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The news that gas prices are on the rise again reminded me of the summer of 2007. At the time both of my sons were playing travel baseball, which meant we were driving all over northern Illinois every weekend.
We owned a beautiful Chrysler Pacifica at the time — a sporty, comfortable, large car that was perfect for toting baseball players and their gear. But the behemoth was also gas hog — I think it was topping out at 12 mpg — and prices were soaring. We finally couldn’t stand it anymore and traded down to a Honda Civic. Way less room, but at least I didn’t clutch my wallet every time I hit the gas pedal!
The web is full of tips for saving fuel, but below I offer a half dozen of the best tips. I’m not a mechanic, so I’ve got nothing to say about changing your oil or keeping your tires properly inflated. Instead, these are lifestyle tips that can affect how often you pull up to the pump:
1. Turn off your engine
I can’t believe how often I pull up to a train crossing — there are a lot of trains in suburban Chicago — and see a line of cars with their engines running. Some of these trains take 10 or 15 minutes to pass — a big car can easily suck down a quarter gallon of fuel by idling that long!
If you know you’re going to be idling for a while — another example is when you’re waiting for your kid to get out of school — shut off your engine. You’ll save gas and reduce pollution. I even turn off the engine when I pull up to a drive-through teller or ATM at the bank — it usually only takes a five minutes to complete my transaction, but that can add up over the course of a year.
2. Don’t warm up your car
Modern engines do not need to be warmed up, especially if you live anywhere south of North Dakota. Sure, it’s nice and comfy in the car when you start it with the remote starter from your kitchen table and let the heater run for 15 minutes while you read the paper, but come on, that’s a serious waste of gas! Not to mention the pollution you’re spewing into the air.
3. Plan your route
The other day I picked up my son from football practice and he told me he wanted to meet some friends for lunch at a diner about a mile from our house and about two miles from the high school. They were all meeting in 20 minutes, but he wanted to go home first. This meant we would go home, sit for five or ten minutes, and get back into the car… and drive an extra couple of miles!
I convinced him that it was way smarter for us to drive straight to the diner. Sure, he would be 10 or 15 minutes early, but so what? Bottom line: Planning your route for efficiency saves gas.
4. Car pool
Yeah, I know, this can be a drag. You want to listen to your own radio stations, and you want to be able to stop at McDonald’s and buy a chocolate shake without anyone knowing, right? But if you’re serious about saving gas, car pooling is a no brainer. During that baseball season I mentioned above, I got to know many of my sons’ teammates’ parents while driving to far-flung diamonds. I saved gas and made new friends!
5. Park the car
The ultimate way to save guess is to use your legs, bike, or public transportation more often! I follow a kind of general rule — if I can walk somewhere, I walk there. It’s good exercise, it gives me time to think, and it saves gas.
When my boys were little I loved stuffing them into the jogger and running errands that way. In fact, I kept using that jogger even when my kids were seven or eight years old, way older than most kids in joggers. I would get funny looks from other parents — as they loaded their kids into their gas-guzzling SUVs!
6. Your car isn’t a storage locker
Look in your trunk — are you hauling around tools, toys, old clothes, or other clutter that you can’t seem to unload? According to the EPA, 100 pounds of junk in your trunk could reduce your gas mileage by 2 percent. Take a few minutes today to throw that stuff in the garage instead!
These six tips won’t keep you out of the gas station forever, but they should reduce your visits there. I’d love to hear your own gas-saving secrets, so please share them!