Save money on summer driving

Cheaper gasoline prices this spring pretty much spoiled us – until school let out and people could drive off on their vacations and, of course, the price at the pump rose again.

I shouldn’t complain about the price of gas. We have it a lot better than people in many countries. It’s one of the reasons Columbus sailed west.

Still, I don’t like to spend a dollar I don’t have to, and one way to conserve money is to conserve gasoline. I dug through my files and found a pamphlet on conserving fuel, published many years ago by the U.S. Department of Energy.

One of its big points was that I could save 12 percent on my gas bill by keeping my car tuned, 15 percent by buying radial tires (years ago, remember?) and keeping them properly inflated, 20 percent by not using my air conditioner and 20 percent by driving carefully.

Come on! That adds up to a savings of 67 percent on the money I spend at the pump. I could basically drive to California on one gallon! Normally I trust our government blindly, but here I have to draw the line. And not all those percents make sense.

For instance, I tried to save gas by turning off my car’s air conditioner and rolling down the windows. Open windows increase wind resistance by creating drag, however, which requires more fuel to keep the wheels rolling.

That old pamphlet contained other gas-saving tips that also proved impractical:

• Buy a subcompact that gets good mileage. (Go out and spend $20,000-plus just to save a few hundred? That sounds heaven-sent for Detroit, but not your budget at home.)

• Use your vent windows to cool the car. (The last time I owned a car that had vent windows was 1976.)

• Try to maintain a smooth, steady speed as you drive. (Try that on Washington Road.)

• Instead of driving, take public transportation. (The subway doesn’t go by my house.)

Obviously, we need more help than the government can provide. Therefore, I’ve come up with my own ways to economize at the pumps:

• Remove excess weight from your car. Gasoline is heavy, especially when your tank holds 20 gallons. So, buy just $1 worth at a time and keep your tank nearly empty. You’ll have to drive as though there’s an egg under the gas pedal just to get from one gas station to the next. Believe me, you’ll save gasoline.

• On the highway, drive no faster than 55 mph. Big-rig drivers will nudge you along by ramming your rear bumper. Every time your car is shoved ahead, you are increasing your mpg – and saving money. Whee!

• Never tune your engine. When a car is badly out of tune, it won’t start – and burn gas. Watch those dollars pile up.

• If you have teenagers in the family, pack them off to live with relatives until they can afford to buy their own cars and gas. You’ll save millions of dollars.

Reach Glynn Moore at glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.

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