You can significantly reduce the cost of operating your car by paying attention to a few simple, yet meaningful, driving practices. Gasoline prices have fallen sharply in the past year, but higher prices loom down the road. Too, the 5-cent boost in the federal gas tax takes effect April 1 .
Here are a few ideas:
* Check tire pressure regularly. You can lose about 2 percent in fuel economy for every pound of pressure your tires are 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 5 pounds below the recommended pressure level, you're losing a dime out of every dollar. Your car is also less safe on the road.
* If you stuck 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 quick stops and jackrabbit starts as much as you can. Depending on present driving habits, you can save up to a nickel out of every dollar. It all counts 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.
Beyond all this, you can buy a smaller car, drive a car with a manual transmission, and switch to radial tires if you haven't already done so.
Add it all up at the end of the year - and smile.