AAA Mid-Atlantic Debunks Fuel Saving Myths

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STATE – Gasoline prices are holding steady near $3.39 in New Jersey, but many motorists have already reached their breaking point from over three straight weeks of one price increase after another. The cumulative effect of higher fuel prices is causing some drivers to change their habits and to seek ways to save money at the pump.

However AAA Mid-Atlantic warns cash-strapped and stressed-out motorists to be wary of some fuel conservation and money saving tips that are being offered.

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For their sake, AAA Mid-Atlantic is debunking seven myths about saving fuel and money at the pump:

Myth #1: Boycotting filling stations one day a week will cause the oil companies to lower fuel prices.

False: This one makes the rounds via email chains and is a favorite of Facebook users every time pump prices soar. Unless you stop driving your car altogether, you are merely postponing the inevitable. “The United States consumed about 137.93 billion gallons (or 3.28 billion barrels) of gasoline in 2009,” according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). That works out to a daily average of about 388 million gallons or 8.99 million barrels, the EIA notes. Unless we curb our addiction to gas, it’s a matter of “pay me now or pay me later” at the filling station. At today’s price level, we are spending about 1.4 billion dollars a day on fuel purchases.

Myth #2: Trading your gas-guzzling SUV or large sedan for a more fuel-efficient compact or hybrid vehicle makes more money or economic sense.

False: It is “cheaper to keep her,” as the old saying goes. Unless your car note is already paid off, you are simply accumulating more consumer debt. “About 82 percent of new car loans today have terms of 60 to 77.9 months,” according to a study by J.D. Power and Associates. Therefore, most Americans are “upside down” or “underwater” in their car loans, meaning, as borrowers, they still owe more money on the car loan than the vehicle is really worth. The average owed at trade-in is $4,221 more than the vehicle is worth, one study shows. If you trade in your vehicle, the dealer will simply roll the old loan into the new loan, increasing your debt load.

Myth #3: Premium-grade gasoline is better than regular gasoline.

It all depends. Depending upon where you fill-up, premium is 27 cents to 30 cents higher than regular blend. It’s tempting to switch to save a fistful of dollars.  But your owner’s manual is your Bible.  Follow it to see what blend your car really needs. Back in 1988, 15 percent of passenger cars sold in the US required premium. Premium gas accounts for about nine percent of the gas sold in America today. Here’s the catch. Some vehicles, but not all, operate just fine burning regular-grade gas. There’s a whole world of difference between recommended and required. That’s often not the case with many sports and luxury models. The fact is, engines with higher compression ratios need more octane.  Ask yourself, is the $4.50 you save per fill-up worth the engine knocking?

Myth#4: Turning off your vehicle’s air conditioning unit will improve your gas mileage.

False: This one is bandied about during late spring and the summer months or days when it is hot outside. Most vehicles on the road today are aerodynamic in shape and design.  At highway speeds, vehicle air conditioning can lower greenhouse gas output. Rolling down your windows will only increase the drag on your vehicle. In reality, any saving is minimal and comes at the expense of discomfort.

Myth#5: Hypermiling can improve your gas mileage.

False: The goals of hypermiling are positive, such as eliminating aggressive driving and saving energy, notes AAA. Unfortunately, some motorists have taken their desire to improve fuel economy to extremes with techniques that put themselves, as well as their fellow motorists, in danger. Examples of dangerous hypermiling techniques include: cutting off the vehicle’s engine or putting it in neutral to coast on a roadway, tailgating or drafting larger vehicles, rolling through stop signs and driving at erratic and unsafe speeds. These practices, notes AAA, can put motorists in a treacherous situation. You could lose power steering and brakes or be unable to react to quickly changing traffic conditions, putting you into harm’s way in the region’s notoriously mind-numbing stop-and-go traffic.

Myth #6: Over-inflating tires or replacing compressed air with nitrogen in tires will improve fuel efficiency.

False: Over-inflating tires does not improve fuel efficiency, tire makers and highway safety experts, including AAA, say. It merely results in tires wearing more quickly and having less traction on the road. Replacing compressed air with nitrogen will keep tire pressure more stable over the long term, but does not improve efficiency. Improve fuel economy by maintaining the recommended pressure.

Myth #7: A vehicle uses more fuel to shut down/restart than to leave idle.

False: This is axiomatic and as plain as the nose on your face. When a vehicle is running but  not moving, it is achieving negative miles per gallon. Got that? In addition, a warm engine uses minimal fuel to shut down and restart. If you’re stopping for longer than a minute, it’s a good idea to shut down your vehicle.

AAA Mid-Atlantic, based in Wilmington, Del., serves nearly four million members in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and throughout Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia, and is on the Web at aaa.com/community.


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