Labor Day is right around the corner and folks around the country are gearing up for what will likely be their last road trip of the summer. Unlike years past when the price of gas might persuade people to stay close to home, drivers are in for a bargain this weekend as gas prices are at a 10-year low across the United States.
While the prospects of spending less will likely steer more people on to the roads, saving at the pump isn't the only way drivers can save money on gas. Whether you're driving an SUV rated at 15 MPG, or a subcompact which can reach 45 MPG, you still have the ability to save a buck or two on fuel costs. There are plenty of articles that suggest better driving habits to increase fuel economy but many lack tangible results. I spoke to Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD, who provided some low- or no-cost improvements to your vehicle that can actually help you improve your car's mile-per-gallon and keep those gas savings in your pocket.
All vehicles obviously should be regularly maintained with tune-ups and oil changes at prescribed intervals, however, each of the below five recommended practices will result in incremental improvement in fuel economy. Combined, they have the potential to save you 3-4 miles per gallon, which can add up to several hundred dollars per year.
Maintain tire pressures by the book. Tires low on air don't roll easily, meaning more engine power (and more fuel) is needed to make them rotate. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest things to check on a car. Pressure gauges are inexpensive and can be kept in your glove box or trunk, making it easy to quickly check the tires at every (or even every other) fill-up.
Be stringent about using the prescribed numbers on your car's tire pressure label, which is generally found in the driver's door jamb. In the majority of cases all four tires will have the same pressure number, but certain models will require different pressures for front and rear, so be sure to educate yourself.
COST: $9.95 for the gauge, zero to check and add air.
Get regular alignments. Despite the many myths published online, hitting a pothole will not throw your alignment out of whack. Front ends go out of alignment over time, as various suspension components wear. The effect is gradual and hardly noticeable, but a poor alignment will force your engine to work harder to push against tires that scrub instead of roll.
While a newer car shouldn't need an alignment for several years after purchase, older vehicles would definitely benefit from a professional alignment every year or two. As the miles add up, certain wear items may need replacing, but getting this done will benefit your driving safety and comfort, while ensuring your car isn't overworking to get down the road.
COST: $89.95 annually.
Remove extra weight. Consider this: when designing a car, automotive engineers sweat over how to remove several ounces of weight to improve a vehicle's EPA mileage rating. So what kind of performance boost would you get if you removed several pounds? Maybe you've got the kids' soccer gear in the back, or you're carrying around golf clubs that you won't need on your trip. Make it a habit to only carry what needs to be in the car - especially on a road trip - and watch your fuel economy improve.
Drive with windows up and A/C on. Automotive aerodynamics have improved so much that driving with your windows down actually creates drag, which negatively impacts your fuel economy. I know, this goes against the old adage you were taught years ago - "Using the A/C burns gas!" - but it's true. Modern electronics within the car have completely overridden this concern, as they efficiently manage A/C performance. The net effect is that your car will get better mileage if you keep the windows up and utilize the A/C to stay cool. You'd probably rather have gas back in your tank than wind in your hair.
Service brakes to avoid drag. All modern cars now have front disc brakes, and most have rear discs too. Disc brakes are great because they're self-adjusting, but this can also lead them to start to drag as pads, pins, and pistons collect dirt and corrosion from miles of use. A sticking brake, which is hardly ever felt by the driver, fights the engine and burns fuel.
Get your car's brakes checked regularly - most vehicles benefit from a brake service which cleans and lubes moving parts, even if pads and rotors still have life left in them. The less fight, the less fuel burn.
COST: $99.95 for brake service.
It's time for the last trip of the summer, so don't save at the pump only to burn fuel on the road. Follow these tips and get the most out of each tank.