The 4 Best Ways to Improve Gas Mileage

Photo (cc) by Damian Morys Photography

On Monday, we talked about Gas Saving Devices, many of which offer false promises when it comes to fuel savings. Today we turn our attention from devices to gas-saving techniques.

With average pump prices now hovering around $4/gallon nationwide, the web is full of ideas to use less. Some tips are certainly worth considering. But there’s also a lot of myth and misinformation out there. For example, ever heard that you should only buy gas in the morning because fuel volume decreases as the outside temperature increases?

While most tips sprout from a kernel of truth, many produce so little effect they’re not worth considering. (According to Consumer Reports, buying gas in the morning falls into that category.)

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson conducted a little quiz to find out what people think are the best ways to save. See how you do by checking out the video below, then read on to learn the best ways to prime yourself for the pump…

As mentioned in the video above, the best way to improve your fuel efficiency is simple: use your gas and brake pedals judiciously. Here are the top fuel savers, in order of maximum benefit…

  1. Drive proactively. Rapid acceleration and hard braking can lower your mileage by up to 37 percent, according to Edmunds. Look at the road ahead, and try to use your brake and gas pedals as little as possible. (Bonus: This may save you on insurance too, if you have a pay-as-you-drive policy.)
  2. Slow down. Going the speed limit – instead of 15 mph over it – can increase fuel efficiency up to 14 percent, Edmunds says. The U.S. Department of Energy adds: “Mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph” and suggests that higher speeds can cost as much as 23 percent. Consumer Reports found dropping from 75 to 55 in an SUV saved 33 percent. (Bonus: Fewer speeding tickets means more gas money.)
  3. Don’t idle. When you’re sitting still, you get zero mph. Duh, you say – and so did Edmunds, until they realized that turning off an engine rather than idling could increase overall fuel efficiency up to 19 percent. To get their results, Edmunds drove a 10-mile route, stopping 10 times for two minutes each, then compared turning off the car to letting it idle. Consumer Reports suggests turning off your car if you’re going to be stopped for more than 30 seconds. As for taxing your starter? They say it won’t hurt it.
  4. Cruise control. Edmunds found this saves up to 14 percent on flat terrain, but warns not to use it in hilly terrain areas since your car will gulp gas trying to maintain a set speed on a slope.

What about other common advice, like rolling up windows and keeping tires properly inflated? That didn’t make a significant difference for Edmunds. Consumer Reports suggested running the AC could cost as much as 1 mpg: not enough savings to justify stewing in your car on hot summer days. That junk in the trunk can hurt your fuel efficiency, though estimates you only save up to 2 percent per 100 pounds.

Here’s one more way to hedge against the rising costs of gas you probably won’t see anywhere else…

In a December story called 28 Ways to Save on Gas, Stacy suggested buying the stock of ConocoPhillips, an oil company he owns personally. (See his entire online portfolio here.) His logic? If oil prices climb, oil companies make more money. Since those profits should ultimately be reflected as higher stock prices, the money you’re losing at the pump you might make up in the market:

If oil prices do go higher in the weeks and months ahead, it’s highly likely that owning shares in an integrated oil company will be more effective than rolling up your windows.

I’m not particularly touting one oil company over another – if you like the concept, do a little research on your own. To get you started, here’s the page of analysts recommendations re ConocoPhillips.

But humor me – Assume you buy a few shares of ConocoPhillips at today’s price of $64/share. If gas prices go up, see if it goes up with them.

When Stacy offered that advice five months ago, oil was $90/barrel. Yesterday it closed at about $99, so it’s up about 10 percent. ConocoPhillips closed yesterday around $71.50/share, so it’s up about 12 percent.

Interested in other ways to cut the cost of driving? Check out Used Cars That Are Better Than New.

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