The kids are back in school and many moms and dads are busy playing chauffeur, shuttling the young ones from one extracurricular activity to another. Here are some tips to save time and gas as you play taxi driver.
Create a game plan: Map out your route ahead of time. This will help you determine shortcuts. Of course, transporting kids guarantees there will be an impromptu detour, but a good game plan is your best defense against wasted gas. If a ballet session is near the grocery store, check your shopping list for items that may be picked up. If you have an iPhone or iPad, it also helps to sign up for free apps like Around Me that locate nearby businesses and note the driving distance.
Power of the pack: It pays to make friends during your kids' baseball games. You may find a neighbor who can split driving duties.
Lighten your load: Clean out your car by removing remnants of the summer, such as the beach gear, coolers and other nonessentials. Excess gear can reduce your mileage. According to fueleconomy.gov, an extra 100 pounds of stuff can reduce your car's mileage by 3 to 5 cents per gallon.
Reduce drag: If you have gear on the roof of your car, it's time to streamline.
Watch your tires: The penny test is a tried-and-true measure of tire wear. Grab Lincoln and make sure your tire's tread reaches the top of his head — that distance of about 2/32 inches is the minimum tread requirement in many states. It also pays to invest in a tire pressure gauge. For less than $10, this handy pen-sized tool will help ensure that your tires are properly inflated. An over- or underinflated tire can affect gas mileage, so know your numbers and check the tires regularly.
Tire pressure monitoring: After the Bridgestone/Firestone tire failures on Ford Explorers, the government required all vehicles to be equipped with Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems starting with 2008 model year vehicles. Look for the odd icon with the exclamation mark on your dashboard.
Easy does it: I'll admit that this one is difficult for me, but maintaining a smooth ride that's free of lots of herky-jerky braking and accelerating also saves gas. Load a kid-friendly DVD in the back or have the little ones read a book so you aren't distracted during those scheduled runs. This also helps extend life of your car's engine, brakes and tires.
Skip the premium: Consumer Reports studies show that regular petrol gets the job done just as well, so save your money.
Avoid idling: Make the most of each minute spent in the carpool lane or waiting for your kid to load up. But allowing your car to idle for more than 30 seconds means that you are getting exactly zero miles per gallon of gas. Cut the engine off as your tykes slowly meander toward the car after practice.