Productivity: Save money on gas by driving more efficiently

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Our ground-breaking series on productivity continues today with a quick look at making your car as fuel-efficient as possible, or just how to save yourself some money while driving around town. For whatever reason, be it merely supply and demand or the sinister result of speculators speculating wildly, fuel prices are at an all-time high. Right now, oil trades for $130, up more than 100 percent since the same time last year. In other words, in just one year fuel prices have doubled, which, combined with other dismal economic factors here in the U.S., stretches the family budget as thin as it’s ever been in recent years. And since our country simply doesn’t have a well-developed mass transportation system in place, save for some of the larger cities—have you considered moving?—owning and driving a car is a necessity for most Americans.

So if you’re forced to drive a car, heed the following advice, most of which comes from old men screaming on CNN about how consumers are getting screwed. A little bit of money saved here, a little bit there, it adds up quickly.

First, and most obvious: drive a fuel-efficient car. Why so many people still insist on driving SUVs, then complain about the lousy gas mileage they get, I’ll never know. It’s 2008 and you don’t look cool—you’re not Jay-Z—and you don’t need that much space to take your son to T-ball practice. Get yourself a smart sedan, or maybe even a hybrid if you’re willing to spend a little more upfront.

Don’t drive like a teenage maniac, even if your cars gets 50 mpg on the highway. Don’t peel away from the intersection when the stoplight turns green, and don’t careen into a red light; the harder you press the gas pedal, the more gas is consumed. Funny, that. On a related note, coast more. Driving down a hill? Get you foot off the gas pedal and let good ol’ momentum propel your car forward. That’s gas saved, and money earned. It’s like Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Speaking of driving like a maniac, don’t tailgate. Like CNN notes, not only is it reckless, and a wonderful way to get into an accident, but every time the driver ahead of you breaks, you have to break even harder. Then you have to accelerate just to get back to your pre-break speed. So chill out and don’t tailgate.

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Don’t buy premium gas unless you absolutely have to. That saves a few ducats right there. Premium gas, unless you’re driving a Shelby or other high-end car—your Honda Accord doesn’t count—is a complete waste of money. Then again, if you’re of the mindset looking to shave a little bit off your weekly gas bill, odds are you aren’t driving a car that benefits all that much from premium gas. No disrespect.

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Drive the speed limit. I know that’s probably crazy talk for a lot of you (all of my friends, past and present, for example) but not only is it safer, you also burn less gas driving slowly than you do driving fast. This is pure physics. As you drive faster, that’s more air your vehicle has to push out of the way, which leads to more resistance, increased drag and the force pulling your car backward and decreased fuel efficiency. It’s a flowchart of waste, and that’s something you don’t want.

Keep engine idling to a minimum. If you’ve pulled into a store’s parking lot and send your friend inside to get some snacks or whatever, don’t leave the engine running. Edmunds found that turning your car off rather than let it idle for more than one minute saves a handsome amount of gas (a 19 percent savings compared to cars that didn’t turn their engine off).

Try to minimize excess weight. Hit the gym. Get rid of any junk you’ve got tied to your roof—roof racks do wonders to increase the drag on your car, thereby reducing fuel efficiency—and search the interior for unnecessary weight, like, say, a whole collection of bowling balls.

I could recommend that you try to carpool to work, but that seems like one of those non-suggestion suggestions that only serve to upset people. People’s schedules are hectic and having to rely on your neighbor’s wheels is just asking for trouble. What if his kid gets sick and he needs to leave work for the day? Then what? Bother someone else for a ride home? Not likely.

So those are just a few ways to keep your gas bill as low as possible. I’ve heard that some folks now resort to paying with a credit card every time they fill up their tank simply to defer payment to not-as-lean times. Any other tips are, of course, encouraged.

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