By Sue MacDonald
Face it. Buying gasoline these days hurts.
It hurts to watch the dollar-and-cents digits flip wildly at the gas pump while the gallon digits plod by at half the speed.
It hurts to shell out what used to be spending money on a real, live commodity like gasoline. Gasoline prices have fluctuated dramatically over the last year, and some experts predict they may climb to $2-$3 this summer. In some parts of the Midwest, in fact, drivers already are shelling out $2 a gallon.
Gasoline prices in perspective
Remember the days of the 1973 oil embargo, when conservation was the mantra of the day, futurists predicted clean-burning solar vehicles by the year 2000 and auto manufacturers bragged about cars that got 30-40 miles per gallon?
Look at what's happened. Car gasoline efficiency standards slumped when gas prices fell,
and today's mileage efficiency falls far short of the 1970-era predictions. In 2000, light trucks must average 20.7 miles per gallon (mpg), while the standard for cars is 27.5 mpg. Many trucks and sport utility vehicles are exempt from standards, even though they guzzle the most gas. Some car makers have promised to increase efficiency on light trucks.
The Lincoln Navigator, for example, averages 12 mpg in the city, 17 mpg on the highway. The Ford Explorer ranges from 14 mpg in the city to 22 mpg on the highway (depending on engine size). Likewise the popular Dodge Caravan ranges from 17 mpg in the city to 24 mpg on the highway.
But even if you're driving a gas guzzler, you can squeeze the "go" out of every last drop. Among the fuel-conserving tips from AAA and conservation groups:
· Fill up with cheaper regular-brand gasoline unless your car's manual says not to. Prices often vary by as much as 10 cents a gallon.
· Drive at a steady speed. Herky-jerky, stop-and-start driving wastes more gas than driving at a steady speed. Anticipate stops and ease up on the gas pedal before braking.
· Keep your car in good running order. Change the oil every 3,000-5,000 miles. Check the air filter every time the oil is changed; a dirty air filter can reduce mileage. Keep transmission fluid levels normal. Under-inflated tires reduce gas efficiency, so keep tires filled with air.
· Ditch the car. Carpool whenever necessary, or take the bus, train or trolley. Walk to the grocery for a gallon of milk. Ride a bike to the video rental store.
· Combine several short trips into one large one.
· Don't speed. It's not only illegal and unsafe, it increases gas mileage. Driving at 80 mph instead of 70 mph, for example, increases gas usage by 10 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
· Avoid extended idling when the car is parked.
· Use the air conditioner sparingly, especially when driving in slow-moving or city traffic. AC puts less strain on the engine when the car is traveling at steadier highway speeds.
· If possible, don't pack items on the roof. Increased drag reduces gas mileage.
· Shop around. Prices can vary by as much as 10-15 cents a gallon in the same neighborhood for the same grade of fuel.
· Write to your legislators about the issue.
· Compare mileage when you buy cars, trucks or vans. Buying the most fuel-efficient vehicle in any category can save $1,500 and keep 15 tons of greenhouse-gas pollution from spewing into the atmosphere, according to DOE. Sample the DOE's mileage ratings at www.fueleconomy.gov. Among them:
Honda Insight, a gas/electric hybrid car (61 mpg city; 68 mpg highway)
Toyota Echo (34 mpg city, 41 mpg highway, manual transmission
Honda Civic HX (36 mpg city, 44 mpg highway)
Chevy Metro (30mpg city, 34pg highway)
Mazda 626 (26 mpg city, 32 mpg highway)
Saturn LW200( 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway)
Chevy Impala (23 mpg city, 32 mpg highway)