How to trim your gasoline costs

You can significantly reduce the cost of operating a car by paying attention to a few simple driving practices.

A decade ago the average price of a gallon of gasoline was around 35 cents. By the end of the 1970s, however, the price had more than tripled, and, until earlier this year, had been moving up and up. Even though the price of fuel today is stable, and up to 10 cents cheaper this Christmas than a year ago in many parts of the US, it still makes good sense to try to reduce the amount of fuel your car requires.

This calls for common sense at the wheel. Here are some ideas:

* Check tire pressure regularly. You can lose about 2 percent in fuel economy for every pound of pressure under the recommended level. If the tires are just one pound below the ideal, you're wasting 2 cents out of every dollar you spend for gasoline.

* If you stick a bag of sand in the trunk for wintertime traction, get rid of it as soon as you can in the spring. An extra 100 pounds of weight will cut fuel economy by 1 percent in the average car.

* Make sure your car is properly tuned. A poorly tuned car can use 3 to 9 percent more gasoline than one in good shape. Again, that's 3 to 9 cents of every dollar.

* Learn how to drive with economy and conservation in mind. Accelerate and shift smoothly. Try to drive at a steady pace, avoiding stops and starts so far as you can. Depending on present driving habits, you can save up to a nickel of every dollar. It all adds up at the end of the year.

None of this takes a lot of money or effort. Assuming you begin with the worst possible situation - underinflated tires, extra weight, poorly tuned car, and bad driving habits - you should be able to cut your gasoline costs by 10 percent or more.

So, for every $10 you spend on gasoline, you'll save $1.

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