Driving to Stretch Your Gas Dollars With regular gasoline averaging $2.55 at the pumps, how can drivers maximize their fuel use? Robert Siegel talks with Warren Brown, automotive writer for The Washington Post.
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Driving to Stretch Your Gas Dollars

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Driving to Stretch Your Gas Dollars

Driving to Stretch Your Gas Dollars

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

It's a fact we're all dealing with this summer. Gas prices just keep rising. The national average is now $2.55 a gallon. That's 18 cents higher than last week and 67 cents higher than last August.

SIEGEL: The high cost is not stopping most motorists from driving, but it does have many thinking and talking about how to save some fuel.

Unidentified Man #1: I try and ride my bike as much as I can, 'cause, you know, 5 bucks, I fill it up, and I can go 200 miles, so around town it's great.

Unidentified Woman #1: Live closer to where you work and where you shop. That would be my strategy.

Unidentified Man #2: Gotta keep, I mean, good maintenance in the car. If your air filter's bad, you spend gasoline. If your oxygen sensor's bad, you spend a lot of gasoline. You know, there's a lot of different things that you need to check it out.

Unidentified Man #3: I try not to idle my car. I try to keep the air conditioner low. I try to drive on the interstates as much as I can. I cut out the back roads, keep the speed limit to keep the light frequencies going, and that's about it.

Unidentified Man #4: I got a tune-up, oil changes. I mean, I did it all, trying to make sure the air pressures are right. I've been going it all, trying to save some money.

NORRIS: We heard from motorists Frank Donaldson, Joanne Sabalsky(ph), Richard Giampere(ph) in Los Angeles and Bill Schook(ph) and Jim Anderson in Louisville, Kentucky.

SIEGEL: We thought we'd seek some expert advice on stretching your gas tank from Warren Brown, automotive writer for The Washington Post.

Welcome back, Warren.

Mr. WARREN BROWN (Automotive Writer, The Washington Post): Good to be here.

SIEGEL: I want you to tell us some things people can do, first apart from buying another car or taking the bus, by which they might consume less gasoline in their car.

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, when you go to McDonald's or Wendy's, park the car, get out, go in and buy your hamburger instead of sitting at the window, letting it idle. Cut the idling time.

SIEGEL: So that fellow we just heard saying he was trying to...

Mr. BROWN: Precisely.

SIEGEL: ...do less idling...

Mr. BROWN: Exactly.

SIEGEL: ...is onto something.

Mr. BROWN: You know, clean out your back trunk. Particularly, this goes out to schoolteachers. Have you ever seen the trunk of a schoolteacher?


Mr. BROWN: Lots of stuff back there. You know, let the school board carry that weight. You know, you save the gasoline.

SIEGEL: Or the trunk of a golfer, we should add.

Mr. BROWN: Or the trunk of a golfer, yeah, any one of those. Tire pressure is another thing.

SIEGEL: Tire pressure?

Mr. BROWN: Yeah, because tire pressure speaks to basically, you know, how the tire is dealing with the road. I mean, if you have a low-inflation tire, that's more friction, requires more energy to move it, and so therefore, you're using more gasoline. On a mild day, there's no need to have the air conditioner on, but--so, you know, turn it off. And don't crank your windows down all the way, because that just creates drag, and you might as well be, you know, driving, you know, with a, you know, balloon on the back of the car or something.

SIEGEL: You mean the windows open, the sunroof open, all of that is...

Mr. BROWN: If you have the window open, the sunroof open, for example, if it's not a convertible, that wind has to go someplace. It's coming into the car, hitting the back, and it's creating more drag. More drag means more wind resistance, means you have to burn more fuel to overcome the wind resistance.

SIEGEL: When you're on the highway, highway driving, how big a difference does it make to do 70 or to do--I mean, of course, if you're breaking the law at 70 probably, but--or to drive 55?

Mr. BROWN: Well, if you go more slowly, yeah, you can save more gasoline. If you want--that's the honest answer. It's not the answer I prefer, but that's the honest answer.

SIEGEL: Let's say that you're an amazingly smart driver when it comes to doing all of these things to consume less gasoline. How many miles per gallon might you be adding to your ...(unintelligible)?

Mr. BROWN: It all depends on what you are driving and how it's equipped. If you are an amazingly smart driver in a car that basically only needs 15-inch diameter wheels, you'd get more mileage. But if you're an amazingly smart driver who is into bling-bling and you have 20-inch wheels on that car, you're going to get less mileage, because the bigger the wheels, you know, the more fuel you're going to use.

SIEGEL: So what do you think is the range that you can really extend your mileage efficiency by, by being very smart as opposed to being...

Mr. BROWN: I can give you...

SIEGEL: ...average to stupid about gas mileage?

Mr. BROWN: I can give you real-world, you know, examples. We've done these tests, believe it or not, with Mercedes-Benz, where we're looking at a lot of their diesel technology. Mercedes-Benz, you know, has a kind of a sense of humor. You know, they thought that, you know, instead of us going out there and showing how fast we could go, why don't we see how responsibly we could drive and save fuel. And so we did that trick, you know, a couple of times, and novel things, like, you know, coasting down hills...

SIEGEL: You call that novel?

Mr. BROWN: Well, we don't normally coast downhill.

SIEGEL: Novel--or reckless would be another word for that.

Mr. BROWN: (Laughs) Turning off the air conditioner, not running, you know, with headlights on, daytime, of course, not running with anything that consumes lots of power, because, of course that consumes energy. And so, yeah, you know, some of us, you know, finished with the five--you know, we got five miles more out of the tank. The more ridiculous of us got something like, you know, eight to 10 miles more, you know, out of the tank. Yeah.

SIEGEL: Warren Brown, thanks a lot.

Mr. BROWN: You're welcome. Always a pleasure.

SIEGEL: Warren Brown, who is automotive writer for The Washington Post.

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