There are several ways you can use your tech-savviness to stretch your gas dollar this summer.
Yes, we know—if you only had a nickel for every "save money on gas" article you've read or seen in the past year. And to add to the confusion, many of the tips in these stories are in fact based on superstition, junk science, or grandfather wisdom that doesn't really apply to today's automobiles. (Check out our TechnoRide piece on debunking gas-saving myths.) Sure, you could just go out and buy a hybrid. Or trade in your sedan for a Schwinn. But beyond the expensive or impractical solutions, there are ways you can use your tech-savviness to stretch your gas dollar. Since you're a PC Mag reader, you already know you're smarter than most others on the road. So prove it by applying your geekiness to a good cause—keeping money in your pocketbook. Here are some of our favorite high-tech tips for saving gas, starting with the easy and working up to the truly geeky.
1. Find the best gas prices on the Web. A site like GasBuddy.com or GasPriceWatch.com lets you search by ZIP code or city and state to find the cheapest per-gallon price in your neck of the woods. If you're already on the road you can access GasBuddyToGo.com from your phone's browser, or send a text message or e-mail with your city, state, and ZIP to firstname.lastname@example.org and you'll get a reply quoting the five lowest-cost locations in that area.
2. Look for online gas promotions. For example, if you're planning a vacation, check out BedandBreakfast.com, which offers free-gas promotions at a wide variety of B&B locations across the country.
3. Use GPS or mapping tools. It may sound obvious, but think of how much gas you waste driving around when you're lost or trying to find a parking garage. Map out your route in advance to devise the shortest route (rather than the fastest one), which can also put you on secondary roads where you'll drive more slowly—another gas-saving benefit. Some GPS units also let you program them to pick routes that avoid toll roads, where you can burn gas idling in line.
4. Share a ride with your Web buddies. Start a Google or Yahoo! group for carpooling, and encourage your neighbors and coworkers to join. You can set up a schedule for trips to and from work or even organize grocery-shopping trips as a group. You can also check the ride board section of your area's craigslist to split the gas on your next trip by taking on some riders (or for finding a ride yourself).
5. Track your gas use. A dashboard gauge, such as the ScanGauge ($169.95 direct, www.scangauge.com) keeps track of your MPG and will troubleshoot if your "Check Engine" light comes on. And it's portable, so you can take it from car to car. For hard-core open-source geeks, you can build your own MPG gauge (called the MPGuino project) by following the instructions at the EcoModder forum).
6. Know your car's health. Using a diagnostic device, such as the CarMD ($89.99 direct, www.carmd.com), can tell you exactly what's wrong with your car—including what could be dragging down your MPG—so you can keep it in top running order. Or you can use it simply to keep your mechanic honest, which can also save you money.
7. Replace your engine computer chip. Replacing your car engine's main management chip can increase fuel efficiency and boost performance. Typically this is an inexpensive tweak that you can do yourself if you're somewhat mechanically inclined. In most cars, the chip is easily accessible in the main fusebox. You can find a tutorial at LifeTips.com. Click on the Wheels/Auto category, then the Auto Accessories Tips section. The tutorial is in the menu there under Performance Chips & Programmers.
8. Ecomod your car. Ecomodding (or ecotuning) is a buzzword for modifying your vehicle or driving style to achieve bleeding-edge fuel efficiency. At Ecomodder.com, you can learn about adding aerodynamic components (such as a sleek truck cap or wheel skirts) and tips for "hypermiling" (using driving methods that save gas).[via pcmag]