In Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel “The Magnificent Ambersons,” inventor and auto industry pioneer Eugene Morgan exclaims that “With all their speed forward, (automobiles) may be a step backward in civilization.” Little did anyone know, but the Indianapolis-born novelist may have anticipated the current fuel crisis in America.

We love automobiles and depend upon them in countless avenues, from industry to family transport to leisure time; however, the economic impact skyrocketing gas prices have had upon our wallets may just be that step backward for civilization. The American Automobile Association recently forecast that the number of 2008 Memorial Day holiday car travelers would decrease by nearly 360,000 over the previous year’s totals. This is widely attributed to the rising cost of gasoline.

Yet our love/hate affair with cars, trucks, RVs and motorcycles continues. This is in spite of how gasoline prices seem to reach new record highs each day. For those of us who need to squeeze as many MPGs as possible out of our vehicles, included here are 10 tips for maximizing gas mileage.

Make Maintenance a Priority –

1) Use Vehicle’s Recommended Grade Motor Oil. Most newer passenger car and light truck engines require 5W-30 oil for multi-purpose driving. This lighter weight oil provides friction-reducing protection that helps engines run more efficiently, which equates to increased gas mileage. Older engines generally function better with 10W-30 or 10W-40. However, you should always consult your owner’s manual or dealer to see what grade of oil your engine is designed for. If you use 10W-30 in an engine designed for 5W-30, you may actually lower your MPG. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, using the proper weight of oil (as well as synthetic blends when possible) can increase MPG by one to two percent or more, or at least $.04 to $.08 per gallon of gas.

2) Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated. Tires that are properly inflated are safer and last longer. You can improve mileage by around 3.3 percent by maintaining proper tire pressure. That translates to roughly $.12 per gallon. Depending upon your tire size and maximum vehicle load, proper inflation can be anywhere from 32 to 60 PSI on average. Keep in mind that for every 1 PSI drop in tire pressure, your mileage decreases by .4 percent. Due to its more consistent rate of expansion and contraction, some sources advocate filling your tires with nitrogen rather than air, as race car drivers do. The overall benefit for the average driver is currently under debate, but in theory, the consistent expansion and contraction rate of nitrogen keeps tires in proper contact with the road, increasing traction and hence mileage.

3) Check and Replace Air Filters Regularly. Keep dust and dirt from clogging up your engine’s cylinders with a fresh air filter. This enables them to function at greater efficiency, which increases both engine horsepower and MPG. Replacing a clogged filter can improve gas mileage by a whopping 10 percent – up to a $.41 per gallon savings.

4) Get a Tune Up. If your vehicle is out of tune or has failed an emissions test recently, improve your mileage by four percent with a standard tuning. For more serious problems like a faulty oxygen sensor, repairs can improve MPG by as much 40 percent.

5) Use the Fuel Octane Needed. Octane rating determines how fast fuel burns in an internal combustion engine. The higher the octane, the longer fuel takes to burn. A slow burn is generally more efficient than a quick burn, so on the surface it would appear that high octane fuel is the way to go. However, 92 octane is typically as much as $.20 per gallon more expensive than standard 87 octane, and the benefit from higher octane doesn’t offset the increased cost.

Go Green: Go High-Tech –

6) Try a Hybrid. Hybrid electric vehicles are all the rage in our increasingly green-conscious society. Not only do they decrease harmful emissions and reduce wear on engines, but the fuel economizing features of hybrid engines enable them to achieve 20 to 30 additional miles per gallon. There are also tax incentives to making the switch.

7) Don’t Fall for Gas-Saving Gadgets. OK, change in list format on this one. According to Popular Mechanics, not only do gimmicks like copper tubing, magnets and other gadgets and non-conventional fuel additives show little or no improvement to your MPG, but most seem to hurt fuel economy and horsepower.

Drive Well –

8) Ever Hear of Hypermilling and Ecodriving? These driving techniques are both centered around some basic ideas. For instance, coast into red light stops. Accelerate slowly and smoothly. On the highway, set up cruise control at the speed limit or slightly below. Seek fuel efficiency in a new car, rather than horsepower. Draft behind larger vehicles for the aerodynamic benefits – just like a NASCAR driver, but at much safer speed. Avoid excessive idling. Use overdrive gears . Let off the gas and save your brakes whenever possible. Not only will these techniques improve your MPG by 30 percent or more, but you’ll be much more relaxed once you get the hang of it.

9) Plan and Combine Your Trips. Save fuel and reduce wear and tear on your car by doing such things as staggering your work hours to avoid peak commuting times, telecommuting if you can, and using carpools and public transportation. When running errands, try to get multiple jobs done on one trip. Several short trips from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one longer trip, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

10) Lose Weight. No, I don’t necessarily mean you, but every little bit helps. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle can reduce MPG by up to two percent, or $.04 to $.08 per gallon of gas. So don’t carry around that jet ski, trailer or quarter-ton of garden bricks if you aren’t planning to use them on that trip.

With these tips in your arsenal, you can make the best of your car’s gas mileage and driving life, help save the environment and ease that pain in the pocketbook. Once alternative fuels become more readily available for consumer use, do the right thing and make the change at the first opportunity. It will be a step forward for civilization.

By Bethann

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