VACATION IDEAS: ROAD TRIPS

7 Most Common Gas-Guzzling Mistakes

Did you know that for every 5 mph you drive over 50 mph, you're paying an extra 26¢ per gallon for gas? It's easier than you think to avoid common mishaps like this—and save money at the pump.

The Mistake: It's Been a While Since the Car Had Some TLC

Why it matters: Engine and car maintenance is important for the vehicle's fuel efficiency. Low tire levels, low fluid levels, a broken thermostat, and sticky brake calipers can all contribute to a reduction in gas mileage. Soft tires, for example, produce greater friction between the road and the rubber, causing the engine to work harder to propel you forward. For every 1 psi drop in pressure, gas mileage decreases by .3 percent, according to fueleconomy.gov. The Toyota Camry, according to Consumer Reports, experienced a 1.3 mpg loss in highway fuel economy when its tires were underinflated by 10 psi.

What to do: Maintain proper car maintenance. Replacing the oxygen sensor, for example, can be crucial. The sensor monitors the amount of oxygen in the exhaust and tells the car to adjust its air/fuel mixture based on its reading. If it's acting improperly, the car will run poorly and waste gas (fixing a faulty oxygen sensor can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent, according to fueleconomy.gov). Also, different motor oils have different grades of thickness, so use the recommended grade of motor oil, which can improve your gas mileage by 1 to 2 percent. It takes more energy to push through thick oil than it does through thinner oil, according to Car Talk's Guide to Better Fuel Economy, so it's important to use the right grade. The Federal Trade Commission suggests finding motor oil that says "Energy Conserving" on the performance symbol to help improve gas mileage. For minimum tire-inflation pressure, check the driver's side doorpost sticker or the owner's manual. Do not use the maximum pressure printed on the tire's sidewall—that is the maximum allowable pressure, not the recommended pressure. When the weather gets colder, this is even more crucial: For every drop of 10° Fahrenheit in air temperature, tires will lose one pound of pressure, according to Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the cohosts of NPR's Car Talk. Similarly, replacing a worn tire when necessary could save you more than $100 a year in fuel, according to consumerreports.org.

The Mistake: Warming Up the Car Too Long

Why it matters: Burning gas and going nowhere? Not fuel efficient. For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses the same amount of fuel as a mile's drive, according to the California Energy Commission. When Consumer Reports left a Buick Lucerne idle for 10 minutes while warming up, it burned about an eighth of a gallon of gas.

What to do: Don't idle for more than 30 seconds, even in cold weather. According to the California Energy Commission, the best way to warm up a car is to drive it gently.

The Mistake: Not Taking the Time to Plot a Route That Avoids Traffic

Why it matters: Sitting in traffic is the same as idling—not fuel efficient. The shortest route is not necessarily the best one for the wallet if you're in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

What to do: On most smartphones, Google Maps gives consumers up-to-date traffic patters and information to help plan the most efficient route. Certain GPS units, like the Garmin nüvi 3750, also study traffic trends and can help improve your route. Using E-ZPass, FastLane, FasTrak, SunPass, or any other electronic toll-booth collection program can also reduce starts and stops, and help improve gas mileage.

The Mistake: Too Many Stops on the Road Trip

Why it matters: Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

What to do: Because warmed-up engines operate more efficiently (and, in turn, offer better gas mileage), according to edmunds.com, try to avoid an excessive number of stops on the next road trip and limit the bathroom breaks if you can.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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