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Tips for getting better gas mileage

Simple adjustments can help save fuel -- without buying a new car.

With all the talk of new, fuel-efficient vehicles, those of us who are still driving our regular old cars might feel left out. But there are still ways we can help save gas -- and money -- by making relatively simple adjustments to our cars and driving habits.

Change the air filter. The air filter is a crucial component to minimizing fuel use and maximizing horsepower. Bryan Gregory, director of consumer education for Advance Auto Parts, says it takes an engine about 10,000 gallons of air to combust one gallon of gas. So it makes sense, then, that the easier it is for the air to get through, the more efficiently the engine will run. Air filters should be replaced every 7,500 miles, or according to the manufacturer's recommendations.

Check tire pressure. We've talked about proper tire pressure before, but it's still worth mentioning. Gregory says that every pound per-square-inch that a tire is under-inflated results in a six-percent loss in fuel efficiency. Make sure your tires fall within the recommended psi, printed on the sidewall.

Reduce idling. Plan trips to avoid peak traffic times. Going to the drive-thru? Go a little early (or late) to avoid sitting in line. And skip the long warm-up period in the morning. With the exception of extreme cold, most cars and trucks need only 30 to 45 seconds to warm up.

Lighten up. Fuel mileage is reduced by one mile per gallon for every 200 pounds of extra weight. Get rid of extra tires (except for the spare), bike or ski racks that aren't being used, toys, and other equipment that could weigh your car down.

Don't tailgate. Stop-and-go driving wreaks havoc on gas mileage. Accelerate slowly in crawling traffic and keep some distance. Then coast up to a stop instead of punching on the brakes.

Squeeze, don't punch. Practice slow, steady starts by imagining an egg underneath the accelerator pedal. Gregory says racing legend Jackie Stewart used this technique on the track.

Use the right gas. Check the owner's manual for the proper octane rating for your car. Using a lower grade than recommended can gum up fuel lines, reducing efficiency and increasing engine wear.