- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

With summer upon us, many of us are looking forward to spending a lot of time on the road. But with the specter of ever increasing gasoline prices threatening to put a serious dent in our vacation budget, now would be a good time to ensure that your vehicle is ready to deliver the highest number of miles for the fewest gallons.
Other than the vehicle's design and engineering, its fuel efficiency is affected by a number of factors, factors that you can control. For starters, be certain that tire pressures are at least as high as the vehicle manufacturer recommends. Check the tire-inflation decal on the vehicle. You'll find it in one of several locations: the glove-box door, a door post or even a door edge.
Tire pressure should always be checked with the tires at outside temperature, before the vehicle has been driven for the day. Driving heats the tires, thereby raising pressure. Of course, the vehicle maker generally recommends tire pressures that are a compromise of good ride, handling, load-carrying capability and fuel economy. You can sacrifice some ride comfort by putting more air in the tire than the automaker suggests. Note: Never inflate a tire to a pressure higher than the tire maker recommends. Every tire has its maximum inflation pressure embossed on the sidewall.
Tires will roll more efficiently if they're all pointed in the right direction. If your vehicle's wheel alignment has not been checked in a year or so, or if you notice the vehicle tends to drift one way or the other on a flat, smooth road, have its alignment checked and reset if necessary at a shop equipped to do so. Many modern vehicles need to have the alignment of all four wheels set, not just the fronts.
Lastly, if your tires are worn enough to be replaced, consider getting a set of tires that are labeled as fuel savers. Your tires are worn when the tread is worn down to tread-wear indicators; strips of baldness are showing. If your vacation plans include towing a trailer, don't forget to check the trailer tires as well.
You can also improve your vehicle's fuel economy by ensuring that the engine is in a state of perfect tune. Computerized engines with sophisticated electronic control systems need fewer regular tuneups than their predecessors. Though the computer systems are designed to ensure that the engine runs smoothly and with minimal exhaust emissions without service, fuel economy may suffer slightly as time goes on. A set of new spark plugs, properly gapped for your engine, may improve things. Check your owner's manual for the recommended spark plug replacement interval.
Many modern cars and trucks come from the factory with long-life spark plugs that have titanium or other precious metal tips. If your vehicle is so equipped, you may not benefit from new plugs. If your engine is not so equipped, consider spending the extra money now for the payoff over time.
Another underhood component that directly affects fuel economy, and that you are well qualified to service, is the air filter. Most modern air filter elements can be replaced without the need of any tools. Remove your air filter element and inspect it. If it's dirty, stained or in some way torn or damaged, replace it. Be sure to clean any dead bugs, leaves and other debris from inside the air filter housing before inserting and sealing the filter element.
Your car or truck will also be more fuel efficient if it's not carrying any extra load. Take the time to clear the trunk or cargo area of unneeded tools, gear, old newspapers, whatever. And when packing for your vacation, have everyone in the family pack efficiently. Don't tote a lot of extra weight "just in case." Also, when packing the vehicle, try to minimize any load that has to be put on the roof. Anything sitting on top of your vehicle vastly increases drag, reducing performance and fuel efficiency.
Finally, don't forget that driving style also greatly affects fuel economy. Smooth acceleration, a steady speed and anticipation of traffic flow will ultimately pay dividends at the pump. Most vehicles have been designed to operate most fuel-efficiently at posted highway speeds. Going much faster will use more fuel in the long run.

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