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Consumer Watch: Cut gas costs by maintaining vehicle, driving sensibly

Mar. 15, 2012 - 06:42PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 15, 2012 - 06:42PM  |  
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Gas prices may hit $5 a gallon in the very near future, according to some estimates, which could take a huge bite out of your budget. So now is the time to get serious about fuel economy.

As of this writing, the average price of gas was $3.76 a gallon. If your car gets 25 miles per gallon, it will cost you about $6.02 to drive 40 miles. At $5 a gallon, those same 40 miles will cost you $8.

According to the Energy Department's Fueleconomy.gov website, gas prices rose by 11 percent from mid-December to mid-February, from an average of $3.29 to $3.65. That's costing the average driver about $20 more a month to fuel up.

A refresher on how to save money on gas:

Drive less. Combine errands. Before getting into your car, think about what that trip will cost you. If you're driving 50 miles for a special sale, do the savings outweigh the cost of gas to get there?

Search out the best gas prices — but don't drive so far to get a deal that you're wasting gas. At Fueleconomy.gov, you can find the lowest gas prices in your area by clicking on "Save Money," then "Gasoline Prices," then "Finding the Cheapest Gas."

Military exchange gas stations aren't always cheaper than gas stations outside the gate because they have to pay taxes just like commercial gas stations do. Make sure you compare prices.

Consider a credit card offering rewards or discounts on gas. The Military Star card offers a discount of 5 cents per gallon for gas purchased at gas stations on Army and Air Force bases. Keep an eye out for additional discounts — for example, from July 1 to 4 there's an extra 10 cents off per gallon.

Through March, Discover cardholders can sign up for 5 percent cash back at gas stations on purchases up to $1,500. So you'd get about 18 cents in rewards credit on a gallon of gas that cost $3.65. Discover will offer another gas rewards promotion from June through September, with more details to come.

Get the right fuel. The Federal Trade Commission advises checking your owner's manual for your car's most effective octane level. For most cars, the recommended gas is regular octane — the cheapest.

Don't idle on startup. Modern engines don't need much time to warm up, the FTC says, so save fuel by starting to drive as soon as you start the engine.

Drive sensibly. Don't speed, and avoid jack-rabbit starts and rapid braking. Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds faster than 60 mph, according to Fueleconomy.gov. You can assume that each 5 mph over 60 is like paying an extra 29 cents per gallon for gas.

Properly maintain your vehicle. Keep the engine tuned and the tires properly inflated, and use the recommended grade of motor oil.

Remove excess weight. Fueleconomy.gov says an extra 100 pounds of junk in your trunk can reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2 percent.

Monitor your driving habits. Avoid excessive idling. Use overdrive gears and cruise control when appropriate.

Update: ‘Storage nightmare'

Navy Cmdr. Wilma Roberts has sued the storage company that allegedly sold her household goods in violation of the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act.

In the Oct. 24 editions of Military Times, we wrote about Roberts' problems after she returned from her overseas assignment and found that she couldn't retrieve her household goods. Without her knowledge, the Navy had stopped paying for her storage and the storage company sold her household goods at auction for alleged nonpayment.

Since Roberts took little with her to Okinawa, where she was stationed, those stored goods included all of her furniture, kitchenware, clothing, personal items, military records, professional books and records, financial records and memorabilia.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee in January. The company has until mid-March to respond.

Roberts is asking for damages and attorneys' fees, as well as the cost of monitoring her credit record to ensure she is not the victim of identify theft, since her financial records were among the items sold.

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