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BC-US-On the Money-Saving on Gas, US

Gasoline prices spike so regularly that knowing how to combat them should be almost second nature to car owners.

The average price for regular gasoline has jumped to $3.76 a gallon nationwide and tops $4 in some markets. Could $5 gas loom in the not-too-distant future?

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The average household is on track to spend more than $3,300 this year on gasoline. Short of buying a new vehicle, here are some tips on ways to shave your costs:

Drive slower and smarter. Easing your foot off the accelerator is a guaranteed way to reduce expenses. Every 5 miles per hour you drive over 60 costs you an additional 24 cents per gallon, the Department of Energy estimates. The faster you go, the more work your engine has to do. The sweet spot for fuel efficiency on the highway is about 55, but slowing from 70 to 60 can help a lot.

Drive more smoothly around town, too - avoid fast acceleration and quick stops. Aggressive driving can lower a car’s fuel economy significantly.

■Reduce idling. Warming up a car engine in cold weather is one thing. Letting it idle needlessly in front of a friend’s house is another. That wastes fuel, costs money, and pollutes the air.

While you’re at it, combine errands to conserve fuel. Several short trips from a cold start can consume twice as much gas as one over the same distance when the engine is warm, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

■Smartphones make it easier to find the best prices. Apps from AAA, GasBuddy, and CheapGas guide you to the cheapest options on your route.

Just be wary of ads hawking products to improve mileage. The Environmental Protection Agency has tested more than 100 purported gas-saving products and found that very few provided any fuel economy benefits. Some can even damage your car’s engine.

■Fill up at midweek. Prices are raised on Thursdays in anticipation of weekend travel. And 10 a.m. is roughly when most station owners make their price change for the day, says chief executive Chris Faulkner of Dallas-based Breitling Oil & Gas Corp. “Unless it is an emergency, do not buy gas Friday, Saturday or Sunday,’’ he says.

Do regular maintenance. Taking the car in for tune-ups based on the owner’s manual’s timetable can improve mileage by an average of 4 percent, according to the Energy Department. A simple but often overlooked part of maintenance is keeping tires properly inflated and aligned. Under-inflated tires add resistance, requiring more effort from your engine.

■Skip premium fuel. Unless your vehicle absolutely requires premium gas, don’t spend the additional 15 to 30 cents per gallon. “In most cases, using a higher-octane gasoline than your owner’s manual recommends offers absolutely no benefit,’’ according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Dave Carpenter writes for the Associated Press. He can be reached at www.twitter.com/scribblerdave.
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