How to Drive Economically

By: Zolton Cohen

Gas-Saving Tips

Good drivers are smooth drivers, and smooth driving saves fuel. Even minor adjustments in how you drive can result in substantial savings in gas and money. You can stay in control by practicing the following guidelines.

Practice Mind Over MPG

We tend to allow our emotions to affect our driving. Whether you are elated or angry, calm down before getting behind the wheel.


Emotionally intense drivers are a lot more likely to engage in fuel-wasting (and dangerous) acts: gunning the engine, spinning the wheels, and worse.

Reconsider Remote Starters

Willing to sacrifice a few minutes of personal comfort to save some gas? Ignore that remote starter.

Remote ignition starters allow you to start your vehicle with the press of a keyfob button while still in the climate-controlled comfort of your home. The vehicle idles with the heater or air conditioner running, and you step into a warm or chilled interior. But an idling car that is running the air-conditioning is needlessly gulping down gas.

The alternative is to bring the vehicle's interior to your desired temperature as you drive, which takes only a few minutes and makes better use of the fuel you're burning.

Remote starters have been available through the aftermarket for years and recently have been offered as factory-installed options on some new cars. You'll have to judge for yourself whether a few minutes of personal discomfort balances the savings in fuel and the extra exhaust emissions associated with the use of a remote starter.

Fill the Tank Only When Needed

No point stopping for gas when there's still plenty in the tank. Let it get down to about one-quarter full. Extra stops waste time, and keeping more fuel than needed in the tank adds unwanted weight to your vehicle. A gallon of gas weighs roughly 6 pounds, and the more weight you haul around, the more fuel you'll burn.

Note that there are important exceptions to this rule. During extremely cold weather, keeping the tank near full minimizes the amount of condensation, or water, that can form in the tank. Excess condensation can promote fuel-line freeze and other problems.

Additional exceptions depend on your personal travel patterns. If you regularly drive long distances, at odd hours, in desolate conditions, or in hazardous weather, it's in your interest to keep a generous supply of gas in the tank. Plan for the unexpected.

Buy Gas on Cool Mornings

Liquids expand when warm, and that includes gasoline. So you actually get a bit more for the same amount of cash by buying gas when it's most dense, even though the pump shows the same total.

Gas Up Along the Way

As a rule, there's no point driving out of your way or making a special trip just to save a few cents per gallon. Make the service-station stop part of your regular route.

The exception is during periods of rapid price hikes. Then the difference could amount to more than pennies. So pay attention to current prices in your area, and take note of the stations that offer the most competitive prices.

Know Your Car's Correct Gasoline Octane Rating

The brand name of the fuel is of no importance to your engine. But the correct octane rating is vital.

Octane has nothing to do with a gasoline's quality. The octane figure indicates a fuel's resistance to "knocking." That's the metallic pinging sound you may sometimes hear when accelerating rapidly or lugging up a hill. Knock may be accompanied by run-on, or dieseling, in which your engine continues to turn over or sputter after you've switched off the ignition. Severe knocking or run-on, over an extended period, can damage engine parts.

There's no advantage in using a higher octane than is necessary to prevent knocking. In fact, today's cars have computerized controls designed to adjust ignition timing and other engine functions to keep knocking in check, so unless you hear something abnormal, you are probably using the right octane level for your car.Only a small percentage of vehicles require premium fuel. These automobiles are usually sport or luxury vehicles with high-performance engines, and those vehicles with turbo-charged or supercharged gasoline engines.

Regular-grade gas is usually rated at 87 octane, mid-grade at 89 octane, and premium at 91 or above. The higher the altitude above sea level, the lower the octane requirement. You'll see this reflected on the pump: at high altitudes, octane numbers are lower by one or two digits for the same grade of gas available at lower altitudes. Generally, the hotter the air temperature or the lower the humidity, the greater the octane requirement.

It's essential to consult your owner's manual to find out the proper octane level for your vehicle. (Some auto manufacturers also post the octane requirement on a sticker inside the fuel-filler door.)

Note that your owner's manual may list a particular octane level as "recommended" or "required." The "recommended" octane, usually midgrade or premium, is the one you should choose for "best" performance. The manual will state this. Your car will run fine if you choose not to follow that recommendation, and you'll be hard-pressed to notice the few horsepowers sacrificed to the lower octane. If a particular octane level is "required," however, use it.

As vehicles accumulate miles, their octane requirement can increase because of the buildup of combustion-chamber deposits. This continues until a stable level is reached, typically after about 15,000 miles. The stabilized octane requirement may be 3 to 6 numbers higher than when the car was new. Premium or midgrade fuel may be advisable to prevent knocking.

At the gas pump, a label on the pump shows the octane ratings available at that station. The higher the octane, the more you'll pay. Use the correct octane, and save.

Is there more you can do to conserve gas while you drive? Check the next page for additional tips on fuel-effecient driving.