With the price of gas reaching $4 per gallon, gone are the days when a fill-up and Big Gulp cost a few bills in your wallet. Today, gas is a major expense that warrants a line in your budget, just like insurance, groceries and entertainment, if you still can afford it. While individually we can't do much to lower the price of gas, there are several ways we can reduce our consumption and, therefore, reduce the amount of dough we spend on our drives. Here are a few. — Susan Thurston email@example.com
Save at the pump
Look for stations that offer discounts for customers who pay with cash, including many local BP stores. Don't top off your tank, which can overflow and waste gas. Buy in the early morning or late evening when it's cooler and gas is densest. Pumps measure volumes of gasoline, not densities of fuel concentration. Stations also are inclined to raise prices during rush hour.
Get in your exercise by walking, biking or jogging to the grocery or drug store for a few small items. To beef up your workout, bring a backpack or sturdy bag to haul heavier items, such as a gallon of milk. If you must to use your car, lump together errands so you don't go out of your way for one stop. Visit businesses close to home or work.
Know your gas mileage
Estimate ahead of time how much a trip is going to cost you. If your buddy's house is 100 miles away round-trip, and your car gets about 25 miles per gallon, that means it will cost you four gallons of gas, or about $16. Worth it? Then grab your keys. Not worth it? Make other plans.
Take mass transit
It's obvious, but often difficult to practice. We like our cars and, quite frankly, we need them in the Tampa Bay area. That said, try experimenting with alternative ways of getting around, be it carpooling to dinner with friends or taking a bus to work one day. Commit to doing it once a week at first, then expand as you get more comfortable with it. Subscribe to: It's about journey, not the destination. For a list of park and ride locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, go to hartline.org/ride_guide and psta.net/parknride.htm. To find potential carpool-mates, try EZ Ride online matching at tampabayrideshare.org.
Be kind to your car
Find your auto manual and read the maintenance schedule. Replace your air filter every 20,000 miles or so, check fluids at every oil change and spark plugs every 30,000 miles. Replacing a clogged air filter can increase gas mileage by 10 percent. If you anticipate stopping for a few minutes, turn off your car. Restarting your engine consumes the same amount of gas as idling for one minute.
Before filling up, check Web sites that monitor and post the lowest gas prices. Try TampaGasPrices.com, GasPriceWatch.com or gasprices.mapquest.com. All update their prices frequently but may not be up the minute.
Hi-octane or regular?
Unless your engine is knocking, save your money and go with the cheap stuff. Experts have concluded that engines designed for regular unleaded don't improve with premium fuel. Furthermore, don't feel guilty about putting regular into a car designated for premium. The power loss is so slight, most drivers won't notice the difference.
Watch your speed
Generally, each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph increases your cost per gallon by about 20 cents. Anticipate traffic to avoid slamming on your brakes or accelerating quickly, which can drastically reduce your fuel efficiency. And don't load your trunk with heavy junk, which reduces your gas mileage.
Check your tires
Keeping your tires properly aligned and inflated can increase your gas mileage up to 3 percent. Buy a pressure gauge or go to a gas station with a coin-operated air pump. (Some are free.) Low tires burn through more gas.
Sources: Fueleconomy.com; MarketWatch,com; GasBuddy.com; Consumer Energy Center; Bay Area Commuter Services; www.ftc.gov/savegas.