Monthly Environmental Education Column: Beat Rising Gas Prices With These Driving To Save Tips From Maine DEP

August 14, 2012

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*A note about In Our Backyard: In Our Backyard is an informational column written by staff from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and available to the press and the public. Send your environmental questions to infodep@maine.gov or to In Our Backyard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.*

By Lynne Cayting, Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Nothing says summer like a road trip to one of Maine’s storied state parks, coastal beaches or mountain lakes. While gas prices are on the rise nationwide just as you’re scheduling those final outings of the season, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has these simple steps to help you save fuel and funds while also prolonging the life of your vehicle and reducing air pollution.

Avoid idling. Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner use. Avoid idling your engine longer than 30 seconds. Idling for more than just ten seconds actually uses more gas than shutting the engine off and restarting.

Drive sensibly and observe the speed limit. Aggressive driving including speeding, rapid acceleration and braking can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent around town. Observing the speed limits set by the state isn’t just the law; it’s also good for your gas mileage, which decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. Each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional 30 cents per gallon of gas. Using cruise control on the highway helps you maintain a constant speed and saves gas. When you use overdrive gearing, your vehicle’s engine speed goes down which also improves fuel economy.

Minimize drag. Driving with the windows open, using roof or rear mounted racks and carrying heavy loads increases vehicle drag. Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2 percent. Keep tires inflated. You can improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent by keeping your tires aligned and inflated to the proper pressure. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer. The proper tire pressure for your vehicle is usually found on a sticker in the driver's side door jamb or the glove box and in your owner's manual. Do not use the maximum pressure printed on the tire's sidewall.

Tune-up. Get regular engine tune-ups and vehicle maintenance checks (especially for the spark plugs). Don't ignore the "check engine" or "service engine soon" light if it comes on; make an appointment with your repair technician. Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, and fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent.

For more information about driving to save including an instructional video, visit http://www.maine.gov/dep/air/mobile or visit http://www.fueleconomy.gov

This column was submitted by Lynne Cayting, an environmental specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's Mobile Sources Program.