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homespun-roadtripRISMEDIA, June 5, 2009-(MCT)-This time last year, futurists were writing obituaries for an American institution: the summer road trip. It seemed like there was no end to daily increases in fuel prices, which were then hovering at $4 per gallon.

The days of cheap gas were over forever, we were warned. This is the new normal, the experts proclaimed. It was time, they said, to embrace the “staycation,” the newspeak term that was supposed to convince us we still were going to go to the beach when, in fact, we were not.

Yet despite whatever else the worldwide recession has wrought, it has at least made gas affordable again.

Friday’s average fuel price in the St. Louis area, for example was $2.40, according AAA’s Mike Right.

Right is reluctant to forecast this summer’s gas prices. After all, he said, no one predicted last year’s record high prices.

He gave it a shot anyway and said he suspects “prices we’re seeing right now should be hanging around for a while.”

Thanks to the lower fuel prices, AAA predicted a 1.5% jump in the number of holiday travelers last weekend. Right said the auto club was on the money in that forecast, and the same modest jump in travel probably will hold throughout the summer months.

That doesn’t mean all is well for drivers.

Prices have been inching up since December and reports indicate that speculative oil trading is once again on the rise.

There are other factors at work, too.

According to The Associated Press, we’re finally burning our way through a glut of gasoline that, for the last few months, has been in storage around the country and keeping prices low. The problem is, when that oversupply is gone, we’ll be relying solely on refineries to keep up with demand. Those refineries have scaled back production and, as they ramp up, prices will rise.

And then there’s the No. 1 pressure on gas prices: a rebounding economy. When the world pulls out of recession, we could be hearing about those “staycations” again.

With that in mind, this second weekend of the summer road-trip season is a good time to go over some basic tips consumers can use to improve mileage and spend less at the pump. The money you save won’t be as large as during the once and future fuel crisis, but these days every dollar counts.

Here’s a refresher for drivers from the Federal Trade Commission:

-Stay within posted speed limits: Gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.

-Avoid aggressive driving: You can improve gas mileage up to 5% if you avoid “jackrabbit” starts and stops by anticipating traffic and driving gently.

-Turn off the engine if you anticipate a wait: Remember that idle cars are the fuel waster’s playthings.

-Combine errands. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

-Use overdrive gears and cruise control when appropriate.

-Remove excess weight from the trunk: An extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce a typical car’s fuel economy by up to 2%.

-Keep your roof clear: A loaded roof rack or carrier creates wind resistance and can decrease fuel economy by 5%.

-Make sure your tires are properly inflated and aligned: That can increase gas mileage up to 3%.

-Check and replace air filters regularly. Replacing clogged filters can increase gas mileage up to 10%.

© 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.