Even with gas prices dropping around the country, the cost of filling up the tank can be a big monthly expense for many drivers -- especially those with longer commutes.
If you're looking for ways to save, the best solution is to buy a car that gets great gas mileage. But since that isn't really an option -- at least not immediately -- for most people, we've rounded up some tips to help you save on the cost of fuel.
Tips to save money on gas
1. Don't drive too fast
According to Consumer Reports' tests, this can be the biggest factor in fuel usage. So if you're known to be somewhat a speed demon, without even considering the dangers of driving too fast, you might want to slow it down if you want to save on gas.
In fact, CR says driving 55 mph -- instead of 65 or 75 -- will save you money. Typically, the faster you drive over 55 mph, the more it reduces the car's fuel economy. In one test, CR found that driving 65 mph dropped a car's fuel economy to 42 mpg, down from 49 mpg at 55 mph. When you reach 75 mph, you lose another 5 mpg. The faster you drive, the more fuel it takes to power the car through the air at that faster speed.
2. Lay off the hard braking and acceleration
First of all, at the very least, it's annoying -- and dangerous -- to passengers and anyone else on the road. Not to mention the fact that some auto insurers are now using driving patterns -- like hard braking -- to set drivers' premiums.
But when it comes to saving on gas... Frequent "bursts" of acceleration and braking can also reduce a car's mpg -- by 2 to 3 mpg -- depending on the model. (Not to mention the fact that these can also be very dangerous driving habits.) Avoiding hard acceleration and braking can also extend the life of your car's engine, transmission, brakes and tires.
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3. Don't add unnecessary drag
If you've still got a luggage carrier on the top of your car from a family trip six months ago, you might want to go ahead and take that off.
When your car moves through the air, the air rushes past the vehicle, causing friction known as drag. And drag slows the car down. So the engine has to make up for that.
When you're driving at highway speeds, more than 50% of the car's engine power goes to overcoming aerodynamic drag, according to Consumer Reports. So carrying things on top of your car can reduce the vehicle's fuel economy -- in some cases, by quite a lot.
CR tested it out by installing bikes on a rooftop carrier on a Honda Accord. Driving 65 mph, with the bikes on top, reduced the car's fuel economy by 35% -- dropping from 42 mpg to just 27 mpg. Even driving with the empty rack reduced it by 5 mpg.
4. Stick to regular gas
Don't use premium fuel just assuming that it's better for the engine -- because it's not. You'll just end up spending more money.
Most cars are actually made to run just fine with regular gas -- including many that even recommend owners use premium. But before you make the switch, check your owner's manual to see if the vehicle actually requires premium or if it can run on other grades of fuel.
5. Avoid driving around with a cold engine
A warm engine is a more efficient engine -- and the best way to warm up an engine is by driving.
According to Consumer Reports' tests, driving with a cold engine can consume an extra 4 mpg. Plus, cold engines produce more pollution and deteriorate faster.
So how do you avoid driving with a cold engine when driving warms it up? CR suggests combing several short trips into one trip whenever possible in order to keep the engine warm.