When will it stop?

Every time I turn the corner, that electronic gas price board is changing! When will the petroleum companies put the brakes on consumer fuel costs? Don’t hold your breath! There are a lot of variables out there that dictate what we pay at the pump.

While the sweet crude barrel of oil is priced lower than last year – with May delivery prices at $99 a barrel – we are at an all-time high for fuel prices. Why? There are many factors and they are all based on speculation: Will there be a slow down or stop of production in one of the OPEC states? How much will China want for their industrial growth? How’s the dollar looking on the international scene?

There’s a lot to it. And, the average car owner is not in the driver’s seat when it comes to how much green he’s going to give up for that liquid gold in the gas tank.

But, there are ways to ease some of the pain.

Instead of the petroleum companies taking your paycheck for a ride, let’s use some common sense to combat those volatile fuel prices. Below is my list of the “dirty dozen” gas savings tips. It’s all about keeping money out of the gas station cash register and into your wallet.  

1)      “Keep the Junk out of Your Trunk”: (This is one of my favorites!) When did our trunks and truck beds become storage areas? Each bowling ball, every bag of mulch is helping itself to a healthy drink of your vehicle’s gasoline. Over time, these items noticeably weigh down your fuel economy.

2)      Proper tire pressure: Notice I said proper. The tire pressure info is located in the driver’s door jamb of every car or truck. There is a reason that the tire pressure reads both front and rear PSI. Your particular vehicle has been painstakingly designed by the manufacturer’s engineers. This includes a specific tire size and tire pressure. Not only will keeping the proper tire pressure ensure the maximum MPG (miles per gallon), but influences braking, steering and handling.

3)      Alignment/tire wear: If your tires are not tracking the pavement properly, you ride is wasting fuel.  That’s right! The extra “drag” from misalignment will hit you in the wallet twice: new tires, low MPG. I always tell people that when they fuel up, turn the steering wheel so that the tires point AWAY from the pumps. Before pumping gas, go around to the front of the vehicle and visually check the tire tread condition. Do they look worn? Does one side of the tire have more tread than the other? If so, go straight to your ASE-Blue Seal shop or dealership and get an alignment.  Save money on tires and fuel!

4)      Any “warning” light illuminated: Don’t drive with any warning lights illuminated on your instrument panel. These red and orange symbols are telling you that the onboard computers – yes, there are dozens of them in your vehicle – have picked up a fault (or two) and your vehicle needs attention. Ignoring this warning sign will kill your MPG.

5)      Top-Tier fuel: In the early 2000s, six vehicle manufacturers got together and asked petroleum companies for a specific fuel composition. This special, gasoline blend would make vehicles run at peak performance (no carbon buildup), best MPG and least amount of emissions. Quite a few oil companies complied and have been deemed “Top-Tier” gasoline.  Just Google the term “Top-Tier” to find a fuel facility near you.

6)      Cruise control: Even in your daily drive to the office, you can take advantage of this highway helper.  A driver’s foot naturally flexes while resting on the accelerator pedal. Since the onboard monitors for fuel are measured in hundredths – sometimes thousandths – it can easily pick-up your natural foot motion. This means more fuel consumption. The cruise control option eliminates this movement, therefore higher MPG.  Use cruise control in light traffic and take advantage of the savings. (Note: The driver must pay attention to the road and vehicle operation. Cruise control activation is not an invitation to talk or text.)

7)      Jack rabbit starts/hard stops: (This is a no-brainer.) If you put the pedal to the metal your fuel economy is going to suffer. (So where are you going? To the next stop light?) And, this goes for waiting for the last second to brake your vehicle – hard, fast stops — at a safety signal.  Wasting fuel and abusing your automobile:  A double-hit for your wallet.

8)      Rush-hour traffic: Don’t you hate idling in traffic? Check out your route. Look and see if there is an alternative map to work or school. Ask your employer if you can change your schedule and start work an hour earlier or later to avoid the gridlock.

9)      Long idle times: Waiting to pick up the kids from school?  Soccer practice? Turn-off the ignition! Long idle times put a big dent in your MPG, and it’s not so good for the engine and supporting components.

10)   Vehicle service: Keep your vehicle running strong with the help of your ASE-certified technician. Make sure that your vehicle is getting the proper maintenance (oil change, tire rotation, etc.) when due.  A well maintained car or truck will give you the best fuel economy.

11)   Plan your trips:  Saturday morning tasks have you running around town? Have a plan of attack and map out the most efficient route. No brainer when it comes to saving fuel, wear-and-tear on your automobile.

12)   “Gimmicks”: There are contraptions and additives out there that promise you the Moon when it comes to saving gas. Don’t buy it – either way! Your vehicle was designed by a team of automotive engineers that know what’s best for your car or truck. Listen to your ASE-certified technician when it comes to servicing your vehicle and doing what’s right for car or truck.

We don’t have re reinvented the wheel to keep money in the wallet. Practice these car care tips and you too can become a savvy, car consumer. It’s that simple.

About The Author

Pam Oakes is a shop owner, ASE-certified technician, automotive author, automotive speaker, and syndicated radio host of “Car Care for the Clueless” on CBS Radio, CoachMeRadio, and AOL Radio -- LIVE@5 p.m. every Friday. And, yes, she still “turns wrenches.”

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