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How to Get the Most from a Gallon of Gas

May 6, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If it seems the gas guzzler you’re driving is sucking your wallet dry, there are a few ways to slow the flow.

Shop around for the cheapest station. Get a tuneup. Drive more slowly. Don’t use the air conditioner. And stop buying premium gasoline if your car doesn’t need it _ and few do.

Little things add up, auto specialists say.

With prices jumping as much as 20 cents a gallon in the last three months, consumers are taking notice, said David Van Sickle, director of automotive engineering for the American Automobile Association.

``When gas was cheap, nobody cared,″ Van Sickle said. ``Now when it costs you another $5 to fill up, you start having second thoughts.″

Some advise consumers to go about their business and keep buying at their favorite station, saying prices eventually will drop.

``Grin and bear it,″ said Stanley Schuer, executive director of the Gasoline and Automotive Service Dealers Association. ``Just dig in a little deeper.″

But if consumers are as upset about gas prices as politicians think they are, they do have options.

Among them:

_Shop around. Gas prices can vary by as much as 15 cents per gallon in one area, and while different brands of gasoline have different additives, they are all pretty much the same, Van Sickle said.

``You don’t have to worry about shopping around for a name-brand gas,″ he said. ``It turns around so rapidly, there’s no such things as old gas or stale gas.″

_Look for bargains. Some stations will run ``Wacky Wednesdays″ or similar promotions discounting prices. But oil companies have no coordinated discounts, so you have to try to spot specials.

_Keep your tires inflated to proper pressure and your engine tuned. Under-inflated tires can reduce mileage by up to 5 percent, Van Sickle said. Tuning up a badly out-of-tune car can increase mileage by up to 20 percent, according to the Shell Oil Co.

_Use the right grade of gasoline. Van Sickle said only 5 percent of cars need premium gasoline, although 20 percent of motorists buy it.

``They think they’re giving their car a treat,″ he said. ``They think they get more power, it burns better and keeps their engine clean. But that’s simply not true.″

Premium gas, which costs on average 17 cents more per gallon than regular, does nothing for cars that do not require it, Van Sickle said.

_Don’t waste fuel. ``It’s better to turn off the engine if you’re going to be in the line a long time,″ said Joseph Lastelic, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry trade group.

_Drive more slowly. Cars get maximum gas mileage driving 55 mph on the highway. Increasing driving speed from 55 mph to 65 mph decreases mileage by 20 percent, Van Sickle said, and driving at 75 mph drops mileage by an additional 25 percent.

_Turn off the air conditioner. Cranking the air can reduce fuel efficiency by up to two miles per gallon, according to API.

_Avoid car-top carriers. ``One of those ... is like dragging a boat around,″ Van Sickle said. ``It slows down the aerodynamics of car and can radically increase fuel consumption.″

_Don’t drive. This suggestion comes from the Sierra Club, a leading environmental group: ``We can drive less, combine trips, switch to public transportation and bike and walk.″

If prices stay high, consumers said they may start paying more attention to the tips.

``I guess there comes a point where cost becomes a significant enough factor to alter habits, but not yet,″ said Mark Dettelbach, 32, of Washington, who was filling his tank for $1.39 per gallon.

``I’ve never shopped for gas,″ agreed Minna Morse, 29, of Washington. Then, looking at the price on her pump, she added, ``I may begin to shop for gas.″

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