Fuel-Saving Tips for the Summer Driving Season

During the Independence Day travel period, which is Wednesday, July 2, to Sunday, July 6, more than 34.8 million people-about 8 in 10 – traveled by car, according to the American Auto Association auto club.

While U.S. gas prices usually go down in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July holiday, this year they increased by an average of about 20 cents per gallon over the July 4, 2013 price, which was $3.48 per gallon.

While the nation’s gas prices are out of our control, you can improve your car’s gas mileage. Here are things you can do to stretch your fuel dollars from consumerreports.com.

Clean out your car. The first think you can do to improve your car’s fuel efficiency is… clean it out! You’d be surprised how much stuff accumulates and adds to the overall weight of the vehicle, which in turn reduces gas mileage.

Don’t let your car idle. Contrary to popular belief, there really aren’t any mechanical benefits to letting your car warm up for 5 or 10 minutes before driving – and it’s a gas waster. Avoid idling while waiting for passengers – it will save gas and be better for the environment, too.

Drive smoothly and don’t speed. Try to drive smoothly – frequent bursts of acceleration and braking can reduce fuel economy by 2 to 3 miles per gallon (mpg). Don’t speed; the faster you drive, the worse your gas mileage will be.

Get the oil changed. If your car is due for an oil change, get it done before any road trip. Have the engine coolant filled with 50/50 coolant – 50 percent water and 50 percent coolant to help the engine run cooler and more efficiently in hot weather.

Gas up ahead of time. This one is more of a safety tip: fill up the gas tank before you leave on your trip – you never know if you’ll get stuck in traffic with no gas station fuel cell air compressor nearby. If your car requires regular gas, don’t bother paying more for premium, as it won’t make your engine run better. If you’re not sure, look on the fuel-fill door or check the owner’s manual.

Have your A/C checked. In most modern cars, the air conditioning fan puts a strain on the alternator, and colder temperatures make the compressor work harder, and both require more fuel to run. Try not to use the A/C unless necessary, and have a mechanic check that your vehicle’s electrical system is running efficiently. The A/C compressor is what forces the car to use extra fuel – it creates a great deal of strain on the engine, which the engine must compensate for by burning extra fuel.

Keep stuff off the roof. Unless you have to, don’t pack things on the roof of your car, as it will also reduce gas mileage. When kayak or ski season is over, remove the racks when not in use.

Know your directions/use your GPS. Knowing the best route to your destination is another great way to save gas. Keep in mind, the shortest way is not always the best on fuel – driving at a consistent speed without many stops or lights is best for fuel economy.

If you’re using a GPS, program the address of your destination ahead of time, and make sure it finds it. Also print out a hard copy of the directions – both there and back – in case the GPS malfunctions.

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