, so it’s possible to find yourself speeding going down hills, so stay alert.
- When warming up the engine, just let it sit at idle for not longer than a minute. Never repeatedly hit the accelerator and ‘rev’ the engine. All that does is waste gas.
- Start up slowly and smoothly from stops; as mentioned above, don’t do ‘jack rabbit’ starts, causing the car to lurch forward and ‘burping’ the tires; that’s hard on both the tires and the transmission, and of course, it wastes fuel. Your wallet and any passengers will thank you.
- Don’t roar up to a stoplight or sign and slam on the brakes at the last minute. Not good for tires or fuel economy, not to mention, it’s dangerous.
- If you are waiting for someone while parked, shut off your engine. There’s no point in getting zero miles per gallon.
- The same goes for waiting in summer or winter, and leaving the engine running so you can use the air conditioning or the heater. Just shut down the car and go inside with the person you’re waiting for.
How to Pump Gas
7. Cooling It
Remember, heat causes things to expand, and this includes gasoline. So the final tip is this: do not fill your tank in the heat of the day, because the gas will expand, and in effect, cause a false reading on the pump.
You’ll actually get less gas than you really paid for. Fill up early in the day, or late in the evening. Let the gas expand in your tank, not in theirs or as it comes up through the pump.
Also, while pumping gas, do not lock the handle setting to the fastest flow. This will cause the gas to foam up a bit, again giving you less than a complete fill, meaning another trip to the gas station sooner than later. So, take it slow. Pump it without using the locking tab, (unlike the video above), and you’ll do your budget a favor.
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May Your Miles be Many, and Your Troubles Few
I wish you all many miles of trouble-free, safe and economical driving.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Liz Elias
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 18, 2018:
I know what you mean about the crazy drivers. Out here in CA, we seem to be afflicted with an overdose of those with the "me first" mentality. Cutting in front of you as if there is no rear end to their car, roaring past you (only to end up stopped right next to you at the signal), and flipping you off if they think you aren't getting out of their way fast enough. Interestingly, CA has actually made it illegal to 'fly the bird' at someone on the grounds of inciting road rage. Hmmm...seems to me the one doing the inciting is the one driving like an idiot and cutting people off, weaving in and out of traffic!
C E Clark from North Texas on June 18, 2018:
Excellent tips and very useful given that wages have been stagnant for many years. There are lots of jobs out there right now and one only needs 4 or 6 of them to squeak by. Of course if one has a family to provide for they may have to limit their sleep time and hold 7 or 8 of those minimum pay jobs. To allow for a short nap one might find it more appealing to save the money they already have by following these tips you list here.
I don't know about you, but here where I live in N. Texas people seem to be driving crazier and crazier, passing in no pass zones nearly having head-on collisions, and passing in the turn lanes, etc. I guess when one must hold so many jobs they must also speed through life as fast as they can to meet all of their obligations . . .
Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on January 21, 2017:
Thank you, Flourish; you've added two important points that I did not include. I did mean to put the one about not filling up in the heat of the day, but it got missed in the process of merging two older articles into one. And not riding the brake is another important point. Too often you see people with their brake lights on the whole time they're driving. They probably wonder why their mileage isn't better! Carpooling is also a good idea, for those who can do so. Thanks very much for your added points.
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 20, 2017:
My dad always reminded the drivers in the family to 1) check the oil, 2) get your foot off the brake, and 3) don't follow too close. They were money savers as well as safety tips. Your article brought back good memories. I'd add carpooling so you can split expenses and don't fill up in the heat (evaporation) or on Fridays (prices often go up for the weekend).