Get Smart With Your Current Car

By Andrew Beattie | August 17, 2009 AAA

The "Cash for Clunkers" deal, which wraps up its final day on August 24, has everyone pondering their mileage. Trading in your old gas guzzler for a newer model can instantly improve your mileage, but even with thousands in government incentives it may still hurt your pocketbook.

If you don't have the money to swap for a smart car or hybrid, you can still get better mileage from a clunker with a few easy fixes. (Follow a few of these simple tips to become more "green" - and keep more of it in your wallet. Check out Go Green, Save Money.)

Inflate Your Tires
Depending on how far your tires are from their listed inflation level - conveniently written on the tire's sidewall - you can squeeze up to 3% better fuel efficiency improvements simply by filling them up. It's as easy as pulling up to a gas station. If you're keen, you can invest a few dollars in a pocket sized pressure gauge to check your tires regularly. (Keep additional car expenses low to save even more. Read 12 Car Insurance Cost-Cutters.)

Improve Your Aerodynamics
Drag is one of the biggest forces your car fights in moving you forward. One of the primary design problems for auto-aerodynamics is the mirrors. Of course you don't want to remove them, but you can buy better molded replacements. If you want to get an idea of how even a small protrusion like mirrors contributes to drag, simply cup your hand and hold it outside the window while driving at highway speed.

By removing racks and other protuberances, your highway mileage can sometimes jump several miles per gallon higher. Pickup truck drivers can even streamline their vehicles by installing a box cover or just putting a piece of plywood between the wheel wells angling up towards the top of the tailgate.

Do The Maintenance
Making sure there is enough oil, changing old spark plugs and cleaning air filters doesn't yield as dramatic mileage improvements for younger cars as it does for older models, but you still get savings by having a well-tuned engine. (Sometimes buying a new car can be cheaper than shelling out for repairs. Check out Your Car: Fixer-Upper Or Scrap Metal?)

Get Cruise Control
Even if you have to install it yourself, cruise control doesn't cost much in time or money. It will save you a lot, however, by controlling your lead foot. Even if the mileage improvements are mediocre, you'll see a definite reduction in speeding tickets.

Install An Electronic Fuel Usage Monitor
These babies are getting cheaper and more common every day. The biggest benefit of a monitor is that it lets you know changes in real time as you experiment with improving your mileage. It can also introduce a challenge/sense of fun into the process as you keep trying to beat your best mileage. Who knows, it may even turn you on to hypermiling.

Summing it up, if you're not in the market for a new, fuel efficient car, there are still a lot of things you can do to squeeze better performance out of the one you have now. (Find out what steps you can take to reduce the depreciation of your vehicle. Read Top 10 Ways To Get Top Dollar For Your Car.)

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