Set up Your Car for Fuel Savings

Gasoline prices have taken their toll recently. As they went up this spring, the economy slowed down, housing prices continued on a downward trend and auto sales had a hiccup. People generally think they can’t do anything to improve fuel economy except buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient car. But that’s simply not true. You can improve your fuel economy by taking some very simple steps to make certain your car is ready to turn in the best fuel economy possible. None of them take much effort, and all of them will offer you big returns -- even if gasoline isn’t at the $4 mark it was earlier in the year.

Here is a list of things that contribute to poor fuel economy -- and what you can do about them:

1. Low Tire Pressure
The air we breathe is free, and generally the air we put into our tires is free as well, so it is difficult to imagine why so many people are driving around with underinflated tires -- but they are. If your tires are underinflated by 5 pounds of pressure, you probably won’t notice that the handling of your car is impaired, but your fuel economy will definitely suffer. If you let your tires’ pressure drop to 10 pounds per square inch (psi) it can cut your fuel efficiency by more than 3 percent. Your engine will have to work harder to get you the same distance, and even more important, your vehicle will not be as maneuverable as it otherwise would be.

2.Window Flags, Placards and Roof Racks
Some people like to attach flags to their windows, proclaiming their support for a special sports team or the fact that they have a baby on board. Others use roof racks to tote bikes or other sports equipment. We’re all for supporting sports teams and having babies, and we think recreational activities like bicycling are great. But even small changes to your vehicle’s aerodynamics will have a big impact in fuel economy. At highway speeds, up to one-third of your fuel is used to overcome wind resistance. So, anything that creates wind resistance will cost you at the fuel pump. Having a bike on your roof might look cool, but don’t keep it up there.

3. Carrying Extra Junk in the Trunk
Stuff you keep in your trunk doesn’t create wind resistance, but it does add weight, and weight is another enemy of good fuel economy. If you haul around your golf clubs, bowling ball or a big set of tools, you are going to pay for it every time you step on the gas. According to EPA estimates, every 100 pounds of weight can reduce fuel economy by 2 percent.

4. Ignoring the “Check Engine” Light
Current cars often warn you if there is a mechanical problem brewing by illuminating a warning light. Interestingly, many people routinely ignore these lights if the car seems to be operating normally. But this is a poor decision for two reasons: First, even minor issues can negatively affect fuel economy. Second, serious engine problems can result, which will likely cost you big money to fix.