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4 ways to improve your car's fuel economy

Tara Baukus MelloWith summer driving season upon us, gas prices have climbed 66 cents per gallon of regular unleaded on average nationwide, compared to mid-December, and could climb higher.

At $3.98 per gallon of regular unleaded on average nationwide, the typical driver is spending $36 more per month on fuel now compared to December.

Some of those costs can be offset by four simple strategies that can improve your car's fuel economy to the equivalent of at least 4 cents per gallon, according to a Department of Energy study in 2001 that is still relevant today.

The first tactic everyone should employ is to be diligent about maintaining proper tire pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower fuel economy by 0.3 percent for every pound-per-square-inch drop in all four tires, so tires that are 5 psi less than the manufacturer's recommendations would see a fuel economy decline of 1.5 percent, while tires that are 10 psi under-inflated would see a decline of 3 percent. That's an extra 6 to 12 cents per gallon. Similar to a balloon, tires naturally lose air over time, so check your tire pressure monthly to ensure they are at the proper pressure. You can find the recommended tire pressure for your car in your owner's manual or on a sticker located on the driver's-side doorjamb.

Next, if you are someone who carries around extra stuff you use infrequently, empty your car of everything but the essentials. Every extra 100 pounds can reduce your gas mileage by up to 2 percent, according to the DOE. That's 8 cents per gallon extra you are spending on average.

Properly maintaining your car by following the manufacturer's recommendations located in your owner's manual for recommended maintenance at specific intervals will help keep your fuel economy at your car's optimum levels. Fixing a car that is out of tune or doesn't pass emissions improves fuel economy by 4 percent on average, according to the DOE. That equates to a savings of 16 cents per gallon. Even if your car seems to be running fine, there are various electronic sensors associated with emissions that can reduce your fuel economy. If your "check engine" light brightens, visit your mechanic for a diagnosis. The DOE has found that replacing a faulty oxygen sensor can improve gas mileage by up to 40 percent.

Part of properly maintaining your car is using the proper fluids. The DOE has found that using a different grade of oil than recommended by your car's manufacturer can reduce fuel economy by 1 percent to 2 percent. That's equivalent to a discount of 4 to 8 cents per gallon at the pump. Using oil designated as "energy conserving" also will help your fuel economy, as this oil contains friction-reducing additives.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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