Paying $4 for a gallon of gas may make you wish for a more fuel-efficient car. But if a new set of wheels isn't in the cards, don't give up on saving money at the pump.
There are plenty of ways to cut costs and maximize the efficiency of your car. The first step to consider is a tune-up. It can pay for itself quickly if it coaxes more miles per gallon out of your aging vehicle.
What it involves: A periodic tune-up should be a part of every car owner's maintenance routine. A thorough job may involve any of the following: replacing the air and fuel filters, unclogging fuel injectors, changing the distributor cap and ignition rotor, changing spark plugs and possibly the spark plug wires, adjusting valves and belts, and replacing or replenishing necessary fluids.
Check your owner's manual for recommendations on how often to address these items.
How much it costs: Prices vary depending on the age and model of the vehicle, exactly what work is done, how long it takes and where it is serviced. A complete tune-up could cost several hundred dollars.
If you can't afford the works, try getting just the spark plugs changed. That can go a long way toward improving your mileage, and will cost about $125 to $150.
Pay even less: Many auto repair chains, such as AutoZone and Jiffy Lube, offer tune-up packages or coupons that can lower the cost. Check newspapers or search online to find your local options. Some shops may honor competitor coupons, as well.
How much gas will I save?: Keeping your car well maintained can improve your mileage by an average of 4 percent, according to government estimates. That number will vary depending on the age of your car and how well it's maintained, but you may be able to save in the neighborhood of 16 cents per gallon.
Bonus: Routine maintenance can help detect small problems before they become big ones, which will lower your costs for more expensive repairs.