EARL ON CARS – Palm Beach Florida Weekly


I wrote a column on May 24, 2008 titled “Stop Complaining About Gas Prices”. As you know, here we go again – soaring gasoline prices, but for different reasons.

The good news is that the gas mileage of all vehicles has improved dramatically over the past 14 years, and we have many more hybrid vehicles and even a few all-electric ones. I made a few changes and updated my first column, but it’s still essentially the same advice.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Whether you think our gas prices are skyrocketing because of a conspiracy by oil giants, Wall Street speculators, OPEC, the war in Ukraine, President Biden, ex-President Trump, or of Vladimir Putin (or anyone else), there’s not much you can do about it. I thought it might be helpful to suggest some things you can do to lower your total fuel cost even if you can’t lower oil and gas prices.

¦ Burn the lowest octane fuel in your car without causing ping or knocking. Even if your car’s owner’s manual recommends a high test, chances are you can drop an octane level or two and your engine will run just fine. Today’s engines are so sophisticated that they can automatically change the way the engine runs to accommodate different octane fuels. Many factors affect how your car operates on a particular fuel grade, such as ambient temperature and ethanol content. You can even experiment with mixing octanes. Buying a lower octane will save you several cents per gallon.

¦ Keep your tires inflated to halfway between the inflations recommended by the car manufacturer and the tire manufacturer. The highest number is stamped on the tire by the tire manufacturer and the lowest inflation number can be found in your owner’s manual. The car manufacturer’s number is very low, because they want the car to run smoothly. The car manufacturer does not care about the life of the tires because it is guaranteed by the tire manufacturer. The tire manufacturer’s number is the maximum inflation you should use.

¦ There is a great app you can download, www.GasBuddy.com, which will show you gas stations closest to your zip code with the lowest gas prices. I just checked my Gas Buddy app for my zip code, 33403, for mid-premium gas prices. The lowest price was $3.99 and the highest was $5.42. Buying the lowest would save me $8.60 on 20 gallons of gas!

¦ Drive slower! Some of you may remember how states lowered speed limits on highways during a past energy crisis. You burn a lot less gas at 50 mph than at 75 or 80. I’ll be the first to admit that driving slower than traffic can be “hazardous to your health.” Be sure to drive in the right lane and drive near the speed limit.

¦ Learn to drive your car for maximum fuel efficiency. It’s not uncommon for a client of mine to complain about not getting the gas mileage of his Toyota model when the EPA sticker on his car when he bought it says he should . We always check the mileage by having one of our technicians drive the car and measure the mileage. Usually, the technician gets gas mileage as good as or better than the EPA estimate. It’s simply because he understands how to drive a car for maximum fuel efficiency. One of my technicians, Rick Kearney, tells our customers that the best thing they can do to improve their gas mileage is to “bend over and get the brick out of their shoe.” He also suggests that you imagine there is an “egg” between your foot and the accelerator pedal. Anticipate stops and turns so you don’t have to brake, just take your foot off the accelerator pedal. For longer stops, like waiting for a bridge to go up or down, or for a train to pass, turn off your engine.

¦ Check your wheel alignment and rotate and balance your tires each time you bring your car in for your car’s factory recommended service. Also check the inflation of your tires (mentioned in point 2).

¦ Many cars today have an “Eco Mode” warning light, usually green, on the dashboard that tells you that your speed is maximizing your fuel economy. Watch this and you can save a lot of fuel.

¦ Finally, if you own a hybrid vehicle (lucky you), you have to drive it differently than you would an all-gas-powered car. A hybrid gets better fuel economy in the city than on the highway. Indeed, your hybrid automatically recharges its battery each time you release the accelerator and decelerate. Stop-and-go driving results in low gas mileage in an all-gas car, but increases fuel economy in a hybrid car. When driving your hybrid on long highway trips, try to maintain a steady speed around 55 or 60 mph. Driving 70 or 80 will cost your fuel economy.

If you follow all of these tips, don’t be surprised if you’re not spending more on fuel than before gas prices skyrocketed. You will also drive much safer and feel less aggravation. ¦

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