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You Can Still Save on the Road -- Even with No Cash for Clunkers

August 26, 2009 - 1:16pm

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Just about everybody by now has heard of the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) Program, better known as "Cash for Clunkers," which had pumped $1.9 billion worth of incentives into the ailing car industry by last Thursday, according to the Department of Transportation. The red-hot program enticed about a half-a-million eligible buyers to trade in their late-model cars for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles by throwing in a cool $3,500 to $4,500 toward their purchase. Pretty sweet motivational tool if you ask me. But, unlike those who got off the fence early and hustled into their local dealership, I let this one pass me by.

The CARS program, which was overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), officially ended on Monday. Never one to dive in without testing the waters, I finally got around to seeing whether my car qualified on the CARS program Web site just four hours before the deadline. One of the criteria for your clunker to qualify was that its original combined city and highway fuel-economy rating was 18 or fewer miles to the gallon when the car was new.

I drive a small SUV, which the CARS program online tool pegged at a combined 15 MPG. Since I've always gotten more like 20 miles to the gallon, I was really surprised when I saw that it qualified. Oh well, I wasn't quite ready to trade in my extremely reliable car yet anyway.

But for all of those who, like me, missed the bus this time, there are a few easy ways to save money on fuel, help the environment, and feel better about hopping behind the wheel. At the Web site fueleconomy.gov you can find all kinds of cool tips about getting the most out of your present vehicle, clunker or not.

Some eye-openers:

  • Aggressive driving kills your fuel economy. Speeding on the highway, for example, can decrease your fuel economy by 33%.
  • Take the junk out of your trunk. An extra 100 pounds of cargo in your vehicle can decrease your fuel efficiency by 2%.
  • Turn your car off when you're not driving. Idling wastes gas and adds greenhouse gases needlessly into the environment.
  • Keep your tires inflated to the right pressure. You can improve your fuel economy by more than 3% just by checking your tires.

So even if "Cash for Clunkers" passed you by, it's never too late to do a few simple things to max out your fuel efficiency. It will save you money, help shrink your carbon footprint, and do a good deed for the environment.

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