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How to beat the high cost of filling your gas tank

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Gasoline prices have come down a bit since peaking in late April at more than $3.60 per gallon, according to federal data. But filling up will still cost you a pretty penny. Just consider that if you have a 25-gallon tank, as does the Dodge Durango, and are paying $3.40 per gallon, then you could be out more than $80 at the pump. With that in mind, here are some tips to keep your fuel bill under control.

Don’t buy premium gas

If your car specifies regular fuel, using premium won’t make your engine run better or improve mileage. All you will be doing is paying at least 20 cents more per gallon. Most cars are designed to run just fine on regular gasoline. Even many cars that suggest using premium will run well on regular, with imperceptible differences during normal driving. Check your owner’s manual to find out whether the engine really requires premium or can run on other grades.

Drive at moderate speed

You may have to be a little patient, but driving at 55 mph instead of 65 or 75 will save you money, as our tests have proved. When we drove our Honda Accord at a steady 65 mph, the car’s fuel economy dropped from 49 mpg to 42 mpg compared with driving at 55 mph. Speeding up to 75 mph cost the car an additional 5 mpg. One reason is that aero­dynamic drag increases exponentially the faster you drive; it simply takes more fuel to power the car through the air. Using an SUV in the same test, our Toyota RAV4 dropped from 37 mpg to 33 mpg, then to 27 mpg at 75 mph.

Check our guide to fuel economy for more tips and tricks to save at the pump.

Unclutter your roofline

Do you still have ski racks on your car from last winter? It pays to take off such extra baggage to help improve your fuel mileage. Tests on the Honda  Accord showed that adding an empty bike rack to the car dropped fuel efficiency by 5 mpg. By the way, adding two bikes lopped off an additional 10 mpg.

Find the cheapest gas near you

Driving 50 miles out of your way to save a few cents doesn’t make sense. But with a little research, you can find the cheapest spot to fill up around your home or work. Your local chapter of the  Automobile Club of  America may have a gas-price finder on its website. If not, the California  AAA site serves other states and shows prices within a 3-, 5-, or 10-mile radius of an intersection. GasBuddy.com links to gas-price sites in the U.S. and Canada by state or province, county, or parish. But it tracks only regular gas and diesel fuel.

This article also appeared in the October 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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