With crude oil futures threatening to hit $90 a barrel, gas prices jumped again this week, to a national average of $2.78 a gallon for regular unleaded, according to AAA. So, fuel economy is paramount. Here are tactics to help you get the most miles per gallon from your vehicle this winter and save money, too.
Get checkups. Regular oil changes and tuneups cost money and can take a big chunk out of your Saturday. But repairing a car that has failed an emissions test will improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent. And fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage by as much as 40 percent. Even a simple change like replacing a clogged air filter can improve gas mileage by up to 10 percent.
Inflate tires. Properly inflate your tires according to instructions in your vehicle owner's manual. Underinflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4 percent for every pound's drop in pressure of all four tires.
Discover oil. "Get oil changes every three to four months," recommends Ronnie Kweller, spokesperson for the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy. You can improve your gas mileage by 1 to 2 percent by using your manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil. But using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed to use 5W-30, or 5W-30 in an engine made for 5W-20, can decrease gas mileage by 1 to 2 percent. Also, motor oil that says "energy conserving" on the API performance symbol contains friction-reducing additives.
Avoid idling. Sitting in your car with the engine running wastes gas without getting you anywhere. Telecommute, stagger work hours, carpool, or otherwise try to avoid sitting in rush-hour traffic.
Drive smoothly. Speeding up and then braking can lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent around town. Using cruise control on the highway can help your vehicle consume gas more efficiently.
Don't race. It's safer and less expensive to obey the speed limit. Gas mileage decreases rapidly above 60 mph, typically costing you an extra 20 cents per gallon of gas for each 5 mph over 60 mph.
Lose weight. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2 percent, with smaller vehicles being affected more than larger ones. Also, avoid carrying items on the car's roof, which can increase drag and further reduce fuel efficiency by 5 percent.
Choose carefully. Try to purchase the most fuel-efficient vehicle in your price range. If you clock 15,000 miles a year, driving a car that gets 30 mpg rather than 20 mpg will save you $695 per year at $2.78 per gallon. Check out fueleconomy.gov and consumerreports.org for information about fuel efficiency.
Get tax breaks. Take advantage of 2007 federal income tax credits that reduce what you owe Uncle Sam by $250 to $4,000 for purchases of hybrid-electric or diesel vehicles. Amounts are based on the vehicle's efficiency and fuel savings.
Shop around. Gasoline prices change often and may vary by as much as 20 percent within only a few blocks, according to the gas price comparison website gasbuddy.com. So, compare prices online before paying at the pump. Just don't drive several miles out of your way simply to save a few cents filling up your 12-gallon tank.