Inflate your gas mileage

From keeping up tire pressure, to changing your oil there's several ways to save on gas
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Motoring Editor
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The wallet-busting gas prices of 2008 might be behind us, but the economic crisis of ’09 and the recent increase in fuel prices haven’t made things any easier. Add on top of that AAA of Northern California’s report that it costs nearly $8,100 a year to own and operate a new vehicle plus current fuel prices of $3.05 a gallon and consumers are looking for ways to save — especially on gas. So what do you do if you’re looking to get the most fuel efficiency out of your ride? It starts at the bottom, more specifically, with the four pieces of rubber that push your steel chariot around town. Making sure your tires are inflated and in good shape can amount to some serious savings when it comes to fuel. “Pressure, alignment, rotation. Those are the main three (when it comes to getting good gas mileage),” said Dan Luper, owner of Big O Tires in Downtown Auburn. “I would probably say, besides the mechanical tune-up to get the best mpg (miles per gallon), correct air pressure is probably the second most important thing.” Having the right tire pressure can earn vehicle owners 15 percent in fuel economy savings on average, or as much as 20 percent, according Luper. Keeping that tire pressure at just the right number is key, because if there’s too much, the tires will wear out faster. And if there’s not enough, the tires will slow down the car by causing more friction, draining fuel mileage. “The simplest thing people can do is keep the air pressure up in their tires, up to two or three pounds below the maximum,” said Jimmy Mullenix, owner of The Master Technicians, Inc., in Auburn. “It’s rare that I have a car come into the shop that’s not 10 or 15 pounds below (the recommended pressure). So tire pressure is probably the biggest thing.” Seeking that tire that helps a vehicle get the best mileage in the foothills? Luper recommends tire shoppers look into getting all-season steel-belted radial tires. And if you have a truck, a mild all-terrain tire should do the trick, giving stability and at the same time keeping friction down, thus helping save on gas. Regular maintenance is another key to getting good gas mileage. If a car’s not in top-running order, fuel economy suffers. “All your typical simple maintenance of course (will help with mileage),” Mullenix said. “That includes making sure your air filter is clean and simply following your vehicle’s manufacturer-recommended service.” Staying on top of the vehicle’s engine oil schedule will also increase fuel economy. “I change my oil about every 3,000 miles,” said John Borg of Foresthill, who was at Big O Tires Friday morning getting the tires rotated on his 1996 Ford Contour GL. Auto technicians recommend getting the vehicle’s oil changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Going pass the 5,000-mile mark will decrease fuel economy as the oil loses its viscosity. “Anytime you get over 5,000 miles it decreases gas mileage and wears on the engine,” Mullenix said. “I read that anything over 5,000 miles and you’re losing gas mileage because of increased friction on the engine.” And of course, there’s the common sense rules of the road that will help that needle stay on the “F” of the fuel gauge longer. “I always try and keep it under 65 (mph), which I do on the freeway, and anticipating my stops,” Borg said. “I just try and drive safely.” Mullenix recommends driving “like you have an egg underneath your throttle” accelerating slowly and decelerating slowly. “It’s really that simple,” he said. “A soft accelerator is the main thing.” Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at __________ Tips for increasing fuel economy -- Use cruise control to maintain a steady speed. -- Know the correct starting procedure for your car. Don’t race a cold engine to warm it up. -- Avoid extended idling to warm up the engine. Start driving as soon as the engine is started, but avoid rapid acceleration. -- Maintain steady speeds for the best fuel economy. A car uses extra fuel when it accelerates. -- Minimize the need to brake by anticipating traffic conditions. Be alert for slow-downs and red lights. -- Travel at moderate speeds on the open road. Higher speeds require more gasoline use to overcome air resistance. -- Use the air conditioner only when needed. Air conditioning dramatically reduces fuel economy. -- Spark plugs must be in good condition. -- Check the air filter twice a year. A dirty air filter increases fuel consumption and can cause poor performance. -- Inflate tires according to the recommendation in the owner’s manual. Underinflated tires are a safety hazard and can cut fuel economy by as much as 2 percent per pound of pressure below the recommended level. -- Take care of car-care "incidentals" that can affect fuel use. For example, a defective radiator thermostat can waste gas by extending the engine’s warm-up time or decreasing the engine’s operating temperature. A stuck brake caliper can create drag, which also wastes fuel. ~ Courtesy AAA of Northern California Avoid ‘hypermiling’ Seeking optimal fuel economy is a good thing to strive for, but don’t go overboard. The Northern California branch of AAA recommends against “hypermiling,” the practice of pushing fuel-saving tips to the extreme. Examples of this include turning off a vehicle’s engine or coasting in neutral, tailgating or drafting larger vehicles, rolling through stop signs and driving at erratic and unsafe speeds, according to AAA. Some drivers go as far as over-inflating their tires to reduce tire surface touching the road, this is a dangerous practice that causes tire damage and loss of handling. “Drivers need to maintain total control of their vehicle so they can maneuver safely in an emergency,” said Matt Skryja, spokesperson for AAA of Northern California, in a release. “Many ‘hypermiling’ techniques jeopardize safety simply for a potential increase of a few miles per gallon. It’s just not worth your life or someone else’s.” ~ Andrew DiLuccia