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How to Drive Economically

By: Zolton Cohen

Saving Gas While Standing Still

Even when your car is standing still, you can be saving gas. Here are some strategies.

Shift to Neutral When Stopped

If you're not moving but your engine is running, you're getting zero miles per gallon. Idling at a traffic light is a fuel-economy killer, as is waiting to clear a construction zone or sitting while a freight train crawls by. And there's a good reason our most frustrating traffic condition is called stop-and-go driving.


Notice that shifting your automatic or manual transmission into neutral calms down your engine note and drops the rpm. That saves gas. Shift into neutral even for a long traffic light.

Keeping an automatic transmission in Drive puts an extra load on it, which drains fuel. In neutral, it's resting -- or at least as close to rest as an automatic ever gets. This shift is even more important when the air conditioner is running, so the engine doesn't have to strain so hard while idling. A manual transmission should be shifted to neutral at every stop.

Shut off the Engine When Stopped

Even when stopped for a mile-long freight train, a lot of drivers keep their engines running. A minute of idling, however, consumes more gas than a restart.

So, whenever you expect to be stopped for a minute or more, shut off the ignition. No, not at every red light you come to, though some experts advise that even a 30-second stop is worth a shutdown. Use your judgment, but when standing in a bank drive-up line or at a fast-food drive-through, if it looks like a long wait without moving, turn off that engine.

Note that the new gas/electric hybrid vehicles automatically shut off the gas engine in most conditions if the vehicle is stopped for even a few seconds. They restart instantly as the gas pedal is applied. The engineers who designed those hybrids know the fuel-saving value of shutting off an engine.

Don't Race the Engine at Stoplights

It's hard to understand why people are inclined to tromp on the pedal -- sometimes every couple of seconds -- while waiting for a green light. What's to be gained, except drawing attention to yourself?

If you need to pump the pedal to keep the engine from dying, chances are fuel economy isn't your major worry -- in fact, you need to consult a mechanic.

On an Upgrade, Hang on With the Brake

When waiting at a stoplight or stop sign on an upward pavement, keep the car from drifting backward by pressing on the brake pedal in the normal manner. Don't use the clutch or automatic transmission to keep it from sliding back. This wastes fuel and puts a strain on the engine.

Shut Down When You Leave the Car

If it's a good idea to shut off the engine even when stopped for a minute while you're still in the driver's seat, obviously it's essential to do so when you stop and leave your car for awhile. Don't leave the engine idle while making a phone call, hopping into a store, or dropping off the dry cleaning. Sure, that might keep the interior warm in winter or cool in summer, but the gasoline is just burning away, accomplishing no useful purpose -- to say nothing of the fact that an idling car is just begging for a thief to drive it off.

Park it Sooner

If you're a city dweller, you know that finding that perfect parking spot is nearly impossible. Why even try? Don't waste time and fuel cruising for an ideal spot that is steps away from your destination. Pick the one that comes along first, even if it means walking a few blocks. The exercise will do you good.

In the same vein, park so you don't have to move your vehicle a short time later. Don't leave it sitting on the street or in the driveway so that you have to move it into the garage. By that time, the engine has cooled down, and you're wasting gas to start the car while putting extra wear on its parts.

Don't Rev the Engine Before Shutting Off the Ignition

Many of us learned to do this on carburetor-equipped engines in the belief that stomping the gas pedal as we turned off the switch would "prime" the carb (put a jolt of gasoline in its bowl). Most of the time, it did little or no good even for a carbureted engine.

For today's fuel-injected engines, it's a complete waste of fuel. Not only that, but the final spurt of gasoline also winds up dumped on the cylinder walls where it can wash away the essential lubricant, paving the way for increased wear.

Driving economically requires a few simple changes for most drivers, but it can yield good results at the gas pump. Keep the fuel-saving tips from this article in mind whenever you're behind the wheel.

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