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Autos

Here we go again

Whatever the cause, we are once again headed for $4-per-gallon gasoline.  After remaining under $3 for a few years, its per-gallon cost is already over $4 in states like New York and California.  As with previous price hikes, our driving and vehicle purchasing habits will likely now change.

Rising gasoline costs have already lightened my pressure on the accelerator pedal.  After recently seeing my tank-filling tally go over $80 for the first time in a while, I find myself operating the go-pedal as though there is an egg beneath my shoe!

It’s a good thing if higher gas prices affect our driving behavior.  Using less fuel lowers demand which helps stall inflation.  But what about vehicle buying patterns?   Industry analysts struggle to predict when the fuel prices will begin to affect the buying habits of American consumers.  Will a new norm of 4 bucks do it, or will it take a hike to $5 or $6 to precipitate a change?  I don’t have the answer, but I really wonder what it will take to lessen our love affair with large trucks and SUVs getting 10-20 miles-per-gallon.

There are many efficiency-related factors to remember when deciding on a new vehicle.  On a given vehicle, 4-wheel drive uses more fuel than 2-wheel drive, automatic transmissions are less efficient than manuals, smaller engines generally out-mileage bigger ones, and light-colored interiors and exteriors reduce the need for air conditioning use.

Short of switching vehicles, though, we can employ vehicle ownership and operational practices that will save fuel.  Average annual fuel use in the U.S. is over 600 gallons per vehicle — we can improve on that.

Regular servicing of your vehicle is important.  Check your tire pressure regularly — inflate to the manufacturer’s psi recommendation found on the sticker in the glove box, on the door jamb, or in the owner’s manual, not the maximum shown on the tire sidewall.  Spark plugs, air filter, gas filter, and other tune-up related items must be in good condition to maximize fuel mileage.  Investigate a check engine light quickly — a faulty oxygen sensor can reduce mileage by over 30%.  A non-working thermostat will waste fuel and increase emissions by not allowing an engine to reach proper operating temperature.  A dragging brake pad in a stuck caliper is quite common and will “kill” fuel mileage.  Clean oil of the proper viscosity will even aid fuel efficiency — don’t use heavier weights than recommended.

Economical driving habits will save you money.  Avoid quick starts and stops — continuous lead-foot acceleration can reduce your mileage by 30% or more.  Don’t idle excessively (you get 0 mpg while still), and avoid revving the engine to warm it up.  Depart shortly after starting your car — warm-up takes place faster under light load (25-35 mph) and an engine that is fully warm gets better mileage.  Maintain speeds as steady as possible by looking ahead and anticipating stops.  Use cruise control when you can — it’s usually steadier than your foot.

Use manufacturer recommended fuel — if regular (87 octane) is all you need, spending money on mid-grade or premium wastes money and may even adversely affect performance.

Of course, the greatest fuel savings are had by not driving at all — cut back where you can with careful planning, car-pooling, and public transportation.  If you can walk or ride a bicycle, do so now and then — miles-per and price-per gallon will not be a concern!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.