A Simple Method to Increase Fuel Economy

Gasoline prices are riding a roller-coaster these days with higher and higher bumps. Because of this, many Americans are again taking a long look at fuel economy, and you can see why. Since more and more Americans have shifted from cars to sport utility vehicles, they have experienced a drop in their vehicle's fuel economy, and whenever gasoline prices rise, they feel the bump in the form of a sharp blow to the wallet. So what can you do to improve your vehicle's fuel economy?

Well, you can go out and buy a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle, but if you do the math you'll find that kind of swap will reach payback time somewhere around 2020. So there is just false economy going that route. If you really want to save money -- and why not? -- then finding ways to increase your current vehicle's fuel economy is the way to go, and one of the simplest ways to do that is to take a look at your tires. Under-inflated tires aren't just potentially unsafe (and the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will tell you that in no uncertain terms), but they are also a serious fuel-waster.

Statistics compiled by the American Automobile Association (AAA), show that fuel economy is compromised by 10 percent when tires are under inflated by only two psi (pounds per square inch.) So if you spend $80 a month for gasoline, this can cost you almost $100 a year. Now wouldn't you rather have that hundred bucks in your wallet?

If you want to know why under-inflated tires cost you at the fuel pump, the answer is simple. Under-inflated tires work harder, increasing friction and what tire engineers call rolling resistance, which, in turn, requires your engine to work harder to maintain the same speed.

The AAA has been conducting inspections and monitoring vehicles and maintenance habits for the last 20 years, and the results consistently demonstrate that motorists neglect their tires. The organization's data reveals that 80 percent of the cars being driven today have improperly inflated tires.

"Our research shows that this improper inflation issue has been prevalent for years," said Dave Van Sickle, a former AAA automotive expert and spokesperson. "Tires are something that people continually overlook."

If you think you can check 'em and forget 'em, you'll have to think again. It is important for you to remember that tire pressure does not remain constant. As the experts at Bridgestone/Firestone point out, when outdoor temperatures fluctuate, so does the pressure in your tires. In fact, tires may lose one to two psi (pounds per square inch) each month, and even more as outdoor temperatures change. Unfortunately, it is not possible to just look at a tire to determine if the pressure is appropriate. You have to use an air pressure gauge, not a difficult task, but one that needs to be done.

How much air should your tires have? Proper tire inflation is not (repeat, not) the number printed on the tire sidewall. That number generally refers to the maximum air pressure a tire is built to withstand. Consumers should always refer to the information from the automobile manufacturer, which is commonly listed on the door jamb or in the vehicle's owner's manual.

See the logic but still think you might need a gentle reminder? Bridgestone/Firestone operates a consumer Web site, Tire Safety, that offers important information about tire maintenance plus e-mail reminders to check the air pressure in your tires and reminders for periodic rotations.

So by logging onto a free Web site and investing in a three-dollar tire gauge you can save yourself $100 bucks a year. That sounds like the kind of return on investment even Suze Orman could be proud of.

Luigi Frashchini, an auto journalist who calls Cleveland home, is always looking for good ways to save money.