Road trip! It’s a time-honoured summer tradition, but once again, fluctuating gas prices have many travellers feeling the pain at the pump. But don’t lose heart. If you’re planning to hit the open road, experts say that taking a few small steps could add up to surprisingly big savings.

Here are some practical ways to put the brakes on gas guzzling:

Ease up on the gas pedal. While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph (96 km). In fact, according to the US Department of Energy, every five mph that you drive in excess of 60 mph is about the same as paying an additional 24 cents for every gallon of gas.

And according to some Canadian experts, if you keep your vehicle speed at, or below 100 kilometres an hour on the highway, you could lower your fuel costs by up to 20 per cent. Engaging your cruise control on the open highway will help you to maintain constant speed.

Go in high gear. Experts advise using high gear or overdrive when driving at highway speeds. Switching to high gear will reduce engine speed thereby saving gas and cutting wear to the engine.

Avoid aggressive driving. Jackrabbit starts following by abrupt, screeching stops can cut both highway and city mileage. In fact, sensible drivers can lower gas mileage by about 33 per cent at highway speeds and by 5 per cent in the city. Such reckless driving is not only unsafe, but also puts unnecessary wear and tear on your tires.

Be sure to buy the right grade of gasoline. Consult your owner’s manual: if your vehicle is designed to run on regular, filling the tank with more expensive mid-grade or premium fuel will not make your car run any better.

Buy on price and convenience. Gasoline is a commodity product and one brand is as good as another. Looking for a convenient way to comparison shop? Check out online tools or smart phone apps like the one from GasBuddy.com that provides a listing of the cheapest gas prices by city, state or province.

Keep it in shape (your car, that is). It pays to keep up with your car’s maintenance. Change oil, engine coolant, filters and spark plugs at intervals recommended in the owner’s manual. Keeping your engine tuned will reduce gas mileage by as much as 10 per cent. And fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40 per cent. For greater fuel efficiency, tires should be maintained and properly inflated.

Lighten the load. For vacation driving, try to avoid the roof rack and pack as much luggage as possible in the car. A loaded roof rack can cut fuel economy by as much as 5 per cent according to the (US) Department of Energy. And an extra 100 pounds of ‘junk in the trunk’ can cost you up to 2 per cent in gas mileage. (Note: The reduction of gas mileage is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle’s weight. This usually affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.)

Roll down the window. Heavy use of your air conditioner can increase gas consumption by 10 – 20 per cent, some experts say.

Don’t let your gas tank get too low.It may be tempting to procrastinate when it comes to filling up, but letting your tank get too low can cost you in other ways, according to Consumer Reports. The reason? The gasoline acts like a coolant for the electric fuel-pump motor, so when you run very low, this allows the pump to suck in air. This in turn creates heat and can cause the fuel pump to wear prematurely and potentially fail. The repair could end up costing several hundred dollars to fix — much more than, say, the $1.40 per litre fill up. Besides, who wants to take a chance on a faulty gas meter or some other mishap and run out of gas on the highway?

The bottom line: While fluctuating fuel costs are largely out of our control, we can make our travel budget go further if we pay attention to smart driving strategies and vehicle maintenance — and of course, selecting the most fuel-efficient vehicle.

Sources: US Department of Energy; Consumer Reports; Forbes; Ottawa Citizen; GasBuddy.com

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Daniel Laflor

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by:
Cynthia Ross Cravit