Ok, so gas prices have moderated a bit - but the fact is most of us are scared to death about spending too much money on gas or otherwise. Here are some ways to eke more mileage out of whatever you're driving, as well as some things to consider if you're thinking about a new vehicle:
* Do the Poor Man's Hybrid: When you're stuck sitting in traffic, your engine is getting 0 mpg. If you are faced with having to sit still for more than a minute, turning off the engine until things get moving again will save fuel.
* 4x4: If you drive a truck or SUV with a part-time 4x4 system, be certain the system is in 2H whenever you're driving on clear, paved roads. Keeping a 4x4 system in 4H when not needed will burn up more fuel as well as accelerate wear of major parts such as axles and transfer case.
* AWD: Skip it. This feature has been oversold to the public. Most people don't need it and would be able to deal just as well with the handful of days where there is snow on the ground with a front-drive car that has good all-season tires on it. Why cart around an extra 100 to 200 pounds of deadweight and lose 2-4 mpg every time you drive for the non-benefit of an AWD system that might come in handy a few days each year?
* Tire inflation: If you want to maximize your fuel savings, inflate the tires to the maximum recommended "cold" inflation pressure. Your tires will wear faster, it's true - and the ride may be noticeably firmer (even harsh) but the decreased rolling resistance can save a couple of MPGs - which may be worth more when it all washes out than having the tires wear out a little sooner than they otherwise would have.
* Forget premium gas (unless the owner's manual specifically calls for it): Burning the wrong grade of gasoline can reduce economy as well as performance - in particular, using high-octane premium in an engine designed to burn regular grade gas. Octane is a measure of burn rate - not the qualityof the fuel. Higher octane fuels burn more slowly than lower octane fuels. Put high octane (slow burning) gas in an engine designed to run on regular (faster burning) gas and combustion efficiency is actually impaired, not improved. This reduces fuel mileage as well as performance.
* Empty the trunk: Every extra 100 pounds of stuff you're carting around with you can reduce your vehicle's gas mileage by as much as 2 percent. Don't use your trunk as a permanent storage space for old boxes full of junk -- or cart around an old axle housing in the bed of your pick-up.
* Maintain your momentum: Ideally, pace yourself so that you avoid ever coming to complete stop. Your car burns the most gas getting itself going from a dead stop. If you can anticipate the light ahead going green and roll up to it gradually so that when it does, you're still moving - you can save an amazing amount of fuel relative to the same car coming to a stop, idling for a minute and then taking off when the light changes. In traffic, try to avoid the stop and go by holding back as many car lengths as necessary to maintain a steady pace. And so on.
* Smooth driving: Build up speed gradually and you can improve your overall mileage by 10 percent or more. Cruise control can help maintain smooth, steady speeds with little abrupt use of the throttle. The optimum "mlieage zone" to eke the best-possible fuel economy out of your vehicle is approximately 45-mph; speeds of 70-mph and faster dramatically cut down on gas mileage.
* Synthetic oil and lube: Though a quart of synthetic oil costs about three times as much as a good name-brand conventional oil, synthetics make up for the higher up-front costs by improving gas mileage and reducing wear and tear on your engine. Especially if you live in an area were winters are harsh and summers hot. Synthetics flow much better (and thus provide easier cold starts with less wear and tear) under extremely cold conditions and provide superior lubrication (reduced friction) and protection at very high temperatures. Your engine will last longer and you'll get a mileage boost, too.
* Windows up: It is more efifcient - and you'll burn less gas - running your car's air conditioner. The aerodynamic drag (at highway speeds) caused by open windows takes more energy to overcome than operating the AC compressor. Plus, you won't muss your hair.
* Roof racks: Avoid them unless you actually use them. Roof racks create significant wind resistance and increase aerodynamic drag - which can cost you a 2-5 percent reduction in fuel economy at highway speeds.
For more tips on how to conserve fuel, check out the Department of Energy's web site at www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/drive.shtml.