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3 money-saving auto tips you've never heard

Want to spend $820 less on gas in a year? Use this trio of tactics.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 18, 2012 12:07PM

Logo: Gas station (Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)The average national price of gasoline has dropped to just under $3.25 a gallon, according to this report


Citing stats from the American Automobile Association, CNN reports this is the lowest price in nearly two years: "Welcome news for the estimated 84.4 million Americans planning to hit the roads when the holiday period officially gets underway this Saturday."

The cost of gas is expected to drop throughout December. While this makes holiday travel a little cheaper for drivers, you know the price will head back up eventually.

That's why it's important to get the most out of every fuel dollar. A new article on The Family Handyman website offers eight gas-saving tips. Along with the old reliable suggestions (slow down, keep tires properly inflated, et al.), there are three I'd never heard before.

On their own, these tips can save you at least $820 in a year. The article also puts an actual dollar amount on an old reliable piece of advice.

The figures below are based on a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon and is driven 20,000 miles per year using gasoline priced at $3.75. (Yes, it's currently 50 cents cheaper. Don't get used to it.)

Tip 1: Fix a broken or missing air dam.


Did your car have a spoiler under the front bumper? This wasn't just for looks. The article notes: "The air dam literally 'dams offf' airflow to the undercarriage of your car, forcing the air up and over the hood. That helps your car cut through the air with less drag. It also increases airflow to the A/C condenser and radiator, reducing the load on your car's electrical system."

Science lesson over. Now, go take a look at your vehicle. If the spoiler is spoiled, get it replaced. Family Handyman suggests calling a junkyard or visiting the parts site. (The article did not specify the precise amount of dollars saved for this tip.)

Don't use it up, don't wear it out

Tip 2: Replace your oxygen sensors before
they wear out.
These sensors track the amount of oxygen left in the exhaust, thereby monitoring combustion efficiency. But they eventually wear out and over time "that can cost you up to 15% in gas mileage," the article warns. In addition, when the sensors wear out they'll trigger a "service engine soon" light on the dashboard -- which in turn triggers the need for a diagnostic fee. (Family Handyman prices this at $80.)

Instead of waiting for that to happen, replace the oxygen sensor every 60,000 miles for pre-1996 vehicles and every 100,000 on models from 1996 on. And speaking of replacement ...

Tip 3: Change your spark plugs early, too.

At 80,000 miles your 100,000-mile spark plugs are four-fifths worn-out. Incomplete combustion and misfires over the next 20,000 miles will waste nearly $562.50 in fuel. Put in some new ones at 80,000 miles: "Even if you have to replace the plugs one extra time over the life of your car, you'll still come out way ahead."

For proper performance

And that old reliable tip? It's one we hear all the time: "Keep your car aligned." What I never heard before was how much money this could save.

The article notes that if your tires are just 0.017 of an inch out of alignment, it’s like "dragging your tire sideways for 102 miles for every 20,000 (miles) you drive." The tab for that is $187.50 in gas plus $70 in extra tire wear.

You can't eyeball alignment, so spend a couple of bucks on a tread-depth gauge and check all four wheels. If one side of the tire is not as worn as the other side, you're due for an alignment, which Family Handyman puts at $80. According to the site, "You'll still save $177.50 the first year alone."

Two more gas-price tips:
  • Forget gas-saving gadgets. In "Best ways to save on gas," Consumer Reports notes that none of the devices caused any significant improvements. "And we’re not alone. The EPA's website lists scores of such devices that the agency tested, with similar results."
  • Shop around. To find the best gas prices in your area, use this tool from MSN Autos.

Readers: How do you save money at the pump?

More on MSN Money:

Dec 18, 2012 12:17PM
to save on the actual purchase of gas:  I have a Speedway America "points" card.  If I prepay inside and load $100 on the card then I get more points than if I paid at the pump with just a credit card.  Then I go outside, pump gas and swipe the points card again then I get more points per gallon.  Any other purchase at the gas station also gets points.  I then cash in the points for gas cards.  I "earn" about $100 in gas cards this way a year.
Dec 19, 2012 5:33AM

Since I budget $X/week (month) for gas  I save any unused when $$ are low and buy a gas gift card for when it is HIGH.


I have also spent points from survey sites for gas gift cards,

Dec 21, 2012 1:26PM
Oxygen that like an "EGR"?
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.