Sinking gas prices are putting more green in consumers' pocketbooks, but you can boost those savings by taking a close look at how you drive. Being more fuel efficient should not only help you conserve gasoline, it may help you preserve your driving safety record.
In the past year, the average U.S. price for a gallon of regular gasoline has tumbled by one-third, falling from $3.343 to $2.289, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
"Gas is much cheaper than in recent years, but that doesn't mean it's time to throw away money," says Michael Green, a spokesman for AAA. "Drivers can save cash and help the environment by being more fuel efficient."
These nine tips can help you dial back your fuel consumption.
1. Avoid aggressive driving
Jack-rabbit starts and sudden braking can cost you big time.
Aggressive driving can reduce your fuel efficiency by one-third when you're on the highway and 5 percent when you're tooling around town, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Forceful driving can also accelerate the chances that you'll get in a wreck, and is particularly dangerous if you're driving in inclement weather, Quinn says.
One way to put the brakes on bad behavior is by signing up for an auto insurer's pay-as-you-drive program, such as Progressive's Snapshot or Allstate's Drivewise.
They monitor how you drive, when you drive and how much you drive, and your good behavior can earn you a pay-as-you-drive discount on your car insurance premiums.
Progressive last year analyzed 10 million miles worth of driving data gathered from its Snapshot program, and found the average car insurance discount was 10 percent to 15 percent per year.
2. Watch your speed
Another way to boost fuel economy is to observe the speed limit.
Not only should that shield you from a speeding ticket, it may help lower your fuel costs.
According to AAA, if you spend 20 miles on the highway commuting to work each day, by driving 60 mph rather than 70 mph, you could save 1.3 gallons of gas each week.
This is another case where a monitoring device can come in handy. Allstate's Drivewise program, for example, may reward you if you don't drive at high speeds.
3. Use cruise
When you're ready to hit the open road, be sure to make use of your vehicle's cruise control.
A study by the automotive website Edmunds.com tested two different cars at two different times on a 56-mile loop in California.
The study found that using cruise control smoothed out acceleration and resulted in fuel savings of between 7 and 14 percent.
4. Don't be idle
If you're waiting to pick up your kids after school, or your passenger needs to run into a convenience store, be sure to turn off your vehicle.
There's also no need to spend a lot of time warming up your car in the morning.
Each hour your car spends idling burns between a quarter- and a half-gallon of fuel, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
It's more fuel efficient to turn off the vehicle if you'll be sitting for at least a minute, and then turn it on again when you're ready to roll.
5. Be a stickler for proper maintenance
It pays to keep your car in top shape and proper vehicle maintenance can help reduce fuel costs.
Check your tire pressure regularly, Quinn says, and perform all your car manufacturer’s recommended maintenance, such as tune-ups and oil changes. Low tire pressure can cause damage, and a clogged air filter can reduce fuel efficiency.
The California Energy Commission claims a dirty air filter and underinflated tires can inflate fuel costs by up to 13 percent.
6. Lose the weight
If you're heading out on a road trip or even motoring around town, be sure not to overload your vehicle. Don’t drive around with your regular tires in the back once you’ve put on your snow tires, or keep heavy sporting equipment in the trunk for occasional use.
That extra weight adds up to extra fuel consumption, according to the DOE. Hauling around just an extra 100 pounds can reduce your car's mpg by up to 1 percent.
The additional weight has more of an impact on a smaller car than a larger one.
It's an even bigger problem if you haul cargo on your roof. A roof-top cargo box can lower fuel economy by up to 8 percent in city traffic, up to 17 percent on the highway and up to 25 percent if you're cruising along on the interstate, the DOE says.
You may be better off using a cargo box that attaches to the rear of your vehicle, which should have a smaller impact on fuel economy.
7. Skip extra trips
Another way to save on gas consumption is to plan out your errands in advance. Instead of running to the grocery store when you think of something you need, stop while you're on your way home from work.
Or set aside your Saturday morning and plan to do all your errands at one time.
If possible, park in one central location and walk from spot to spot.
8. Pass on premium
You may think you're boosting your fuel efficiency if you put premium gas in your car, but in most cases all you're doing is boosting the amount you pay at the pump.
Even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says buying higher octane fuel is a waste of money unless your car specifically calls for it, or you engine is knocking. For vehicles designed for regular gas, that higher grade -- and higher priced -- fuel can cost an extra $100 or more per year.
"Studies indicate that altogether, drivers may be spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year for higher octane gas than they need," according to the FTC.
9. Drive smart to save on gas and car insurance
Saving gas by using certain driving techniques "is economical for your pocketbook and also for your safety," says Paul Quinn, head of claims customer experience at Farmers Insurance. That, in turn, can reduce the likelihood you'll get in a wreck or rack up tickets, which can boost your car insurance rates. Smart driving can also earn you a good driver discount, so you save money both at the pump and on your insurance.