Save at the pump

The average price of gasoline in the United States has topped $4 a gallon! New Yorkers and Californians are balking at that claim considering they’ve been paying well over $4 for some time now. The latest government prediction contends that gas prices won't peak until it hits $4.15 in August while others say it’ll go as far up as $5 a gallon!

Oil is threatening to rise to $150 a barrel. Just yesterday the price soared to a record breaking $146 a barrel.

With that in mind, we thought we’d offer some tips to help you save money on gas. Of course the more gas we save, the less pollution we create, and the less bound we are to those who control the oil supply.

Tip 1: Take public transportation

By one estimate, the public transportation system in the United States saves 3.4 billion gallons of oil a year and cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 26 million tons. Get your fair share of the savings by looking up the local bus route or climbing on the subway. (After all, as a taxpayer, you're already invested.

Sure, it costs money to take the bus or subway. But consider this: The average U.S. commute is 16 miles, and at current gas prices the average U.S. passenger car will go just 11 miles on $2, a typical public transit fare. (If you drive a truck or SUV, the equation works out in your favor with an even shorter commute.)

Plus, you'll also save your car the wear and tear of driving, which ultimately saves you money on maintenance (a quart of motor oil costs more than it did a year ago, too).

Tip 2: Carpool

Don’t want to or can’t give up driving to work? You can still cut your gas bills in half by sharing your trip to work with one other person and splitting the bill.That's like paying $2 for gas, instead of $4.

Put a third person in the car, and the price per gallon drops to $1.33. With a full car of four people, the cost is just $1 a gallon. Now that sounds like real savings.

If you're looking for help getting started, consult with Divide the Ride, eRideShare, RideCheck, Carpool World or other Web-based tools designed to help like-minded people find each other.

Tip 3: Walk or Bike

Keep your wallet fat and the pocket that holds it loose. Whenever possible, walk or bike to work or school, or to meet up with friends. Every mile you pedal or stride saves you gas and money, and gets you in better shape.

If you trade in a trip in the average car, you'd save about $1 for every 5 miles you walk or pedal. (Use the money to buy a new umbrella for rainy days, or put it into a savings for a rainy day shopping spree.)

During the hot summer months, though, be sure to check the air quality forecast in your area. Particulates, ozone and other components of smog can make it unhealthy to exercise outdoors on some hot, sunny days, particularly during the evening commute. Those with asthma or other lung or heart ailments are most at risk from breathing polluted air.

Tip 4: Invest in a Fuel-Efficient Car

If you must drive, consider replacing your gas guzzler with a fuel-efficient model.

The most fuel-efficient 2008 model on the lot, the hybrid Toyota Prius, gets 48 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway. The least fuel-efficient 2008 SUV, the Mercedes-Benz G 55 AMG, gets just 11 mpg in the city and 13 on the highway. In other words, you'll go almost four times as far on a tank of gas in the Prius. That’s a big difference!

If you're in the market for a used car, consult the federal government's fueleconomy.gov site, which provides fuel-economy information about most cars, trucks and SUVs on the road.

Tip 5: Drive Smarter

If all else fails, you can at least drive the car you own to greater fuel-efficiency.

By one estimate, you can save 20% of gas by reversing bad habits. Even better, changing bad driving habits, and scheduling regular vehicle maintenance, lessens the pollution you cause by burning fossil fuel. That means less smog, less asthma, less acid rain and less of a contribution to global warming. All in all, not a bad outcome from saving a few dimes.

Start by checking your tire pressure and inflating your tires to the appropriate level. Visit your mechanic for a tune-up if you're due. Be sure to have your tires aligned, your air filter checked and your oil changed if needed. When making trips, combine errands so that the trip home from work also includes the trip to the grocery store (and thereby cuts your gas bill in half). When you're on the road, drive smoothly, accelerate slowly and don't speed.

Enjoy your summer!

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