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Want to save cash on gas? Here is what you should do

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I broke my record this week. That's cause for celebration, on many fronts.

What record? The number of minutes I was able to glide with my foot completely off the accelerator on my morning drive to work. Lexie and I glided almost five minutes out of 14, using virtually no gas, and travelled another three minutes with a very light foot, just maintaining speed.

Yes, I know, small things amuse small minds, etc. But hear me out, as I suggest a guaranteed way to save money every day you drive, reduce wear and tear on your car and arrive at your destination in a much better mood than if you race from red light to red light.

With gas prices hovering near record highs, it's time to repeat some tips I provided in 2008, when gas prices first went over $1 per litre, and some new ones I've learned since.

Back then, I quoted my friend, Denzel, whose trick was to drive in sock feet to make sure he pushed more gently on the gas pedal. I suggest you train yourself to do the same thing while wearing shoes.

Next time you see a red light ahead, or a green you know will turn red before you get there, take your foot completely off the gas.

Get a feel for how long your car will glide while virtually maintaining its speed. If you can get to that red light or stop sign and only touch your brakes at the end to come to a full stop, you've done your job.

This especially makes sense if there are a lot of cars stopped at that light -- even if it has already turned green -- because you know they'll take forever to get going, so there's no point rushing to get there.

The thing to avoid at all costs is going from the gas pedal to the brake and back again. Pretend you are a limousine driver and your boss is sipping hot tea in the back seat. Your passengers and your wallet will both thank you, as you find you're now going days longer between fill-ups and going years longer between brake jobs.

You can accelerate reasonably smartly, but back off the gas quickly as the car gains speed, so you feel it upshift early.

If you're on the highway, use cruise control. Reducing your cruising speed back to the speed limit will save you 10 to 15 per cent versus being 10 kilometres per hour over. When planning a turnoff, start gently, lifting your foot a kilometre or two ahead, which significantly reduces your mileage for that entire distance, costing you only a few seconds.

Many new cars have mileage gauges, which tell you in real time how much gas you are using. See if you can consistently keep the indicator below your long-term average at all times, except when accelerating.

You will notice very quickly the lighter your foot, the better your mileage.

When maintaining a steady speed, think of slightly lifting your foot, rather than being heavy on the pedal. It's a mindset.

Obviously, you have to do all of this without being distracted from your attention on the road. The great news is, if you are paying attention to your driving and your mileage, you won't have any time to text or look at your phone.

Obviously, driving less is a key. Plan your trips out and consolidate them to reduce total mileage. Cold engines also use more gas and pollute more.

Avoiding rush hour is one of my secrets. Getting to work before 7 a.m. saves a lot of stress as well as gasoline. Working late hours can accomplish the same goals, if your schedule will accommodate.

You may have to adjust to lead-footed idiots tailgating you and giving you the finger as they floor and swing by. Be sensitive, as your glide may be blocking them from making a turn, so adjust accordingly.

Avoid air conditioning in the city. Keep your car tuned up, as some car-industry sources suggest a very dirty air filter can increase consumption by 10 per cent. Keep tires inflated to the proper pressure.

If you're lucky enough to have a fancy new car with a Sport mode or similar setting, try to keep the setting on Economy mode as much as possible, and only indulge when you really feel the urge.

There are lots of websites and articles written by people who are obsessed about this stuff, so consult them for more tips.

If you're one of those people who think the oil companies conspire to increase gas prices every summer for the driving season, this is a great way to exact your revenge.


Dollars and Sense is meant as an introduction to this topic and should not in any way be construed as a replacement for personalized professional advice.

Please consult legal, tax and investment experts for advice on your unique situation.

David Christianson, BA, CFP, R.F.P., TEP, CIM is a financial planner and adviser with Christianson Wealth Advisors, a vice-president with National Bank Financial Wealth Management and author of the book Managing the Bull, A No-Nonsense Guide to Personal Finance.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2014 B11

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