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Steer clear of crippling gasoline prices

We might not have much control over the price of gas at the pump, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have any control at all. Here are just a few ideas to save on fuel costs. By Laura T. Coffey.

Does the specter of $4-a-gallon gasoline leave you trembling with trepidation?

Some analysts are predicting that gas prices could reach such heights in the United States this spring. Fuel costs are rising along with the price of crude oil, which continues to hit stratospheric new records.

As depressing — and budget-busting — as this news is for so many American consumers, it’s important to stop and reflect: We might not have much control over the price of gasoline at the pump, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have any control at all.

Here are just a few ideas about how to save on fuel costs. If you have additional advice to share in this arena, please do so on our message board.

1. Don’t get weighed down. To increase your gas mileage, start by removing unnecessary weight from your trunk and other areas of your vehicle. You also can reduce drag by removing items from roof racks and putting them inside the car or trunk — or, better yet, inside the garage. And did you know that you can improve your fuel economy by up to 5 percent by taking a removable roof rack off your vehicle? Now might be a good time to do just that, especially if you rarely use the roof rack.

2. Do some sleuth work online. You can visit a variety of Web sites to get an idea of where to find the least expensive gasoline near your home or job. Why not bookmark a few of those sites, which are free to use, and do a little bit of research? Here are some to try:

3. The devil will find work for idle cars to do. Try to avoid long warm-ups and other situations where your engine idles for more than 30 seconds. Keeping the engine running longer than that will burn more gasoline than restarting the engine entirely, so turn the ignition key to the off position if you anticipate a long wait.

4. Get thee to a mechanic. By getting regular tune-ups, you can avoid gas-mileage problems caused by dragging brakes, worn spark plugs, a clogged air filter, low transmission fluid or the transmission’s failure to go into high gear. Also, make a point of using the recommended grade of motor oil for your vehicle and getting periodic wheel alignments. To find out how often you should be doing these things, check that little book that came with your vehicle and follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule.

5. Stay inflated. Keep your tires properly inflated to the maximum recommended pressure, which can be located on a label inside your car. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy say tires underinflated by just 2 pounds per square inch can reduce your gas mileage by nearly 1 percent. In contrast, properly inflated tires can improve gas mileage by about 3.3 percent.

6. Slow down — and drive fast the right way. Want to improve your gas mileage by a whopping 15 percent? Try driving 55 mph instead of 65 mph. You’ll also see improvements if you avoid quick starts and sudden braking whenever possible. In addition, if your car has overdrive gearing or cruise control, remember to make use of it as soon as your speed is high enough.

7. Run errands with efficiency. Save all your errands for a single outing and do some advance planning. Map everything out in such a way that you can knock out multiple tasks in the same general part of town. In the best of all possible worlds, it would be great if you could park your car in one spot and do everything you need to do on foot.

8. Do you really have to drive? Granted, in many pedestrian-unfriendly parts of the country, a car is necessity for most people — but can you put your thinking cap on and dream up ways to drive less even in places like that? For instance, walking, riding a bike, taking a bus or carpooling just once or twice a week could make a dent in your gas bill. As a big side benefit, you might be surprised to find out how much more enjoyable and less stressful such forms of commuting can be.

9. Regular is usually A-OK. Use regular-grade gasoline unless your car owner’s manual says otherwise or your engine knocks and pings. You won’t get better acceleration or fuel economy if you use premium fuel in a car that runs just fine on regular. In addition, stop and think about how much that 20- or 30-cent-a-gallon difference can add up over a year of driving.

10. Think about your next car purchase. In the pantheon of features to consider when shopping for a vehicle, make fuel economy a serious priority. Choose a four-cylinder engine over a V6, or a V6 over a V8, to get better gas mileage. Smaller, lighter cars also use less gasoline. You can compare models at