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Good gas conservation habits pay off

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Nick Ut/AP/File

(Read caption) Justin Smith, fills up his van at a gas station in west Los Angeles in this file photo. Keeping a consistent speed and using your breaks sparingly are good ways to save on gas.

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One of the fun things about my wife’s car is that it has a constant readout of the miles per gallon on the dashboard. It lets you know what your miles per gallon over the last five minutes is, the mpg of your entire trip, as well as your estimated miles per gallon right at that moment.

The data it produces is really accurate. We’ve measured this ourselves by checking the gas mileage manually by calculating it from the odometer and gas receipts and comparing it to the data in the car.

It’s often a competition between Sarah and myself to see who can get the best gas mileage over a given trip. Not only is it a bit of friendly competition, the reward for it is that we save money over the course of that trip.

For example, I managed to drive an entire three hour car trip while keeping the fuel economy average over 50 miles per gallon. I did this by utilizing lots of little tricks along the way, and doing so saved us several dollars in gas while only eating up a few more minutes of driving.

Sarah, on the other hand, managed to drive about fifteen miles while keeping the fuel economy average over sixty miles per gallon. She was aided by wind, which was blowing strongly in almost the perfect direction for her route, but it was still quite impressive. It added maybe thirty seconds to the drive but saved her about $0.50 in gas.

If this sounds like hypermiling, you’d be right. Although we don’t go to the extreme measures often advocated by hardcore hypermilers, we do try out the techniques.

The real impact of doing it is that several techniques for improving our fuel economy have become completely second nature for our driving. Here are some of those techniques that you can easily translate to your own driving. They might add a minute or two to your drive, but they’ll save you enough money along the way to make up for it.

Stick close to 55 miles per hour on the open road. This seems to be the sweet spot in terms of speed. If you go much faster than 55, your fuel efficiency starts to decrease. If you get much above 65, it decreases rapidly, somewhere in the realm of about 1% fuel efficiency lost for every mile per hour you’re going over 65.

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When going through stoplights, accelerate slowly and coast. Rather than accelerating strongly out of a light, racing up to the next light, and then hitting the brakes, instead accelerate slowly out of a light and when you see the light turning red half a block in front of you, let off the accelerator and just coast until you need to stop. This minimizes your gas usage and gets you to the stoplight with plenty of time to spare.

When going down a hill, lay off the brake. Let your car accelerate a bit naturally, then use that extra acceleration to coast for a while when you get to the bottom of the hill.

When going up a hill, lay off the accelerator. Many people hit the accelerator when going up a hill. Don’t do it. Instead, let your speed go down as you’re climbing the hill, then slowly bring it back up when you get to the top. Often, hills link into each other, so you’ll often use the speed from the previous hill to climb the next one or get your speed back from the previous climb when going down the other side of a hill.

Things I don’t recommend that you might see as gas mileage tips include rolling through stop signs and overinflating your tires. The former is simply begging to get into an accident, while the latter tactic makes it very easy to blow out a tire.

Making a few little changes to how you drive can save you a surprising amount of fuel without adding much time at all to your trip. I’ll happily arrive a few minutes later if I’m saving a few bucks in gas.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.


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