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Special section Saving on holiday road trips

While $4 gas has faded, the cost to fill up still makes drivers flinch when it comes to planning a road trip.

15 ways to save on gas

15 ways to save money on gas

While the days of $4 per gallon gasoline have faded into the sunset -- at least for now -- the amount of money we pour into our tanks still makes many a driver flinch and is no small consideration when it comes to planning a driving trip.

Gasoline prices across the nation dropped to an average $1.81 per gallon in the first week of December 2008 -- $1.25 per gallon less than the same month in 2007.

How long prices will remain at that level and whether they will rise or fall further is anyone's guess, but saving money at the pumps is always a good idea -- no matter what the price of gasoline is.

These 15 tips will help you cut fuel consumption.

Car maintenance
1. Keep the tires inflated properly. This one is simple and a potential lifesaver. Underinflated tires waste fuel and wear out the tire tread. Also, check tires regularly for alignment and balance.

2. A well-tuned engine burns less gas. Get regular tuneups and follow through with routine maintenance. The right parts and fresh oil keep your engine happy and less thirsty for gas.

3. Get the junk out of the trunk. A weighed-down car uses more fuel. For every extra 250 pounds your engine hauls, the car loses about one mile per gallon in fuel economy. Carry only the basic emergency equipment and items you really need.

Gas shopping
4. Buy the lowest grade (octane) of gasoline that is appropriate for your car. Check your owner's manual for this information. As long as your engine doesn't knock or ping, the fuel you're using is fine. You can save hundreds of dollars a year.

5. Pay cash at stations that charge extra for credit cards.

6. Don't top off the gas tank. Too much gas will just slosh or seep out. Why waste those extra pennies?

7. Drive intelligently; don't make fast starts or sudden stops. You're just overexerting your engine and burning extra fuel. Gradual acceleration also helps automatic transmissions run better. Engine-revving wastes fuel, too.

8. Lighten up on the accelerator. The faster you drive, the more gas you use. Speed limits have gone up around most of the nation, but you don't have to see your fuel consumption go up drastically as well. For example, driving at 55 mph rather than 65 mph can improve your fuel economy by two miles per gallon.

9. Avoid long warm-ups. Even on cold winter mornings, your car doesn't need more than a minute to get ready to go. Anything more and you're just burning up that expensive fuel.

10. Combine errands into one trip and plan your stops for the most efficient route. You'll save yourself time and money.

11. Do not rest your left foot on the brake. The slightest pressure could cause a drag that will demand additional gas use -- and wear out the brakes sooner.

Other good habits
12. Tighten up that gas cap. Make sure it's on securely. Buy a new one if your current cap doesn't fit snugly. Gas easily evaporates from the tank if it has a way to escape.

13. Buy a fuel-efficient car. When pricing cars, factor in long-term fuel costs. Keep in mind that sunroofs add to wind resistance, lowering the mileage per gallon.

14. Be smart with the air conditioning. On the highway, closed windows decrease air resistance, so run the air conditioner. But in stop-and-go traffic, shutting off the air conditioning and opening the windows can lighten your fuel use. Air conditioning can lower your fuel economy by 10 percent to 20 percent.

15. Remove snow tires in good weather. Deep tread and big tires use more fuel.

-- Updated: Dec. 9, 2008
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