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Top 10 Ways To Waste Gas

(updated May 12th, 2009)

There are only two ways to get significantly better gas mileage with your current vehicle: Drive less and slow way down, neither of which you'll likely do until gas gets to about $8 a gallon. However, there are many easy ways to get worse mileage. You're probably already practicing many of them, perhaps not realizing you're stomping your carbon footprint by wasting fuel and polluting the environment.

With tongue firmly in cheek, here are our top 10 favorite ways to waste gas and money while stomping our carbon footprint.

  1. 1. Stand on the gas!

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There's little a carbon stomper enjoys more than blasting along at 90 mph — other than doing it in a Suburban while towing a big trailer. You can get about 5 mpg if you try. On the highways I travel, there's no shortage of huge SUVs and other vehicles travelling at or near that speed. My personal observation is that the average speed on the German autobahn is no faster than that on Interstate 40 in Tennessee or Interstate 85 in Georgia. The government says most cars get their best fuel mileage between about 40 and 60 mph. For a big SUV or pickup truck, those numbers drop 10 mph or more. Because air drag (wind resistance) increases with the square of speed, going a little bit faster really increases the impact of that carbon stomp. Learn more about the effect that speed has on fuel economy by reading "We Test the Tips."

  • 2. Use E85 ethanol.

  • Ethanol significantly drops fuel mileage because alcohol contains less energy than gasoline. The EPA says you'll get about 7 mpg less with E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline) than with 100 percent gas. In our own tests comparing E85 and gasoline, we observed similar gas-mileage differences. But that's not all. To grow corn to make ethanol, American farmers are plowing up native prairie grass that is the primary breeding ground for waterfowl. Simultaneously, Brazilians are burning down virgin rainforests to grow sugarcane for ethanol and soybeans for biodiesel. Also, some studies say it requires more fossil fuel energy to make ethanol than the alcohol contains. In addition, ethanol must be transported by truck or railroad rather than the traditional gasoline pipeline system. Oh, and it makes your food more expensive. Stomp!

  • 3. Idle.

  • A car gets zero miles per gallon while it sits motionless with the engine running. You can make a Corolla get the same gas mileage as an 18-wheeler by sitting in the car with the air-conditioner running while waiting in an elementary-school pickup line. A main way hybrid-electric cars reduce fuel consumption is by switching off their engines while stopped in traffic. For modern, fuel-injected vehicles, the break-even point for turning off the engine and then restarting it right before traffic begins to flow may be as little as 10 seconds, even when considering extra wear on the starter motor, battery and other components. Expect honks and rude gestures from drivers behind you.

  • 4. Enter the stoplight drags.

  • Establish your dominance by being the first to the next stoplight. It's a race: Don't let the rats win. By accelerating hard, you're burning much more gas than you would by gently gaining speed. And you get to waste even more while idling at the next stoplight until the slow-accelerating driver arrives. Often, the light turns green right as the slowpoke arrives. Then you really have to gas it to beat him to the next light. Get the facts on the effect that aggressive driving has on fuel economy by checking out "We Test the Tips Part II."

  • 5. Cruise.

  • Driving around aimlessly is such a relaxing and enjoyable way to waste gas. Harley riders, snowmobilers and teenagers have this down to a science. Some cities still boast 1950s American Graffiti-style cruising where people circulate in an intentional traffic jam around a city square — doesn't that sound fun? Gas hogs love traffic jams and lots of idling.

  • 6. Choose max-performance tires.

  • There's little like the thrill of blasting around a freeway transition ramp on super-grippy max-performance tires. However, sticky tires take more energy to move down the road than do most original equipment tires. Tire engineers call it rolling resistance, and ultra-high-performance tires almost always have a lot of it.

  • 7. Never use cruise control.

  • A great way to burn extra fuel when driving down the interstate is to accelerate until you pull far past another car. Then slow down until that car passes you and gets a half-mile lead. Next, gas it until you're a quarter-mile in the lead. Repeat. Not only does this drop gas mileage, it'll make you one of the world's most aggravating people. There's more than one way to heat up the planet.

  • 8. Use regular gas when your car calls for premium.

  • The Lexus College says using 87-octane fuel in its vehicles that require 91 octane will reduce fuel mileage by about 6 mpg. This is partially because the lower-octane fuel requires the engine to work harder to achieve the same performance. It's unclear whether this is true for all makes. Try it for yourself to find out which gets worse mileage.

  • 9. Keep your trips short.

  • Engines don't operate at maximum efficiency until warmed up. So you'll burn more fuel if you drive two or three miles and then stop and let the car cool down before making another short trip. To make sure you burn the most gas, never drive first to your furthest destination and make your other stops on the way home. Best of all, drive all the way home after each errand and never even think about walking or riding a bike.

  • 10. Ignore maintenance.

  • A clogged air filter does a wonderful job of wasting fuel, but it's nothing compared to a malfunctioning oxygen sensor. If the "check engine" light illuminates, a small piece of black tape will allow you to keep wasting gas without the annoying nagging. Out-of-spec suspension alignment will burn more fuel, as will adding heavier-weight oil like 10W-40 rather than the automaker-recommended 0W-20. Finally, make sure your tires are underinflated — this will not only burn excess amounts of oh-so-plentiful gasoline, it'll also prematurely wear out your tires and create deadly driving situations!

    Here are some other things you can do to waste gas: Install a wing, roof rack, running boards, fender flares or brush guards. Be sure to keep that ski rack on all summer.

    If your children or grandchildren are unappreciative jerks, carbon stomping is more entertaining than slot machines when you're trying to blow the inheritance they were just going to waste anyway on future global-warming-induced beach vacations in Greenland.