GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - After the holiday season, your bank account can probably use a rest. As prices continue to skyrocket, you can at least save on fuel costs with The Family Handyman's smart, unexpected fixes for your car.
Contributing Editor, Rick Muscoplat, offers these tips:
Keep tires at the right pressure: Surveys show that 50 percent of vehicles have under-inflated tires. You can't "eyeball" tire pressure, you have to check it with a tire pressure gauge (less than $5). It's worth your time to check tires monthly, because under-inflated tires can cost you about $750 a year in wasted gas. Improper air pressure can wear out your tires twice as fast, costing you an additional $150 a year -- $900 in total! The recommended air pressure for your vehicle's tires is on the decal pasted to the driver's door or pillar.
Change spark plugs before they're due to save a lot: If your 100,000-mile spark plugs have 80,000 miles on them, they're 80 percent worn. Misfires and incomplete combustion occur more frequently during that last 20,000 miles, costing you almost $562.50 in wasted fuel. You have to replace your spark plugs anyway, so do it early and pocket the savings.
Drive slower: Do the math! Lead foot = light wallet. Hard acceleration in stop-and-go driving costs you 20 percent in gas mileage. If you live your life in rush hour traffic and like to put the pedal to the metal, spend all your extra time at the next stoplight figuring out how you could have spent the $750 a year you're wasting.
Replace your air filter early and often: Your engine sucks 14 million gallons of air through the air filter every year. If it can't get enough air, the combustion efficiency will drop by at least 10 percent. Air filters are cheap (less than $15) and you can replace them yourself. Replace the filter at least every 10,000 miles or once a year, and even with that expense, still save $270.
Keep your car aligned: If your tires are bowed out of alignment by just .017 in., it's the equivalent of dragging your tire sideways for 102 miles for every 20,000 you drive. That'll cost you $187.50 a year in wasted gas. It will wear your tires faster, costing you $70 more a year. Here's an easy way to check your alignment without taking your car in to the shop. Buy a tread depth gauge ($2) and measure the tread depth on both edges of each tire (rear tires too).
Replace a broken or missing spoiler: The plastic air dam (aka "spoiler") that was broken or missing wasn't just for a sporty look. If your car had an air dam, driving without it or with a damaged one can reduce your gas mileage. The air dam literally "dams off" airflow to the undercarriage of your car, forcing the air up and over the hood.
Replace your oxygen sensors in advance: Oxygen sensors monitor the efficiency of combustion by tracking the amount of oxygen remaining in the exhaust. But they degrade over time and that can cost you up to 15 percent in gas mileage. When they fail, the computer lights up your "service engine soon" light, forcing you to incur an $80 diagnostic fee.
*Note: These savings are based on driving 20,000 miles per year, in a car that gets 20 mpg, with gasoline priced at $3.75 a gallon.
• For more tips to improve gas mileage, save money and other DIY ideas, visit www.thefamilyhandyman.com
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