What to do with your gas guzzler

The last time the United States faced a gas crisis, Europe and Japan provided the solution. While America's big auto producers were busy churning out eight-mile-to-the-gallon behemoths, Volkswagen, Toyota, and Honda undercut them with zippy little compact cars that went a lot further on a tank of gas.

As they say, the more things change...

Volkswagen announced today that it will be unveiling a new diesel/electric hybrid at next month's Geneva Motor Show. The Golf hybrid will get 69.9 miles per gallon and will release only 89 g/kg of CO2, which means that it will comply with even the most stringent emissions guidelines. While the car will be released in Europe by the end of 2009, Volkswagen hasn't announced its release date for the United States.

While you're waiting for your local Volkswagen dealer to stock the new Golf, here are a few things that you can do to improve your gas mileage:

Get the Junk Out of Your Trunk: As a former Boy Scout, I certainly understand the appeal of preparedness. However, the assorted detritus that's filling up your trunk is reducing your car's efficiency and forcing it to burn more gas. Keep the first aid kit, lose the case of water, and bring all your tools inside!

For that matter, if you're keeping a storage container on your roof rack, take it off! By increasing drag, items on your roof rack kill your fuel efficiency. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a loaded roof rack can reduce your car's fuel economy by up to 5%.

Don't Drive Like an Idiot: Every time you hit the brakes, you waste all the gas that you used to get up to speed. Admittedly, there's little that you can do about this problem if you're stuck in stop-and-go traffic, but speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking all waste gas. Some sources suggest using cruise control to maintain a consistent speed and reduce gas consumption; personally, I think it depends on your car. Regardless, speeding is a major cause of inefficient fuel usage. According to the DOE, for each 5 MPH that you drive over 60 MPH, you are basically paying an extra $0.20 per gallon of gas.

Perform Routine Maintenance: Routine maintenance won't just help keep your car in great shape; it will lower your gas consumption. A clean air filter means an unrestricted, cool flow of air to your engine and a more efficient (by up to 10%) consumption of gasoline. Moreover, I found that using a high-flow filter by K&N vastly improved my fuel efficiency. Admittedly, high-flow filters are about five times more expensive than regular ones; however, they can be used permanently, which makes them more cost-efficient in the long run.

Don't stop with the air filter! For a couple of bucks, you should be able to pick up an air gauge, which will enable you to regularly check the air pressure in your tires. Fully inflated tires have less friction with the road, which can reduce gas guzzling by up to 3%. While we're on the topic, you also might consider changing your oil. Regular oil changes improve the efficiency of your car, particularly if you replace your standard oil with synthetic.

Made in the Shade: Parking in the shade will also improve your car's efficiency. Gasoline can evaporate out of your car's tank, particularly if your gas cap is loose. By parking in the shade, you automatically reduce the sun's heat on your car and the evaporation that it causes.

Find a Cheap Gas Station: As my colleague Geoff Williams pointed out in an earlier post, Gasbuddy.com is a free service that can help you find the cheapest gas in your area. I just did a search on the site and found that, whereas an Express in my zip code is currently charging $3.23 per gallon, my local Exxon is charging $3.55. Needless to say, driving an extra half mile seems like a worthwhile expense to save $0.32 per gallon!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He thinks we should make the gas companies work for every damn penny.

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