Gas Pains

How to get relief from high gas prices.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

With regular-grade gasoline at well over $2 per gallon, a trip to the gas pump can be an expensive proposition, especially if you drive a full-size truck. You can slow the drain from your wallet, however, by following these tips.

**Stay Tuned: **Engine efficiency is the key to improving fuel economy. According to the California Energy Commission's Consumer Energy Center (CEC), overlooked maintenance items (engines that are out of tune, clogged fuel injectors, dirty air filters, etc.) and underinflated tires can increase your fuel costs up to 13 percent.

Check the Oil: When your truck is in for its next tune-up, ask if you're using the right weight of oil. Oil that's thicker than necessary makes the engine work harder to circulate it. According to a bulletin from Chevron, if you reduce engine friction 50 percent by improving the motor oil you use, you can increase fuel economy nearly 6 percent.

Improve Performance: Most aftermarket engine equipment was designed to improve vehicle performance, but many of these components also improve fuel economy. A freer-flowing air filter and exhaust system, combined with a more powerful ignition, can not only pep up your truck's performance but add a few miles per gallon as well.

One caveat: Many who have installed these kinds of parts report a drop in fuel economy. Often that's due to a heavier right foot eager to "test" the expected performance improvements.

Slow Down: Driving more efficiently can save you up to 20 percent in fuel costs, says the CEC. Accelerate gently, don't let your truck idle for more than a few minutes, and watch your speed.

If you slow down from 75 to 65 mph, for example, you can reduce fuel costs by 13 percent. Chevron has also found that air conditioner use can reduce fuel economy by more than 20 percent, so use the truck's flow-through ventilation system to stay cool whenever you can.

[pagebreak] Get Aerodynamic: Automak-ers know that the least expensive way to gain fuel economy is to improve how a vehicle moves through the air. That's tough to accomplish with a squared-off vehicle like a truck, despite the many advances in engineering. However, you can improve your truck's aerodynamics by keeping the windows up whenever possible and properly inflating your tires to reduce rolling resistance.

Adding a tonneau cover or cab-high shell to the bed will also reduce air turbulence (drag) in the cargo box, which can improve mileage. Avoid using external cargo racks, which disrupt air flow over the roof. Climate can affect fuel economy anywhere from 5 to 13 percent, according to Chevron. Not much you can do about that.

**Buy What You Need: **One way you can save money at the pump is by not "over-buying" the grade of gasoline you need.

Unless your engine is experiencing detonation or other specific problems, there's no performance or mileage benefit to using gasoline with a higher octane rating than your vehicle manufacturer recommends. So why spend the extra 10 or 20 cents per gallon?

Unfortunately, none of these tips will double your fuel economy. But taken together over time they can add up to fewer stops at the gas pump.

What Will That Trip Cost?
The Fuel Cost Calculator (fuelcostcalculator.com), hosted by AAA, estimates how much fuel will be required and what it will cost for a trip based on the vehicle you drive, using up-to-date regional gasoline prices. Here's what a hypothetical 726-mile round trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco cost at press time using these vehicles. Note: Gas prices might be higher now.