How to Be Road-Trip ReadyFollowing an unusually harsh winter, Americans are shaking off cabin fever and hitting the road.
This spring, nearly 32 million vacationing Americans made an automobile trip, according to AAA — a 10-year-high. This early-year travel boom suggests that many families will be gearing up to take to the road this summer, especially surround the the Fourth of July.
Summer travel will be "extraordinarily strong" this year, according to Best Western International hotel chain, where advanced bookings are up 11 percent compared to last summer. Memories are created on summer vacations, and winter-weary travelers "are investing in the opportunities to build memories with their familes," the chain says.
However, with gas anticipated to average $3.55 to $3.70 per gallon this summer, the cost to keep the tank filled on a long family road trip remains substantial.
Fortunately, no matter what size or kind of vehicle the family piles into, motorists who prepare their vehicles and use best driving practices can save money at the pump, keep passengers safe and reduce their carbon footprints.
"One of the simplest ways to save on gas is also one of the most dramatic: turn off the engine while you are waiting at a curb," says Dean Pisciotta, president, Brakes Plus, the car maintenance and repair chain with 65 locations in Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, Texas, Nebraska and Iowa.
Doing this can save more than a half-gallon of fuel for every hour that would have been spent idling, when the vehicle gets what is essentially zero miles per gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Another big gas saver is to drive less aggressively. The EPA says avoiding rapid starts and stops can improve a vehicle's fuel economy by as much as 33 percent. What's more, it pays to take it easy even while cruising along on the highway, as gas mileage usually diminishes rapidly at speeds greater than 60 mph. Going just 5 mph faster than that can cost a motorist the equivalent of 20 cents more per gallon.
Getting a professional tuneup before setting out on a road trip is a wise idea. Fixing a car that's is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can reduce its fuel consumption by an average of 4 percent, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.
More important, a professional tuneup is an investment in the safety of your passengers, and the longevity of your vehicle.
"Brakes Plus goes the extra mile to make it easy for our customers to get their vehicles checked out before a road trip," says Pisciotta, pointing to the company's offer of free shuttle service to work or to home while a vehicle is in the shop. "We know how busy our customers are, so we do all we can to provide world-class service that is simple and dependable."
Using a grade of motor oil that contains friction-reducing additives (usually noted as being "Energy Conserving" on the label) can improve a vehicle's gas mileage by another 1 to 2 percent. And the ASE warns against carrying a roof rack, which adversely affects a vehicle's aerodynamics and can reduce a model's mileage by around 5 percent.
The ASE also suggests vacationers carefully plot a course before hitting the road to avoid wasting gasoline by getting lost in unfamiliar areas and to use a car's cruise control wherever possible to maintain a steady pace.
Keeping a vehicle's tires inflated according to the manufacturer's specifications can boost a car's mileage by 3.3 percent and has additional advantages, says the Rubber Manufacturers Association. For the average car owner this would be equivalent to getting a free tank of gas each year. And it's essential to check this often, using a simple tire gauge, as tire pressure changes by an average of 1 PSI (pound per square inch) with every 10-degree F change in ambient air temperature.
"It's incredibly easy to check the pressure of your tires. Amazingly, only 15 percent of drivers properly do so," says Pisciotta. "This simple step can save you money at the gas pump and keep you safer."