The Smith's Save Gasoline

by Gary Foreman

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It was Friday evening in the Smith's backyard. Mary and John were visiting with their next door neighbors Alice and Bill. Not surprisingly, the topic of conversation turned to the high price of gasoline. Bill wondered when the guys in Washington were going to do something to solve the problem. "You gotta wonder how long they think we can live with these higher prices."

John, the independent guy that he is, commented that he was already taking steps to lower his fuel bill. "As soon as prices started rising I had a tune up done on my car. Fortunately I checked the owner's manual and realized it was time. In fact, my mechanic suggested that we check the brakes and the transmission, too. If your brakes are dragging or the transmission doesn't shift into high, you'll get terrible gas mileage!"

"Maybe you're right. There's things I can do on my own" replied Bill. "I read somewhere that regular oil changes and clean oil and air filters increase your mileage. In fact, there are some newer oils that are marked 'ECII' or 'Energy Conserving II' that the Environmental Protection Agency say actually increases your mileage by reducing friction. Hey, John, what grade of gas do you use?"

"I put premium in the mini-van. Seems like I get more power that way. Sure wish there were some way to know for sure." Alice jumped in with the answer. "I heard that the Sate of California checked and about 80% of today's cars are suited for regular gas. But they say that only 70% of gas sales are for regular gas. That means 10% of the people are putting in premium when they don't need to. They said that your owner's manual will recommend the grade you need."

"You guys make it sound like you need to be a mechanic to save gas!" The exasperated tone of Mary's voice surprised the others. "You can save gas by keeping your car off the road, too. I've been planning my errands and you'd be surprised how you can group them to save gas and your time. In fact, just last week I was about to drive accross town for a present I was buying. I don't know why, but I decided to call the store to make sure they had it in stock before driving out there. Sure enough, they were out of stock. I saved the entire trip!"

Alice couldn't resist the chance to 'zing' her friend. "Mary, I know you. It won't be long before you're riding your bike to the grocery store to save gas!" Alice was only partially surprised when a look of enlightenment came across Mary's face. "Hey, instead of just jogging in circles, I could actually 'run' errands!" Mary's husband John groaned with the knowledge that they had just created a monster!

Bill, who had gotten into the spirit of the discussion, asked "What I've always wondered was how long should you idle before you turn off the engine and turn it on again. I bet I've sat in a million lines in different places and asked that question." John knew the answer. "I've read that if you're going to sit for more than 30 seconds it pays to turn the engine off and on again. Better still is to avoid lines whenever you can."

"How do you do that?" asked Alice. John replied, "How many times have you sat in a drive through line for more than a minute? Nothing says that you can't park the car and go in. Saves gas and sometimes it's even faster."

"I don't spend much time in drive through lines," replied Alice. "What gets me is the rush hour traffic. It's stop and start and I just hate the gridlock at some stoplights on the west side! In fact, I've started leaving for work 15 minutes earlier. It saves about 10 minutes on my drive each morning!"

"Boy, I remember something that our driver's ed instuctor taught us." John's face had a wistfull look as he recalled the memory. "He said that we should anticipate the traffic in front of us. If the light ahead is red, begin coasting early. Sometimes it'll even turn green before you get there and you won't have to stop and then start again. One trick really sticks in my mind. He said we should picture a raw egg between our foot and the gas pedal. If you press the gas and brake gently you'll burn less gas. Boy, it's funny the things that you remember!"

Now it was Bill's turn to needle his neighbor. "Hey, John. What about all that extra weight you're carrying around in your car?" John, good naturedly admitted that he could afford to lose a few pounds. "No, that's not what I mean. How long have you been keeping your bowling ball in the trunk? What else you got in there?"

"That's a good one. Last time I looked, you had 200 pounds of tools in your trunk just in case you broke down! You gonna do an engine overhaul in the middle of Main Street?" They both had a good chuckle, but secretly planned to clean out some dead weight on Saturday morning.

"I'll tell you one thing you 'speed freaks' have left out." Now it was Mary's turn to contribute. "Did you know that for every mile per hour over 55 you lose 2% in fuel economy? That means that if you get 30 mpg at 55, it drops to 27 at 60 mph and all the way down to 21 mpg at 70. That lead foot or your's Bill is turning your econobox into a gas guzzler!"

"OK, but I've been hearing about some of these new gas savings products that can really improve your gas mileage. I'm going to check them out. I saw one commercial that claimed you could get 25% more out of a tank of gas!"

John took his neighbor one step further. "You know, I wonder if it's a good time to trade the old boat in for a new fuel efficient model. I can just picture me in a new car!" Mary knew it was time to stop the 'dream team'.

"You guys better do a little homework before you start buying all kinds of additives, gizmos and new cars! Before we start adjusting our budget, we need to see some facts and figures."

But thats the topic of next week's Dollar Stretcher. Can additives and devices really improve your gas mileage? And does it really make sense to buy a new car for better fuel economy? Check back next week and we'll see how Bill and John make out with their homework!

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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