7 Ways You're Wasting Gas Without Realizing It

by Kentin Waits on 19 August 2014 1 comment

At the time of this writing, the average cost of a gallon of gas in the U.S. is $3.52. And while most of us can remember significantly higher prices at the pump, today's costs don't quite qualify as bargain-basement by anyone's definition. (See also: How to Turn Groceries Into Gasoline)

So, if you'd like to save some cash on gas, it might be time to change the way you drive. Go from a slurper to a sipper by avoiding these seven fuel-wasting habits.

1. Idling for More Than 10 Seconds

Want to learn how to reduce your fuel efficiency to zero MPG? Let it sit with the engine running. For modern fuel-injected cars, idling for more than 10 seconds is a waste of gas, even when you compare it to the alternative — just turning off the engine and restarting it when it's time to move again.

2. Driving Too Slow

Everyone knows that driving too fast can waste fuel, but did you know that driving too slow can do the same thing? Driving below your car's optimal speed means the engine is putting out a lot of effort and not accomplishing much. And while optimal speed is a bit of a gray area and depends on the type of transmission your car has, it's usually achieved by balancing the lowest possible RPM with an appropriate speed for the roadway you're on. Just remember: Trying to conserve gas by crawling down the expressway is both dangerous and ineffective.

3. Racing to the Reds

Ever notice how anxious some folks are to floor it when a red light changes to green in heavy traffic? It's as if the drivers don't realize they'll be hitting another red light or stop sign in mere yards. Quick acceleration is a fuel burner and the only thing it efficiently achieves is a smokin' case of car sickness. Instead, retire your drag-racing uniform, lighten up your lead foot, and accelerate slowly to boost fuel economy and save gas.

4. Avoiding Cruise Control

I've always considered the cruise control feature on my car to be the foil against my own driver's ego. But whether we realize it or not, many of us fall into a familiar rhythm when we're driving on an interstate. We speed up to pass, gun it for a mile or so, and then slow down again. Sometimes we even speed up when we anticipate being passed by another motorist. Using cruise control to maintain a reasonable and steady pace makes a lot more sense from a safety and fuel-efficiency perspective.

5. Buying High-Performance Tires

High-performance tires are those super-grippy numbers that hug the pavement and make even the most humble cars feel just a bit more capable and confident. But tires that grip take more energy to move and that takes more gas. Opt for a high-quality standard tread tire instead and don't give your engine more friction to work against.

6. Taking Multiple Short Trips

Is your day filled with short hops and skips in the car? Unless you're planning them right, you're probably wasting fuel. Since engines work most efficiently when they're warmed up, driving a short distance, stopping, letting your car's engine cool down, and going again is a fuel-sucking strategy. Instead, combine trips, schedule the longest one first, and keep each stop brief enough that the engine doesn't cool down in between. Better yet, get a bike for quick errands or consider walking.

7. Deferring Maintenance

Dirty fuel filters, clogged air filters, and malfunctioning oxygen sensors are just three maintenance issues that can be a drag on your car's fuel efficiency. And remember those high-performance tires? You can make any old set hug the road (and slowly lower your MPG) by tooling around while they're under-inflated. Keep on top of basic auto maintenance issues to improve your gas mileage and lower overall costs.

Start Really Saving Gas by Hypermiling

Hypermiling is the practice of increasing a car's fuel efficiency by making tweaks to the way you drive or modifications to the car itself. Techniques like turning off the AC while driving, keeping tires properly inflated, and modulating speed to reduce the need to brake so often are just a few simple ways to start hypermiling now. And yes; there's an app for that. Hypermiling MPG Calculator lets drivers track fuel usage and apply tips and hypermiling strategies to reduce consumption.

For more ideas on how to save money at the pump, download Wise Bread's free Wise Driving Guide. And for more fuel-defensive driving tips, learn the techniques of extreme hypermilers. But remember, with any driving strategy, safety always comes first. Some hypermiling driving methods may not be legal in your area or not advisable under certain conditions.

In the end, conserving gas is a lot like conserving any other resource — it all starts with sharpening our awareness. With a little planning, better choices, sensible techniques, and maybe even an app or two, saving gas can become second nature. And until science perfects the hydrogen car or solar-powered engine, saving at the pump will only have a bigger impact on our personal budgets.

How do you conserve gas? What's the simplest and most effective tip you have for others?

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We've tried out not driving at least one day a week. We walk everywhere on Sunday and it is great. It's healthy and helps us slow things down and not feel so rushed, plus gas last's longer. Doesn't mean we can do it all the time if we are visiting family but it's a start. The easiest way to save on gas is to not turn on the car. Plus family trips are always done in my car which gets much better gas mileage.