Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 10, 2005

Relief at the pumps: gas-saving tips

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

It’s no secret that gas prices have sky rocketed and show no signs of lowering any time soon, but consumers need not feel helplessly trapped, destined to dig ever deeper into their pockets at the pump.

There are a number of gas- and money-saving options available, from buying a new car to improving the gas mileage on an existing car, and a few tricks in between.

Finely tuned relief

There are simple ways to upgrade a vehicle’s performance, some of which cost virtually nothing, but can save a bundle.

Making sure a vehicle is properly serviced is number one in obtaining good gas mileage, according to the professionals.

“Just because a car with 100,000 miles hasn’t had service done to it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t need it,” Don Artmann of Big Don’s Carthedral in Lester Prairie said.

Fixing a car that is out of tune can improve gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, while fixing a serious problem could improve mileage by almost 40 percent.

Todd Machtemes of Waconia Ford has already seen an increase in people who are especially interested in properly maintaining their vehicles.

“We are running some service specials on tuning up because some people are hanging on to their current vehicles a little longer than they may have anticipated,” Machtemes said.

The first order of business in properly maintaining a vehicle is to check and replace air filters regularly.

“Air filters and fuel filters are most important on fuel-injected cars, and most overlooked,” Jeff Petersen of Jeff-Ex in Montrose said.

Petersen suggests checking them along with checking the oil. The air filter is held in place by clips under the hood and can be checked easily, but the fuel filter is under pressure and should be handled by a professional.

Clean filters keep impurities from damaging the engine, resulting in better gas mileage.

A fuel-injection cleaning service is next on the list, which gets the carbon out of the system, and can gain a mile or two every gallon, according to Al Cafferty of Bryan’s Service in Winsted.

Other tips include using the recommended grade of motor oil for the engine, and maintaining tire pressure. Not only do properly inflated tires help boost miles per gallon, they are also safer and last longer.

Finally, proper vehicle maintenance breaks down to common sense.

“Set a basic maintenance schedule, and stick to it,” Cafferty said. “Be smart and know what your car is telling you.”

Drive in the savings

Poor gas mileage may have more to do with the driver, than the vehicle. By observing these tips, a person can improve his or her vehicle’s gas mileage without popping the hood.

Be wary of speeding. A lead foot not only runs the risk of incurring a speeding ticket, but may also be racking up extra dollars at the pump.

Each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed, but gas mileage usually rapidly decreases at speeds above 60 mph. Driving 65 mph could be comparable to spending an additional $0.21 per gallon, as opposed to driving 55 mph or even 60 mph.

Using cruise control can help steady a vehicle’s speed, maximizing its fuel efficiency.

Other fuel burners include rapidly accelerating and breaking, as well as excessive idling.

A car that is loaded down will also burn more fuel. Therefore, avoid keeping unnecessary items in the vehicle, especially heavy ones. An unused bicycle or canoe rack attached to the hood of the vehicle can likewise create more resistance, using more fuel.

Smart driving, such as consolidating several errands into one trip and carpooling with others, is another way to use less gas.

For households with more than one car, it is a good idea to use the car that is already warmed up for a short trip, as cars that are not warmed up get poor gas mileage.

Time to buy

For some people, buying a whole new car may be the best way to save over the long run.

Consumer tides have switched recently, as more people find themselves trading in their gas-guzzlers for more efficient vehicles.

“It’s completely changed in a very short period of time. About six months ago, people used to come in here and ask about horsepower, now they are asking about miles per gallon,” Gary Holman of Delano Dodge said.

Machtemes is noticing the switch to smaller vehicles among his customers.

“We are getting a lot of SUVs traded in,” Machtemes said. “Families that have been running around in SUVs are buying smaller SUVs.”

Although Machtemes is selling more smaller cars, such as the Ford Focus, truck sales remain steady.

Holman agrees that although many people are in the market for smaller vehicles that are more gas efficient, they aren’t always the best choice.

“My advice would be to not let fuel economy rule your decision, it depends what you need the vehicle for,” Holman said. “If you need a truck to haul things, buying a Dodge Neon isn’t going to work.”

When considering buying a new vehicle, size isn’t the only way to save on your gas bill.

How about a vehicle that doesn’t use gas at all, or at least not all of the time?

Hybrid vehicles contain parts that can run on both gasoline and electricity.

A traditional hybrid vehicle includes an electric motor for power, batteries to supply the motor with electricity, and a small gasoline engine powering a generator.

The small, efficient engine supplies enough power for the car at its cruising speed, the batteries provide extra power for accelerating. When the car is decelerating or standing still, the batteries recharge.

Because the engine is smaller, and runs more efficiently at one speed, it gets better gas mileage.

Machtemes carries the Escape Hybrid, which has a four-cylinder engine, and has sold a few of them, but notes they are not for everyone.

“(Hybrid) vehicles are geared towards someone driving just in the city. Anything over 25 miles per hour uses gas; for commuters, it’s probably not the best vehicle,” Machtemes said.

If electric cars do not seem feasible, another option is vehicles powered by a new fuel called E-85, which consists of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Reportedly, E-85 can save consumers about 30 to 40 cents per gallon.

Ethanol is a high octane, liquid, domestic, and renewable fuel, produced by the fermentation of plant sugar, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

In the United States, ethanol is typically produced from corn and other grain products.

“Manufacturers are gearing towards E-85 vehicles, so we are pushing our E-85 vehicles because of that, and also to support the local Minnesota corn farmers,” Machtemes said.

Flex-fuel vehicles have a single fuel tank, fuel system, and engine, which can run on regular unleaded gasoline and an alcohol fuel, such as E-85, or a combination of both.

A few examples of flex-fuel vehicles are the 2006 Ford F-150, 2005 General Motors Vortec-engine Avalanche, and 2005 Dodge Ram Stratus.

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