Gas Pains 

Experts offer ways to save the gas in your tank.

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It's a good thing Steve and Emily Helmers have a three-car garage at their Collierville home. At least the family has a permanent parking space for their gas-guzzling Trailblazer. "We've parked the SUV and bought a new Honda Civic," Emily explains. "Even with two car payments, we're still saving more than $100 a month."

Don't have quite enough money for a new car? That's okay. Here are a few gas-saving tips instead, culled from Web sites, local mechanics, and governmental agencies.

Speeding tickets aside, will I save anything else by slowing down to 55 mph?

Automotive gurus Tom and Ray Magliozzi ("Car Talk") offer this sensible explanation: The slower you drive, the slower your engine turns. The slower your engine turns, the fewer explosions in your car's cylinders. Fewer explosions mean less gas needed. Got it?

If you must speed up, try to remember this compelling statistic from the U.S. Department of Energy: Driving 55 mph gives you 21 percent better gas mileage than driving 65 to 70.

My uncle always said that over-inflating tires just a little saves gas. Any truth to that idea?

You might see a slight savings in gas because over-inflated tires reduce the amount of friction between the rubber and the road. But properly inflated tires are safer (ever hear of blowouts?) and they last longer too.

If I roll down my windows and turn off the air-conditioning, will the money I save at the pump justify all my bad-hair days?

The Society of Automotive Engineers published a study showing that it's more economical to maintain a car's aerodynamics by keeping the windows closed, especially when driving at highway speeds. Think of it this way: the air that flows into your car gets trapped in the rear window, acting like a parachute.

On the other hand, if you're doing errands around town, it's worth shutting off the AC because wind resistance is much less at slower speeds.

Are the eight bags of topsoil in my trunk hurting gas mileage?

That topsoil you bought on sale for 99 cents a bag is getting more expensive every time you fill up. It's simple science, really. Extra weight increases the rolling resistance of the car, thereby requiring more gas to accelerate.

Punching the accelerator feels so good. Does the practice really waste gas?

A smooth and slow acceleration at take off saves fuel. Period. Coasting also saves gas, so here's an easy trick: Take your foot off the accelerator as soon as you realize you need to stop. I know it's not as much fun as racing to every stoplight, but coasting is easier on your brakes and your wallet.

Should I save idling for my days off?

Yes. Idling is about wasting time, not saving gas, so shut off your engine if you're going to sit still for more than two minutes.

Does my high-performance engine really need premium gasoline?

In a nutshell, no, at least for cars built since the mid-1990s. High-performance cars will get slightly better gas mileage with premium grades, but the 20 cents price difference wipes out any real savings.

My daughter leaves the radio cranked up, so I'm blasted every time I start the engine. Is this hurting anything besides my ears?

"Absolutely," says Mike Wilkes of Memphis Motorwerks in Cordova. "All accessories -- the rear defroster, the DVD player, the seat heater -- use gas because they are being operated by the car's alternator. So turn off what you don't need."

What about all those fuel-saving devices that keep popping up on the Internet?

"Most of them are air filters," Wilkes continues. "It's all hogwash, and none of them work."

Is it worthwhile to hunt around for the cheapest gas prices?

If you have the time, probably so. Try checking out memphisgasprices.com for easy price comparisons.

So should I buy an import?

If your decision is based solely on gas mileage, yes. At the top of the EPA's most fuel-efficient car list: Honda Insight for its 61 mpg in the city and 66 mpg on the highway. Honda, Toyota, or Volkswagen make every other model in the top 25.

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