9 Tips to Maximize MPG and Reduce Pain at the Pump

Get ready for more pain at the pump (and in your wallet) this year. Reports suggest that gas prices in 2012 again may climb above $4 per gallon in much of the country. While skyrocketing gas prices are hardly the best way to ring in the New Year, you can keep rising costs in check—and even save money on gas)—by making simple changes in your driving habits. Here’s what to do:

Accelerate less, drive more. Thanks to the simple laws of physics, cars use the most gas as they accelerate. Gentle braking—or avoiding the brakes all together—is the best way to prevent unnecessary acceleration and manage gas consumption. In stop-and-go traffic, leave extra distance between your car and the car in front of you. Doing so will allow the car to gently (and safely) coast, which is preferable to slamming on the brakes and then flooring the accelerator to start moving again.

Slow down. Speeding on the highway can be a tough habit to break, but it’s worth every penny to do so. In fact, slowing from 70 mph to 65 mph can reduce fuel consumption by up to 7 percent. And decreasing speeds from 65 mph to 55 mph can save you even more.

Empty out your trunk. Driving around with extra gear in your trunk weighs down your car. Carrying your golf clubs? Storing extra suitcases? If you truly want to get serious about how to save gas when driving, empty everything out aside from your emergency roadside kit.

Remove your luggage rack. Unless you are currently using your ski, bicycle or luggage rack, dismount it. Even the most aerodynamic racks add wind resistance, which decreases your fuel efficiency.

Rethink your commute. The more time you spend in stop and go traffic, the more gas you’ll burn… and the more money you’ll be spending. Rethink your daily commute and choose secondary roads to avoid heavy traffic or stoplights. Remember, the shortest route is not always the most fuel-efficient.

Downsize your rental. A smaller car will always have greater fuel economy thanks to its smaller mass. You may not be able to trade in your family car at home, but if you’re traveling and have the option to rent, opt for a smaller vehicle. You’ll have just as much fun on vacation, and you’ll have a little extra change in your pocket to enjoy the sights.

Straighten up. Improper alignment not only wears your tires faster, but it also causes your engine to work harder—burning more gas. The next time you get your oil changed, ask to have your tires aligned.

Check your tire pressure. Under-inflated tires, like misaligned tires, cause your engine to burn more gas. In fact, one out of every four cars may be driving with slightly deflated tires. Even minor under-inflation can cost up to 6 cents per gallon in lost efficiency. Check your owner’s manual for the proper inflation.

Drive less. Spend every day behind the wheel? Rethinking your driving habits can help you save money. When running errands, park your car in one central place and walk to different stores, rather than driving around the same shopping center. Make one day each week your “car-free” day. Walk, bike or take public transportation. Set up a weekly commute with coworkers or friends. If you’re not driving, you’re not spending money on gas!