The cost of gas is approaching record levels in Brainerd and Baxter and probably won't go down anytime soon.
This week at most area stations unleaded gas cost $3.29 a gallon, with a few stations selling it at $3.27.
While not yet a record - gas hit $3.34 in Brainerd/Baxter in May of 2007 - it's close enough where people may need to change their driving habits in order to offset the rising cost of gasoline.
"In the Midwest, $3.30 a gallon is a reasonable expectation for most of the summer," said Gail Weinholzer, director of public affairs for AAA Minnesota-Iowa.
The Freedom Value Centers station in west Brainerd was selling unleaded fuel for $3.29 per gallon Thursday. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
But there are ways to ease the pain at the pumps. First and most obvious is walking or riding a bike more when it's feasible.
For those who need to drive, AAA offers several suggestions:
Slow down. Even a 5 mph decrease in speed can affect gas mileage. Watch your tachometer to gauge engine performance. Weinholzer recommends driving as close to 55 mph for the best highway fuel economy.
Keep tires properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can cut fuel economy by a half-percent per pound of pressure below recommended levels.
Use the proper grade of gasoline. Do not purchase more expensive mid-grade or premium gasoline unless recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.
Don't let a vehicle idle for more than a minute. Idling can consume as much as a gallon of gas per hour. Idling also wastes more fuel than restarting the engine.
Maintain a consistent speed. Accelerate gently, brake gradually and avoid hard stops.
Plan errands. Combine outings into one trip or location as often as possible to spend less time on the road.
Pare extra weight. The excess weight of car top carriers, trailers and other vehicles cause engines to work harder and burn more gas.
Rachelle Reed filled her tank recently at College Square in Baxter. As gas prices near record highs in the Brainerd-Baxter area, motorists are advised to use cost-saving measures such as slowing down and having their vehicles tuned up on a regular basis. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Car pool when possible.
Travel during off-peak times to avoid rush hour.
Check the engine oil level when buying gas. Your car will run more efficiently if the engine is lubricated properly.
Large trucks benefit from lowered speeds. For every one-mile-per-hour increase above 55 mph, fuel efficiency generally decreases 2.2 percent.
Give your car a full tune-up. A poorly tuned engine can increase fuel use by up to 50 percent or more.
Jeff Thorson, co-owner of Landmark Auto Repair in Brainerd, said there are several things that need to be done with a vehicle on a regular basis to ensure good gas mileage: injector cleaning, tire alignment and changing spark plugs, oil and air filters.
A primary concern for Thorson is making sure his customers have their injectors clean. He equated an injector to a spray bottle or garden hose - when clean it sprays a mist of gas that covers what's needed and when dirty it sprays in a stream that covers less area and uses too much fuel. Putting an additive into a gas tank to increase performance also won't help, Thorson said.
"You can't fix a car out of a can. It just doesn't happen," Thorson said. "You can do better by putting a couple tanks of premium (gasoline) through it, which does about the same thing but doesn't fix what's there."
The Federal Trade Commission advises motorists to be skeptical of claims for devices that will boost mileage or improve fuel economy. The Environmental Protection Agency has tested more than 100 supposed gas-saving devices - including mixture enhancers and fuel line magnets - and found that very few provide any fuel economy benefits. The devices that work provide only marginal improvements and some gas-saving devices may damage a car's engine or increase exhaust emissions, the FTC reported.
A study by AAA found that the cost of driving a passenger vehicle in the U.S. has increased 1.9 cents per mile in the last year and now averages $8,121, or 54.1 cents, per mile for a car driven 15,000 in a year. In 2007, the cost was $7,823, or 52.5 cents per mile.
AAA found costs for maintenance, full-coverage insurance and depreciation are slightly lower this year while the costs for fuel, tires, financing, license, registration and taxes showed increases.
AAA's study calculated the average costs of owning and operating five top-selling models in three popular size classes: small, medium and large sedans. The results show that consumers have an opportunity to save money by switching from larger models to smaller vehicles.
For example, AAA's research shows the annual average cost of driving a small sedan is $6,320 per year, while a large sedan costs $9,769 per year. AAA estimated the annual expense of owning and operating a typical minivan at $8,644 per year versus $10,448 for a four-wheel-drive mid-size sport utility vehicle.
"While the cost of some driving expenses declined since the start of 2007, higher gasoline prices have more than offset these savings and pushed the overall cost of vehicle ownership and operation higher this year," Weinholzer said. "When purchasing a car people have to assess what their needs are, what their priorities are. Certainly people are paying more attention to fuel economy than they ever have."
Other options listed by the FTC for saving gas include alternative fuel vehicles that operate on methanol, ethanol, compressed natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas or electricity; or a hybrid electric vehicle that combines gasoline engines and electric motors.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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