2008-05-16 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

With the summer driving season just weeks away, many energy analysts are predicting that the price of gasoline will top four dollars a gallon. Faced with such astronomical prices, what is a driver to do? While using public transit, walking, or biking are all options that can reduce gas consumption, sometimes we need to use automobiles to get from place to place. Fortunately, there are many things that consumers can do to save money by maximizing the fuel efficiency of their vehicles.

Drivers can save money and gas by driving less aggressively. Speeding and rapid acceleration and braking can lower gas mileage by as much as thirty-three percent when driving on the highway and as much as five percent when driving in town, according to the United States Department of Energy. Gas mileage decreases sharply at speeds over sixty miles per hour; according to recent statistics, each five miles per hour over sixty miles per hour is equivalent to paying an additional $0.21 per gallon of gas. Keeping extra items in your vehicle can also decrease your gas mileage, especially if the items are heavy or the vehicle is small. A one hundred pound load can decrease a vehicle's miles per gallon ratio by as much as two percent. Consumers can also save gas by not idling unnecessarily. Idling wastes more gas than turning off the engine, waiting, and restarting the engine.

Consumers can also increase their vehicle's efficiency by keeping their vehicle in shape. Replacing a car's air filter protects the car's engine and can improve gas mileage by as much as ten percent. By keeping a vehicle's tires properly inflated, consumers can increase their gas mileage by as much as three percent. Tires that are properly inflated are also safer and last longer. Periodic wheel alignments can improve fuel efficiency by as much as ten percent. Additionally, consumers who use the manufacturer's recommended grade of oil can expect to improve their car's gas mileage by as much as two percent.

Consumers can also save money by using websites like www.gasbuddy. com, which lists the lowest and highest gas prices by area. Consumers can also compare prices and report price gouging on the New York State Consumer Protection Board's website at www. consumer.state.ny.us. New York's price gouging law applies when a gasoline retailer, producer, or distributor drastically increases prices without justification during an abnormal disruption of the market. However, it is not considered price gouging when a disruption, such as a natural disaster, increases costs, which may then be passed on to consumers in the form of higher gasoline prices. In order to deter businesses, such as gasoline retailers, from engaging in price gouging, I sponsor legislation (A.425), which was recently reported from the Committee that would increase the maximum penalty for price gouging. If you are in the market for a car, consider fuel economy when making your next purchase. Smaller vehicles or those with smaller engines tend to have higher gas mileage. Hybrid vehicles, which use a gasoline engine and an electric motor, are becoming increasingly popular, and can save thousands in fuel costs over the life of the vehicle. Many of these vehicles achieve as many as fifty miles per gallon in the city and fortyfive miles per gallon on the highway.

To learn more about increasing your vehicle's fuel economy, visit the United States Department of Energy's fuel efficiency website at www.fuelecono my.gov or the Federal Trade Commission's website at www.ftc.gov.

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