10 Tips to Fight Gas Prices and Save on Fuel

American motorists can expect to pay more on their summer road trips, Forbes.com reports.

The average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded is expected to reach $2.74, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). That’s a 14 percent boost over last year’s seasonal average of $2.41 a gallon and would be the highest pump price recorded since summer 2015, when gas hit $2.81 a gallon.

And GasBuddy, an app that connects drivers to the most cost-effective gas stations, released their 2018 Fuel Price Outlook.

The report claims:

  • Most of the country will see prices peak under $3 per gallon, but unexpected disruptions could push the national average close to $3.
  • Metro areas including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. will likely see prices eclipse $3 per gallon.
  • Cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Orlando, St. Louis and Tampa may get within arm’s reach of such prices.

Before you head out on that road trip, here’s some fuel-saving advice according to Telegraph.com.

1. Combine errands and make fewer trips

Did you know that when you drive a car that has been parked for a few hours, the engine is cold and it uses much more fuel for the first five miles or so? So, try to combine all your daily errands into one big trip.

2. Avoid rush hour and traffic jams

There are few worse places to spend your time than stuck in a traffic jam, but it’s also a very expensive way of travelling. Every time that you stop and start in traffic, your car needs first gear and a huge amount of fuel to get moving again. Second gear is not much better. The best solution is to not travel during the rush hour.

If you are stuck in traffic, try to keep a safe distance from the car in front of you, and travel steadily at a slow speed, rather than accelerating and braking. If you have to travel in rush hour, then you could consider buying a hybrid car, which uses much less fuel in town than a normal gas or diesel.

3. Stick to the speed limit

Sure, if you travel a bit faster than the speed limit, you could shave a bit of time off your journey, particularly on long highway trips, but what you save in time you pay for in extra fuel.

4. Learn to accelerate smoothly

The most efficient way to drive is smoothly and at a constant speed. So if you’re a patient driver, you’ll have lower fuel bills. Sometimes you need to speed up to pass another vehicle, but let common sense and manners be your guide. There’s little point accelerating past a car to simply be in front of it at the next set of lights as any instant gratification will appear on your fuel bill the next time you fill up.

5. Don’t push the accelerator down too far

Another factor in driving smoothly and efficiently is not pushing the accelerator down a long way to avoid changing into a lower gear—you’re actually using more fuel, not less. Obviously, if your car has an automatic gearbox, then it will probably do a better job than you of choosing which gear to be in, so it’s not a problem.

6. Turn the air-conditioning off

When it’s not necessary, turn the A/C off. It will save fuel, unless you’re at cruising speed on a highway. In that case, it’s probably more fuel efficient to keep the A/C on and windows rolled up.

7. Close the windows and sunroof on the highway.

It doesn’t matter as much when driving at lower speeds around town, but when you’re on the highway at cruising speed, the shape of your car is very important. Car designers call it aerodynamics and make lots of effort to reduce the ‘drag’ and make the car as sleek as possible. Anything that makes wind noise as your car goes along is actually making your car work harder, and thus more expensive to run. You can’t do much about the design of your car, but you can avoid making it worse by not leaving the windows and sunroof open. It’s better to use the air vents for most of the year, and the air-conditioning when it gets too hot.

8. Check your tire pressures regularly

This is a big one: the lower the tire pressure, the more fuel the car needs to move it down the road. We recommend that you take five minutes every two weeks or so to check the air pressure in your tires. Buy a tire gauge at a gas station or auto parts store, and go to a gas station with an air machine. Check the proper PSI (pounds per square inch) on the sidewall of your tires, and fill the tire with air if needed.

9. Remove the roof rack or ski box

This is just like leaving the windows open, but worse. Even if the roof rack is empty, it increases drag and makes your car use more fuel, while a big ski box is like having another car strapped to your roof. The latest roof racks and ski boxes are quick and easy to fit and remove, so make the effort to stow them away when not using them.

10. Don’t carry unnecessary weight

Just like your body, your car needs more fuel to move around more weight. So, just as you wouldn’t wear a heavy backpack unless you had to, don’t haul heavy stuff around in the trunk of your car unless you need it. Ironically, the heavier the item (the usual culprits are golf clubs and tools), the less likely you are to bother taking it out and the greater the effect it will have on your fuel consumption.

Sources: Forbes.com, GasBuddy, Telegraph.com

Are Self-Driving Cars Really Safe?

A recent collision involving a self-driving Volvo SUV run by Uber and a woman driving a Honda CRV in Tempe, Arizona brought to light the potential dangers in self-driving vehicles.

The woman driving the Honda was cited for failing to yield the right of way, but the question remains: are self-driving vehicles inherently dangerous? While self-driving vehicles could improve the mobility of people who don’t or can’t currently drive, there are larger questions to consider. Do we really want vehicles that rely on cameras and advanced GPS systems sharing our roads and highways with us as we commute to work and school every day? And what about the autonomous driving option in our own cars and trucks, which is sure to happen in the coming years. Can we trust ourselves to use this new tech feature safely when many of us already can’t resist the urge to text and drive right now?

Here are some dangers of self-driving vehicles to consider, according to a Yahoo Finance article.

SDV passengers can expect to get more motion sickness.

As much as 37 percent of adult passengers in self-driving vehicles will experience an increase in the frequency and severity of motion sickness, according to a study published by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. The reasons: People in self-driving vehicles will be reading, texting, watching movies, working or playing video games in the vehicle instead of driving and focusing on the road ahead.

Road safety and accident rates will likely worsen before improving.

When self-driving vehicles start sharing the roads with conventional people-driven vehicles in greater numbers in the years to come, the risk of accidents for conventional vehicles will likely become elevated, according to the Sivak and Schoettle study. They found that SDVs may not be able to avoid crashes that aren’t caused by drivers prompting the authors to write, “It is not a foregone conclusion that a self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced, middle-aged driver.”

Hackers could highjack self-driving vehicles and remotely control them.

As our vehicles become more technologically connected, the possibility of them being hacked and used for criminal purposes increases, according to a report published by British bank Lloyds. For example, hackers could access personal data such as the location of a person, and where they typically drive every day, potentially indicating to a burglar that someone isn’t home. There is also potential for cyber terrorism. For example, a large-scale immobilization of cars on public roads could throw a country into chaos, added Lloyds.

Terrorists could take over SDVs as lethal weapons.

Hackers could also take over self-driving vehicles and use them as lethal weapons, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation warned. In a nightmare scenario, terrorists could program explosive-packed cars to become self-driving bombs, or a self-driving vehicle could be programmed to drive a getaway while criminals in the car could use their free hands to shoot at pursuers.

Majority of people shun self-driving vehicles

According to the second annual survey conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, almost half of motorists shun self-driving cars, with almost half saying they’d rather drive themselves.

Researchers Schoettle and Sivak received 618 responses from licensed drivers 18 or older via Survey Monkey. A similar study done in 2014 found many of the same reservations among consumers.

Given the choice among three levels of automation in a future vehicle — no self-driving, partial self-driving and complete self-driving the percentage of respondents who said they would prefer no self-driving technology actually rose slightly to 46 percent from 44 percent last year. Slightly fewer people this year said they’d be OK with partial autonomy (38.7 percent) than last year (40.6 percent).

Almost all, 94.5 percent are not comfortable being in a car that doesn’t have a steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator because it is self-driving. Women were slightly more resistant than men to any autonomous features, as 48.4 percent of women said they want no self-driving capability compared with 43.1 percent of men.

Schoettle said he doesn’t expect Uber, Google, Apple or any traditional automakers to slow their efforts to achieve safe, but totally autonomous vehicles, but surveys like this can tell them what features people want or don’t want.

Source: Yahoo finance, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

Are Rideshare Services Really Safe?

Ride-sharing companies have exploded in popularity over the past few years and have expanded to hundreds of cities. While they may be convenient and less expensive than other livery options, are they really safe for consumers?  Here’s what to know.

First, let’s take a look at the licensing requirements for most regular taxi drivers and public chauffeurs. In Chicago, for example, all public passenger vehicles must have a license issued by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection in order to legally operate. In order to obtain this license, a driver must attend the Public Chauffeur Training Institute and pass a written exam, as well as a physical exam and a criminal background check. As another example, Hoyt Livery drivers are technically employees of the company—licensed, insured and trained in Hoyt’s standards of excellent service.

The two largest rideshare companies, on the other hand, are not regulated or licensed in some cities, like traditional taxi services.

Most rideshare companies have safeguards of sorts in place, but these safeguards are at the discretion of the companies themselves and are therefore not standardized.

One popular rideshare company claims that it performs criminal and driving background checks on its drivers as well as vehicle inspections for their cars. Another says that it conducts a “rigorous screening process” for its drivers, whose personal auto insurance coverage is verified, although whether insurance companies would actually pay out personal coverage in a commercial situation is uncertain.

In addition to the personal auto coverage the drivers must carry, commercial coverage is provided by two of the largest rideshare companies as an extra protection; it covers riders from the moment their request is accepted until their trip is complete.

Also, most rideshare companies rely on a feedback system from riders as a way of learning about the quality of their drivers, and weeding out less-than-ideal drivers, as well as riders.

Why the difference in regulations and requirements?

How is it that rideshare services can operate without the same oversight as regular taxis? Partly because rideshare companies are a relatively new frontier, and as such, technology-driven rideshare companies are operating in a legal gray area.

What about rideshare companies that operate on a donations-only payment system? The donations-only business model is enticing for consumers, but further complicates the practical status of such companies. Is the company providing taxi service if they don’t technically require payment? And if they aren’t technically a taxi service, do they need to abide by the same regulations as taxis?

Backlash from cities and states

The business model has received backlash from some city government officials, who believe they should be licensed and registered to operate, as well as an international association that represents 1,100 traditional taxi companies. The Minneapolis City Council has also recently legalized rideshare services, which allows the city to regulate and license them.

The two largest rideshare companies were halted indefinitely in Pittsburgh in July 2014 by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to check if the companies have adequate insurance, appropriate driver background checks and inspections. Other governments have taken similar action.

A spokesperson for the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association was quoted as saying, “These companies are operating illegally. They’re under investigation in many municipalities for their insurance and background checks.”

Steps are already being taken by many states to regulate rideshare companies with the public’s safety in mind. Not long ago, the Illinois state House passed a bill aimed at protecting consumers by requiring rideshare companies to conduct background checks for all drivers and safety checks for the vehicles they use. They will also require companies to get commercial insurance coverage for all drivers. Many rideshare services claim to already take these steps, but state regulations are meant to ensure that these rules are uniform and enforceable.

The takeaway: rider beware

While ridesharing is a convenient and cost-effective way for many people to get around town, realize that they do not have the same regulations and licensing requirements as regular taxi and limousine companies. As a result, rider beware—consumers need to be comfortable with riding at their own risk.

Sources: Angieslist.com and CooneyConway.com

Winter Vehicle Safety Checklist

Winter had a late start in the Northeast, but is in full swing. If you procrastinated, here’s a review on what to do to make sure your vehicle can handle the cold temperatures and icy and slushy roads and help keep you and your family safe during the winter months.

Check the tire pressure and consider snow tires.
Tire pressure is especially important during the winter, as a properly inflated tire will help guarantee better traction in wet, snowy conditions. Make sure to read your owner’s manual to find the correct tire pressures. In addition, you may want to consider buying a set of snow tires. Especially if you live in an area that sees a lot of snow, they’ll do a much better job than the all-weather tires fitted to most cars.

Did you add cold-weather oil?
When the outside temperature changes, it will influence the internal temperature of your engine, so make sure you’re using the proper oil for the conditions. Since we live where temperatures get below freezing, you will want to switch over to thinner, less viscous oil. For instance, if you run 10W-40 grade oil in the summer, you may want to move to 5W-30 when changing your oil for the winter. Make sure to refer to your owner’s manual for vehicle-specific information.

Have your battery tested again.
A car battery can die without any notice. The late-season extreme cold temperatures can reduce a car’s battery life by up to 50 percent. Even if you had your battery tested earlier this winter, have your battery tested again by your local mechanic — especially if you have an older car. Also, make sure your battery connections are free of corrosion.

Inspect your windshield wiper blades and fluid.
Visibility while driving during winter months can be a great frustration. Precipitation and salt buildup on the windshield can play havoc while driving in winter weather. So make sure that you not only check the condition of your windshield wiper blades, but also consider changing your existing blades to versions that are made for the harsh winter weather. Also check and fill your wiper fluid reservoir. A harsh winter storm is the worst possible time to run out of wiper fluid.

Make sure the engine coolant has a cold-weather mixture.
A car’s coolant system is not only designed to keep your engine from overheating, but it’s also responsible for protecting it against corrosion. Before the weather gets too cold, make sure you are using coolant that has the proper mix of antifreeze and water. You can do this by purchasing a tester at your local auto parts store.

Keep an emergency kit in your car.
If you don’t already have an emergency kit in your car, consider putting together a few basics and stowing them in the trunk. Naturally, you’ll want to be sure your spare tire is in good shape with all the tools to change it out. But you might also want a few other emergency items in case you slide off the road and get stuck in a snow bank:

  • A flashlight, flares and first aid kit
  • A blanket, warm clothes and gloves
  • A radio
  • A bag of abrasive material like sand or kitty litter for when you get stuck
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • A brush or ice scraper
  • Extra coolant

When you take the time to plan ahead, you can make winterizing your vehicle an easy, annual ritual that will help keep you and your family safe on the road.

A warning about warming up your car!

Next time it snows and you have to shovel your vehicle out from the snow, make sure you clear snow from the back and the tail pipe is clear — especially before starting the car with people in it! Every year, tragedy strikes in the form of an odorless, colorless gas called carbon monoxide. People can pass out within minutes causing brain damage, or even die from CO inhalation.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include confused with shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches. So again, make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.

Also, a recent Good Morning America segment revealed an increase in vehicle thefts across the country of unlocked cars warming up without their owners in it. Police call these vehicles “puffers,” and car thieves call them easy pickings. So think twice before you leave your vehicle unlocked, unattended and running — it might not be there when you go back outside!

Sources: DMV.org, About.com, Edmunds.com