Saturday, March 6, 2004

Owners can boost fuel economy

Driving gently will save gas

By Carol Traeger
Enquirer contributor


The Lexus RX 330 sports utility vehicle gets 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway. A gas-electric hybrid version is due out this year.

More on the Web: - The Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's site features a list of 2004's "Greenest" and "Meanest" vehicles, as well as "best-in-class" lists; information on how vehicles impact the environment, and tips on shopping for a new car or truck. The site also includes the Green Book Online ($8.95), which provides a "Green" score for every 2004 model-year car and truck, plus information on each model's fuel economy, tailpipe emissions and estimated fuel expenses. - This site offers fuel-saving tips, a list of the top fuel-efficient vehicles in each class, and a method for calculating your annual fuel costs

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Even if you've got a family, you don't have to pay a penalty at the fuel pumps.

My friend Stella thought having two kids meant she had to drive a humungous SUV. Now she's on a first-name basis with her gas-station attendant, and spends three times more money fueling her Excursion than my friend Jan (also a mother of two) does filling her VW New Beetle.

Like many new-vehicle buyers, Stella wasn't thinking about fuel economy when she purchased her Ford Excursion. But she sure is now.

Gas prices are on the rise, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts higher prices will prevail through the summer driving season. Last week, the average retail price for a gallon of regular gasoline ($1.68) was 21 cents more than it was in December 2003.


If a wallop to your wallet isn't enough to get you to rethink your transportation needs, maybe you should consider the environmental consequences.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, every gallon of gas your vehicle burns adds 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Taking into account the energy that goes into making and distributing the fuel, the total global warming impact of one burned gallon of gas is equivalent to 28 pounds of CO2 emissions.

Driving a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon compared with 25 will spew an additional 10 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere over the lifetime of the vehicle (or 10 years and 120,000 miles).

Fuel-saving tips

Even if you drive a big, heavy SUV, there are a few simple things you can do to increase your vehicle's fuel economy. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Environmental Protection Agency offer the following tips for getting the most from a tank of gas:

• Drive gently. Aggressive driving - rapidly accelerating and braking - can reduce gas mileage by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent around town (costing you as much as 49 cents per gallon).

• Avoid rush hour. Stop-and-go driving increases fuel consumption.

• Follow speed limits.

• Avoid idling. Idling gets zero miles per gallon.

• Turn off the AC. Air conditioning draws power away from the engine, increasing fuel consumption. To save gas, open the vents and windows to cool off, and wait until you hit 40 mph before turning on the AC.

• Keep tires properly inflated. It takes more energy (i.e., fuel) to propel an underinflated tire. Learn the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle. This information is listed inside the door frame and/or in the owner's manual.

• Get a tune-up. Fixing an out-of-tune car can improve gas mileage by about 4 percent. Repairing a faulty oxygen sensor can improve fuel economy by up to 40 percent. Replacing a clogged air filter can increase gas mileage by 10 percent (and protect your engine).

Buying green

The most effective thing you can do to increase fuel economy is to drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.

Choose a vehicle to suit your daily needs, not your once-a-year activities. For instance, if you only haul stuff once a year, buy a compact and borrow or rent a truck.

And if you have a choice among engines in a vehicle, opt for the smallest. "Don't insist on getting the most powerful engine," says Jim Kliesch, transportation analyst with the Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "Most base engines have plenty of power for real-world driving."

Each year, the council publishes a list of the year's "greenest" (most environmentally friendly) vehicles. Heading the list of 2004's greenest gas-powered, five-passenger vehicles are the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Echo, Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic HX, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Scion xA and Honda Civic.


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