Before you hit the road for vacation, make sure to take these simple steps to get the most out of every mile.
Morgan Murphy

You may not know a lug nut from a cashew, but when it comes to saving money at the gas pump, it helps to be a little car savvy. Taking just a few minutes before your vacation to assess your car's roadworthiness could save you enough money to buy a nice dinner or a ticket to Walt Disney World Resort. In fact, if your car were seriously out of shape and you followed the tips below, you could save as much as 62%! That's a lot of dough that would otherwise vanish out the tailpipe.

Yet if the idea of doing anything but holding the wheel and pressing the pedals makes you want to run for the nearest bus, wait. Many of the suggestions below can be handled by a full-service gas station attendant. Sure, gas may be an extra 20 cents per gallon, but if you ask the pump jockey (or petroleum engineer, in today's parlance) to check the following items, you'll more than make up the difference in gas mileage, wear and tear on your car, and your general peace of mind while you're on the road. Good luck out there.

Tip #1: Pack Light
Extra pounds take extra gas to get around. Putting luggage on your roof rack and weighing down the trunk can reduce your fuel economy by up to 7%.

Tip #2: Check the Oil
Aside from just checking the cleanliness and amount, the grade of oil is very important. Go with your car manufacturer's suggestions, and don't let the oil change guy take a guess. Look in the manual. For example, replacing 5W-30 in an engine that calls for 10W-20 can lower your mileage by 1.5%.

Tip #3: Change Your Air Filter
Your car breathes through the air filter--if it's dirty or clogged, your mileage will suffer by as much as 10%. And if you see a "service engine soon" light on the dash, it could be your engine's oxygen sensor. A faulty sensor can drain your tank faster than a frat boy at a keg party.

Tip #4: Skip the Drive-Through
Get out, and walk inside. Not only will it burn off one or two of the french fries you order, but walking will also cut your car's idling time. Remember, idle time equals zero miles per gallon. Spend 5 minutes idling on a one-hour trip, and you've polished off 8% of your efficiency.

Tip #5: Buy a Pressure Gauge
Under-inflated tires reduce your efficiency by as much as 3%. An inexpensive tire-pressure gauge can pay for itself in just one fill-up.

Tip # 6: Slow Down, Dale Jr.
Most of the time, safe drivers only touch the brake when exiting the interstate. Tailgaters and lane changers sap their fuel economy by as much as 33% when weaving in and out of traffic, braking and accelerating like NASCAR wannabes.

Total Savings? More than 62%!

Have a Savvy Travel Tip?
Send it to me at Travel Editor, Southern Living, P.O. Box 523, Birmingham, AL 35201. Be sure to include your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address. For each item published you will receive $25.

"Travel Tips" is from the March 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.