Just in time for Memorial Day: Gas prices top out, and car care tips

It happens around every Memorial Day: Gas prices go up as the summer driving season begins.

At least a gallon of gasoline -- now at an average of $2.36 a gallon across the United States -- is less than it was a year ago when a gallon averaged $3.94, according to AAA figures cited in a Christian Science Monitor story.

And factoring in the nation's average fuel economy, the average trip of 640 miles that Americans plan to make this weekend will cost an extra $6.97, according to the AAA survey. Lower gas prices this year are why AAA predicted that travel this Memorial Day will increase 1.5%.


Luckily, the recent rise in gas prices may soon be over, energy experts told the Christian Science Monitor. After jumping 27 cents a gallon in the past month, gas prices are within 10 to 15 cents from topping out, they said.

Another peak could hit by July 4, just in time for another holiday of driving, to $2.60 to $2.70 a gallon, and as much as $3 a gallon in California.

Before heading off on a long weekend of barbecuing, here are some car care tips to keep your car in top shape and possibly squeeze a little extra mileage out of your gas tank:
  1. Check the tires. Proper inflation will improve mileage. Also check the tread by sticking a penny in the tread gaps with Lincoln's head facing down. If the head is fully visible, you need new tires.
  2. Check the basics. Park on a flat surface and check the oil after running the car for a few minutes. It should be at the right level and clean on the stick. Summer thunderstorms could occur without warning, so get new windshield wiper blades after a winter of driving.
  3. Visit your mechanic. A quick tuneup before a long trip could improve fuel economy by 4% to 12%.
  4. Remove excess weight. No, we're not talking about the weight around your stomach, although that would help, but the junk in the trunk of the car that you don't need on the trip. Cleaning out the car and removing an extra 100 pounds could reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2%.
  5. Have an emergency kit. Jumper cables, air compressor, tools and a first-aid kit will make the trip a lot more enjoyable if you break down.
Now get out there and drive safely, and within the speed limit. Each 5 mph over 60 is equivalent to paying an extra 24 cents per gallon for gas.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net

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