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by Kasey Leavitt, student writer

Remember when gas was $1.85 a gallon? Believe it or not, it wasn’t that long ago. Over the last few years, gas prices have steadily risen for a variety of reasons. The war in the Middle East, increased demand for oil in the United States and developing countries such as China and India, and storms that have severely damaged oil refineries are all contributing factors to the price increase.

Perhaps most frustrating to all is that as gas prices have hit record highs, so have oil company profits. Some people have tried to strong-arm oil companies into lowering their prices by organizing one-day boycotts of gas stations. This tactic hasn’t worked and never will, according to MSNBC Senior Producer John Schoen, who writes for MSNBC’s Business and Personal Finance Answer Desk.

When asked about the possible impact of a gas boycott scheduled for May 15, 2007, Schoen answered: “These ‘boycotters’ simply top off their tanks May 14 or wait to fill them up May 16. All that does is shift sales from one day to another. Any money ‘lost’ from lower gasoline sales on May 15 will be made up with higher sales on the days before and after the ‘boycott.’”

So maybe you can’t do anything about the high price of gas, but you can make your gas go farther. Steps to improving your gas mileage range from easy to difficult, and there are a lot of myths about what actually impacts your gas mileage. Edmunds.com, a popular automotive resource site, has tested a few gas-saving theories that uncover truths and fallacies about ways to reduce your gas consumption.

Aggressive vs. Moderate
We all know that driving defensively is important for safety, but some defensive or moderate driving techniques have a significant impact on your gas mileage. Maintaining an even speed in traffic, and gradually slowing down will use less gas than aggressive acceleration and sudden stops. It is also easier on your car and your passengers and will save you an average of 31 percent in wasted gas.

Drive Slower
This is hard one for those of us who are always in a rush, but staying at 55-60 mph on the highway will keep you safe, help you avoid a speeding ticket, and will increase your gas mileage by 12 percent.

According to the Alliance to Save Energy, driving at speeds in excess of 60 mph decreases your gas mileage significantly. Every five mph over 60, according to the Washington Post, costs approximately 20 cents in gas per hour, assuming a price per gallon of $3 (Feb. 2007).

Use Cruise Control
With all the traffic here on O’ahu, and the short distances, using cruise control is seldom a viable option, but should the opportunity present itself, you should take advantage of it. You can’t use cruise control in traffic, where moderate driving is your best gas-saving technique, but on those rare occasions when you’ve got a long drive with no traffic, using cruise control can save you an average of 7% at the pump.

Avoid Idling
Unnecessary idling is worse for the environment than driving, and it’s just as bad for your car when it comes to gas mileage. The study found that idling for two minutes resulted in a 19 percent decrease in gas mileage.

Now for the myths:

Skip the A/C
The Edmunds.com testers discovered that opening your windows and turning off the air conditioner doesn’t really save a measurable amount of gas, especially on newer cars. In fact, rolling the windows down increases drag on a car, making the car work harder to move, and thereby using up any gas saved by turning off the air conditioner. (The effect on the environment is still debatable.) So, if you’re hot, turn on your air conditioner and know that it won’t have much of an impact on your mileage.

Tire Pressure
It’s important to check your tire pressure regularly to avoid blow-outs and ensure even wear on the treads. Several experts claim that improperly inflated tires will decrease gas mileage, but the researchers at Edmunds .com found no such link.

Annette Perez, 27, is a busy mother of two young children. After reading this story, she agreed to test the tips suggested by Edmunds.com and see if she noticed any improvement in gas mileage in a typical week.

“ I definitely noticed an increase in gas mileage by driving slower and not idling,” says Perez. “I drive from Kalihi Valley to Kapolei every day, and don’t really hit traffic, so I’m able to drive pretty fast. Forcing myself to drive at 55 mph really made my gas last longer.

“ I also have a really bad habit of letting my car idle with the A/C on while I put my makeup on in the morning. Not doing that made a difference. I still had to fill up twice in a week, but I got an extra day of gas in between fill-ups.”

It turns out the single most effective way to manage your gas mileage is to become a better, if not slower, driver. That’s not such a bad thing when you consider the other benefits: fewer speeding tickets, less wear on your car, and above all, a safer driving experience.

This chart illustrates peak gas mileage at 55 mph.

Courtesy TruckandBarter.com


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