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"Economizing on gas more urgent than ever,
but market is full of faulty shortcuts"

by Scott Wuerz

Belleville News-Democrat, Thursday April 21, 2005

Pump gas at dawn, and you'll get more for your money. Magnets on your fuel lines give you better mileage.

For every problem there is an urban legend to solve it. But is there really a way to beat high gas prices?

Dozens of products at local stores or on the Internet claim to “raise your fuel economy by 20 percent” or “give you an extra 5 miles per gallon.” But what do the experts say?

Automobile Association of America spokesman Mike Right said it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.

One of Right’s favorites was a special carburetor that would make a car run on tap water.

“I remember going to check out a seminar where you paid to get in and they are going to show you a carburetor that would make your car run on water,” Right said. “There was almost a riot when they couldn't produce one of the carburetors. They had some theories on how much a thing might be possible someday. But people wanted to buy one on the spot.”

Despite all the gimmicks, there have been technological advances in fuel economy. One is a car that uses electric motor to reduce the burden on the gasoline engine. Call a hybrid, the vehicle can get double the mileage of a standard car.

Keith Chapman, sales manager of Newbold Toyota-BMW in O’Fallon, said he would take as many copies of this fuel sipping hybrid Toyota Prius as a company could build. The car, which cost $22,000 - $26,000 gets 56 miles to a gallon.

“We can keep them in stock,” he said. “I sold everyone that they've given me, which was seven last month, and I have three on order from this month.”

Smithton resident Paul Hageme said he wants to replace his 1999 Hyundai Accent with hybrid.”

They got people waiting in line at the Toyota dealership for them,” Hagemy said. “It's crazy.”

Chapman said he would be happy to order the highbred Prius customers. But don't count on getting it for about three months.

While the hybrids do, in fact, work when it comes to saving fuel money, they aren't a magic bullet.

“People may want to sit down and do the numbers before they make that decision,” Right said. “It doesn't make sense to take on a $300 car payment to save $40 or $50 a month on gas… and if they want to improve their environment or reduce the amount of crude this country imports, and have at it. But if they think they're going to save money by buying a new car to replace the paid for car there at have, well, they probably aren't.”

Hegemy wasn’t swayed.

“My car gets about 32 miles to a gallon,” Hegemy said. “But if I can get 50 to 60 why not do it?”

Paul Stock, owner of Stock’s Underhood Specialist auto shop in Belleville, said people often overlook the tried-and-true methods of maximizing the gasoline dollar.

“I have a car my shop now that the owner said is getting bad mileage,” Stock said. “When I opened up the hood, this car – with 130,000 miles on it – still had the original sparkplugs and sparkplug wires. When plugs and wires get old, they deteriorate and become less efficient.”

Stocks at all sorts of maintenance issues can cause bad fuel coming:
• A bad oxygen sensor can tell your car's computer to increase the amount of fuel it sends to the engine.
• A bad break job can cause the calipers not to release fully, causing your brakes to be partially engaged as you drive.
• Failing to make sure your car isn't properly aligned also can cause resistance.

How to save gasoline

Paul tuning a car Properly maintain your car. A tune-up can ensure your engine is operating at peak efficiency. Having the correct tire pressure, making sure your transmission has clean fluid and is in good working order and making sure engine sensors, especially the oxygen sensor, are checked and replaced when needed make a big difference.
Don't carry around deadweight. That extra set of clubs in your trunk, the sandbags that have been in the back of your pickup since last winter or other heavy items take extra energy to haul round. Everyone 100 pounds, on average, cost you 2% of your fuel economy.
If you don't have to ride, don't. MetroLink and local bus systems can help you save on fuel. Or use a carpooling system like Ridefinders. To find out whether you can save money by riding the train, visit Metro's website, www.metrostlouis.org and click on the ride savings calculator. Contact Ridefinders, the organization matches commuters to enable them to a carpool. For information about the service, call one (800) VIP-RIDE or visit their website: www.ridefinders.org
Sources: AAA, Stock’s Underhood Specialists, Metro

So, if your vehicle is a performing, take it in for a checkup, stock said.

If you still aren't satisfied, you may be able to save a few bucks by letting someone else drive.

Metro, the organization that runs the MetroLink and Metro buses in St. Louis and St. Clair County, has seen increased ridership. According to spokesman Dianne Williams, 62,000 more people rode the light rail from Illinois to St. Louis during February 2005 than February 2004.

Although statistics aren’t yet in for March and April, she expects the numbers to go even higher.

Fairview Heights resident Jack Robinson said he uses his town’s senior shuttle or takes advantage of local churches’ shuttle bus programs.

“There are services out there,” Robinson said. “You can beat the system. You just have to take advantage of what is out there.”

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