A good place to start is eye-level with your feet - your car's tires. You may look at tires as black, round utilitarian objects, but truth be told, these technical wonders - when properly maintained - are gas saviors that can slice hundreds of dollars off your annual gasoline bill, according to Dan King, Yokohama Tire Corporation's senior vice president of sales and marketing.
"The first thing is to always make sure your tires are properly inflated," says King. "Tires that are underinflated by eight pounds per square inch (psi), for example, can reduce vehicle fuel economy by as much as 2 percent and tire tread life can also be reduced by as much as 25 percent."
King says for the best driving savings and safety results, make checking the tire pressure a monthly routine. "It only takes five minutes," he says. "If you're not doing it once a month, chances are you're driving on under-inflated tires."
Use the tire inflation numbers usually labeled inside the driver's door, fuel door, glove box or in the owner's manual. (The number on the tire's sidewall is the maximum inflation pressure.) Over-inflation reduces the tire's contact patch with the road, while under-inflation puts extra weight on its sidewalls and causes an unsafe increase in tire temperature.
Certain types of tires - ones with low rolling resistance (LRR) - can help save fuel, too. "LRR tires are designed to minimize the energy wasted as heat while the tire rolls down the road," King says. "That results in improved fuel efficiency. Studies show driving on LRR tires alone can save about $100 annually."
Yokohama's AVID ENVigor tire is a good example of the expanding LRR tire technology. "It's an excellent low rolling resistant tire that saves fuel and combines performance, comfort and long treadlife," King says.
King also offers other fuel-saving tips:
* Keep your tires properly inflated. Once a month, when the tires are cold (at least three to four hours after the vehicle has been driven), check tire pressure with a reliable tire gauge. Be sure that the valve stems have a plastic or metal cap to keep dirt out and seal against leakage.
* Replace your air filter. A clogged air filter blocks the air needed to burn fuel efficiently and wastes gas.
* Keep your car tuned-up according to the manufacturer's recommended schedule to keep all systems in good working order, which can optimize your mileage.
* To prevent skidding and hydroplaning, tires must be replaced when the tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch. An easy test: place a penny into a tread groove. If part of Lincoln's head is covered by the tread, you're driving with the proper amount of tread. If you can see all of his head, you should buy a new tire.
* Built-in treadwear indicators, or "wear bars," which look like narrow strips of smooth rubber across the tread will appear on the tire when the tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch. When you see these wear bars, the tire is worn out and should be replaced.
* Visually check your tires for signs of uneven wear. You may have irregular tread wear if there are high and low areas or unusually smooth areas. Consult your tire dealer as soon as possible.
* Tires should be rotated at least every 6,000 to 8,000 miles and the alignment should be checked once a year. Misaligned tires can cause the car to scrub, which lowers mileage and causes unnecessary tire wear.
* Slow Down. For every five mph you go above 60 mph, you're using more gas, and, ultimately, paying even more for each gallon of gas.
For additional tire care and safety tips, visit www.yokohamatire.com or www.rma.org.