3 driving tips for better fuel economy

Tara Baukus Mello Automakers may regularly tout their vehicles' fuel economy in ads, but today's drivers often never achieve those EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers, even though the Environmental Protection Agency revised its methods in 2007 to bring its numbers closer to real-world driving. It is a discouraging situation at the very least, but it's also one that affects your wallet and a factor that you should take into consideration if you are trying to save money.

While the EPA's new fuel economy calculations are more accurate, they still aren't in line with what many drivers experience. That's partially because the EPA's calculations are done under laboratory conditions, and the real world is filled with hilly terrain, motorists with different driving styles, cars that may not be perfectly maintained and an array of other factors. It's also because the tests don't factor in some common driving situations, such as highway speeds over 60 miles per hour.

Thanks to the EPA's test limitations, trying to achieve the MPG rating that's on a car's window sticker can be a losing battle, but there are a variety of things any driver can do to get bring his real-world fuel economy closer to EPA estimates. Here are three strategies that provide the biggest improvement:

3 routes to better fuel economy
  1. Drive the speed limit.
  2. Don't drive aggressively.
  3. Don't skimp on maintenance and repairs.
Drive the speed limit. The faster a car travels, the greater wind resistance it creates, which means it burns more fuel. In most passenger cars, fuel economy decreases rapidly above 60 mph, reducing gas mileage by as much as 23 percent, according to the EPA.

Don't drive aggressively. Rapid acceleration, speeding and heavy braking all reduce gas mileage and are unsafe. Exhibiting these behaviors on the highway can reduce fuel economy by as much as one-third, the EPA says.

Don't skimp on maintenance or postpone repairs. While regular maintenance with the manufacturer's recommended fluids and parts does result in modest fuel economy improvements of 5 percent on average, according to the EPA. It's even more important not to postpone electronic repairs, since onboard computers control so many things, including fuel economy and emissions. According to the EPA, a faulty oxygen sensor, for example, can decrease fuel economy by as much as 40 percent.

The next time you are shopping for a new or used car, remember to factor fuel economy into your cost of ownership. Visit the "Your MPG" section of the Web site to see what other drivers are reporting for gas mileage on cars they are considering to buy. By using these numbers in addition to the official EPA estimates, you'll get a more accurate picture of how much you'll spend at the pump, and that may help you make a better financial choice in the long run.

If you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.

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