Gas Saving Advice

By
Updated: January 17, 2011

Mad about higher gas prices?
Here’s how to reduce your gasoline costs.

Consumers are hopping mad about rising gas prices. Prices rose to record levels in May 2007, averaging $3.47 a gallon in Los Angeles. At that price, refueling a Chevy Suburban costs $107. Most people expect gas prices to continue climbing, according to surveys. Some blame oil companies or auto makers for the problem.

This has led to calls for tighter Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which require manufacturers to hit targets for their entire fleet, and for the creation of a windfall profits tax on oil companies, the proceeds of which would presumably be used for research and development. However this shakes out, it doesn’t appear it will have much affect on gas prices now.

In the meantime, there are ways to reduce your gas expenses. You can cut back on your driving. Working from home, car pooling, consolidating your errands can save lots of gas.

Good driving technique improves your fuel efficiency. The best fuel economy is achieved while cruising between 30 and 60 mph, and efficiency falls off dramatically when driving faster or slower. Smooth and steady driving is far more fuel-efficient than aggressively using the gas and brakes. Shifting into the highest gear possible as early as possible improves fuel economy. In heavy traffic, smoothing out the stop-and-go can improve your mileage.

Maintaining your car will improve its fuel efficiency. Have your tire pressures checked often. Properly inflated tires result in better gas mileage and improved safety. Replacing a dirty air filter can improve gas mileage by 10 percent. Tuning the engine typically improves efficiency by 4 percent, according to the EPA, while a major repair such as replacing a faulty oxygen sensor can improve mileage by as much as 40 percent.

Switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle can reduce your fuel costs. Many of the newest vehicles offer better fuel economy and more power than those they replace. The latest Chevy Silverado pickups, for example, offer better fuel economy than the models they replaced, 1-3 miles per gallon better with the popular 5.3-liter V8s, for example.

Topping the EPA fuel economy charts are cars powered by hybrid gas-electric engines: The Toyota Prius gets an EPA-estimated 60/51 mpg City/Highway, the Honda Civic Hybrid rates 49/51, and the Toyota Camry Hybrid gets 40/38 (MY07 figures). However, gas-electric powertrains cost more than regular gas engines due to their technological sophistication. So you may have to drive your hybrid awhile to regain the difference in price in fuel savings. The case for hybrids is more easily justified for their extremely low emissions.

The midsize Toyota Camry Hybrid is rated 40/38 mpg City/Highway, compared with 24/33 for a regular Camry four-cylinder and 22/31 for a Camry V6. Arguably the best execution of a hybrid-powered car on the market today, the Camry Hybrid costs roughly $2,000 more than a regular Camry XLE four-cylinder, but the Hybrid buyer gets substantially improved acceleration performance and super clean emissions, in addition to the fuel savings. That buyer also gets nothing short of a technological marvel that requires little or no adjustment in driving style. Hybrids are notorious for not achieving the EPA fuel-economy estimates, but the culprit has been outdated EPA tests.

In general, the most fuel-efficient vehicles tend to be lighter because a heavier car needs more fuel to generate the same acceleration performance.

The lightest cars tend to be subcompacts and compacts. The Toyota Yaris subcompact is rated 34/40 mpg, while the Corolla compact is rated 32/41. Cars in this class represent some of the best automotive values available, in terms of inexpensive transportation, and the latest subcompact and compact cars are not the penalty boxes they once were. They are quite pleasant to drive and spend time in. The Mini Cooper (35/40 mpg) and Honda Fit (33/38) get excellent fuel economy while delivering sporty performance.

Midsize sedan buyers can save fuel by choosing a four-cylinder engine over a V6. That’s hardly a sacrifice, nowadays, because many of the four-cylinder engines are both powerful and fuel-efficient. The Hyundai Sonata leads the pack in terms of fuel economy (24/34), comes in at an aggressive price point, and it’s a good car, with fine driving attributes and a nice, comfortable cabin. Manual transmissions typically get better mileage than automatics, but CVTs (continuously variable transmissions) offer efficiency and work similarly to automatic transmissions.

Compact SUVs combine utility and efficiency. The compact crossovers that get the best fuel economy include the Ford Escape (36/31 mpg), and Saturn VUE, all available with hybrid power-plants, plus the Jeep Compass, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4.

That’s all well and good, but you may have children to transport, sports equipment to haul, trips to the home-improvement store to make. You have stuff.

You may hate us for saying it, but switching from that truck-based SUV to a minivan will net 3-7 mpg, which could cut your monthly gas bill by something like 20 percent. Switching from a Toyota Sequoia (15/18 mpg) to a Toyota Sienna (18/24 mpg) could save $900 a year in heavy L.A. driving, according our calculations using EPA’s FuelEconomy.gov.

Vehicle City/ Highway (MPG)
Toyota Camry Hybrid 40 / 38 MPG
Mercury Mariner Hybrid 27 / 30 MPG
Honda Fit 33 / 38 MPG
MINI Cooper 35 / 40 MPG

Minivans cost less than SUVs, cost less to operate, and are more convenient for family duty than trucks. Many are quite luxurious and are often more comfortable and more enjoyable to drive than their SUV. The Sienna and Honda Odyssey are superb vehicles and we have high hopes for the 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country (about 18/25 mpg with the powerful 3.8-liter V6). They get much better mileage than the truck-based Sequoia, Ford Expedition, Chevy Tahoe, Dodge Durango, or Nissan Armada, and some are available with all-wheel drive.

Many drivers don’t want to be seen in minivans, however, so the sport-utility market is moving away from truck-based SUVs to so-called crossover utility vehicles that blur the line between car and truck.

People are trading in their midsize SUVs for the new crossovers in droves. Indeed, switching from a Ford Explorer to a Ford Edge can save $600 a year in gasoline, according to our calculations. Swapping a Chevy TrailBlazer for a Chevy Equinox or a Dodge Durango to a Chrysler Pacifica or a Toyota 4Runner to a Highlander can yield similar results.

General Motors is taking this a step further this year with the introduction of crossovers as big as a Chevy Tahoe that will comfortably seat eight people while improving fuel economy 3-5 mpg.

Shoppers will need to pay extra attention to window stickers in the coming year. New EPA fuel-economy numbers on the window stickers of 2008 models will reflect new government test procedures. As a result, fuel economy estimates for 2008 models will look poorer than those for identical 2007 models; the actually fuel economy will be the same, but the EPA estimate will often make the newer model look 4-5 mpg less efficient. While the 2007 Camry Hybrid is rated 40/38 mpg City/Highway, assuming no product changes, the 2008 model will be rated 33/34 mpg. During the transition, it’ll be confusing, but the new rating system will result in estimates much closer to the fuel economy people actually get. Just be sure to compare 2007 figures with 2007 figures and 2008 estimates with 2008 estimates. The estimates in this article are based on the 2007 system.