The Car Diet

by Peter Biedlingmaier

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People need food and cars need gas. If you eat fewer calories, you lose weight. Put less gas in your car and it won't lose weight, but it will cost you less to feed it. The trouble is we can't weigh the car to see if it's doing better. What we can do, however, is measure our mileage and gas consumption.

Where I live, gas costs me about $3.89 a gallon. My car gets 22.6 miles per gallon. A 10-mile round trip to the grocery store costs $1.72. If I drive there to save 50 cents on a sale item, I've just wasted $1.22. This is a soft cost because most of us don't really relate the cost of gas to where we drive. We need to know the cost, so we can make informed decisions. To paraphrase a popular business theory, if you can measure it, you can improve it.

The critical step is to determine your cost of gas.

Steps to Take
Step #1 - Next fill-up note total odometer miles
Step #2 - Following fill-up note odometer miles
Step #3 - #2 minus #1 = Total miles driven
Step #4 - Gallons to fill?
Step #5 - Divide #3 by #4 = Your mpg
Step #6 - Cost of gas?
Step #7 - Divide #6 by #5 = Gas cost per mile

Look at your cost per mile. In the example above, it is $0.1721. If I drive 50 fewer miles a week, I will save approximately $447 over the course of a year. (On gas alone, don't forget the benefits of fewer tune-ups and higher re-sale value on a lower mileage car.)

To put your car on a high loss diet, try the strategies below.

  • Make every trip count. Plan your errands around fixed ones and cut down on the number of trips you take. Plan your week in advance.

  • Car pool. Get together with your neighbors for shopping and picking up the kids.

  • Stay out of traffic jams. Listen to the radio and go in non-peak hours.

  • Walk. It is good exercise; don't drive two blocks to the nearest convenience store.

  • Buy a five-gallon gasoline can and fill it up when prices are low. Then use it when they get ridiculously high. (Make sure to check local hazardous storage rules.)

  • Use your cost per mile to figure out the cost of driving versus public transportation. (Don't forget parking cost where applicable, and then take the bus when it's worth it.)

  • Inflate your tires properly. Everybody tells you to do this, but so few of us do.

  • Self-serve/discount for cash. There are deals to be had, but remember it's not a deal if it takes you miles out of your way.

  • Buy gas when the price goes down. It sounds simple, but most of us wait for it to keep going down. Don't wait until your tank is empty and you have no choice. If it's lower than your last fill up, top off your tank.

  • Car washes? Put on some shorts and do it yourself.
And don't forget to pat yourself on the back for cutting back on pollution!

editor's note: gas price and resultant calculations update 6/11

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