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Routine vehicle maintenance can cut gas expenses

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By Greg Summers

Next to buying a home, an automobile is the second largest investment for most consumers.

April is National Car Care Month, the time of year to focus on taking care of that investment.

It’s especially important in light of record high gasoline prices.

According to AAA Carolinas, the average price per gallon of unleaded regular gasoline in the Lancaster area was about $3.20 on Monday. The AAA survey, updated daily, tracks prices at roughly 80,000 service stations across the country, including five in Lancaster.

That is significantly higher than this time last year when it was about $2.45 per gallon.

Nationwide, the average price for gasoline has increased by 12 cents a gallon in the last month.

Your frustration can’t control rising gas prices at the pump, but you can take steps to control your vehicle’s unnecessary fuel consumption.

According to the Car Care Council, an inexpensive vehicle service will not only make your vehicle safer and more dependable, it will make your gas money go a lot farther – perhaps as much as $1,200 a year.

And many drivers are doing that, too.

A recent survey by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, shows that 75 percent of drivers said they are now maintaining their vehicles much better to deal with rising gas prices.

The Car Care Council recommends following these simple gas-savings maintenance tips to improve the gas mileage of your vehicle.

Kick the tires – Make sure the tires are inflated to the recommended air pressure. When tires aren’t properly inflated, it’s like driving with the parking brake on and can cost up to two extra miles per gallon in gas consumption.

Change the air filter – An air filter clogged with dirt, dust and bugs chokes off the air and creates a “rich” mixture where too much gas gets burned for the amount of air the filter lets through. A clogged filter wastes gas and causes the engine to lose power and work harder. Replacing a clogged air filter can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent, which saves about 15 cents per gallon of gas.

Replace spark plugs – A vehicle has either four, six or eight spark plugs. Spark plugs can fire up to 3 million times each 1,000 miles, resulting in heat, electrical and chemical erosion and a loss in inefficiency. A dirty spark plug will misfire, which wastes fuel, so they need to be regularly replaced.

– Invest in a tune-up – A 21st Century tune-up can improve your gas mileage by an average of four percent. Fixing a serious maintenance problem – like replacing a faulty oxygen sensor – can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent.

Check the gas cap – About 17 percent of the vehicles now on roads in the United States have gas caps that are either damaged, loose or missing. Altogether this causes about 147 million gallons of gas to vaporize every year.

– The Car Care Council has designed a free 56-page car care guide to help motorists save money, conserve energy, improve highway safety and protect the environment. To order one, visit its Web site, www.carcare.org.