Pinching pennies

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2005

There are two things I enjoy most about life – hearing Virginians whine and ditto for Tar Heel fans.

Imagine then my sheer delight on Monday evening while I watched the WAVY TV-10 newscast. No, there was nary a mention about PETA’s dilemma, but rather Virginia residents crying because the price at the gas pump abruptly rose by six cents a gallon earlier that day.

Hey…Virginians, shut your pie holes. If anybody should be whining over the price of gas, it’s us North Carolinians. Imagine our surprise on Friday of last week when gas, well at least that here in Ahoskie, strapped a Titan missile to its butt and skyrocketed 11 cents per gallon.

Much to my chagrin, I had all good intentions to fill-up my Ford pick’em-up truck on Thursday, when gas was a &uot;reasonable&uot; $2.18 a gallon. By the time I filled the tank on Friday, purchased a cold Mountain Dew and a pack of smokes, I didn’t have enough change out of $40 to buy a stamp.

To make matters worse for my friends who root for that college over in Chapel Hole, they had to add tears of per gallon shock with the emotional ride they just went through during the NBA Draft where four – count’em – four Tar Heels were 1st round selections. That fact backs up the statement I made in early April that UNC’s men’s basketball title is tarnished because their players were professionals. But that’s a story for another day; let’s get back to this gas price thing.

To keep this column factual (something I was recently accused of not doing), I did some homework and found that Ahoskie’s current gas price (which, as of yesterday morning, stood at $2.29.9 for regular unleaded) is actually less than the national average of $2.32.9. Ironically, the national average rose by 11 cents, just like Ahoskie’s petro, from a week ago. One month ago, it stood at $2.11.9 per gallon. Last year at this same time, the national average for a gallon of gas was reported at $1.90.9.

With the rising price of vehicular travel, I got to thinking (and that could be dangerous) about ways to pinch pennies at the pump. Here are a few suggestions:

Do not fear discount gas. It comes from the same refineries as the more expensive stuff and contains additives to keep engines clean. The only thing you need to fear at these stations is the owner whose last name contains more consonants than vowels.

Keep you vehicle in tip-top running condition. That means regular tune-ups and, for you Southern boys with the big pick’em-up trucks, wash off the mud more than once a month and remove the dog box until it’s needed for deer season.

Avoid buying higher-octane gas than your car requires. For that matter, mix two parts of corn squeezings, stir in a quart of soybean extract and add four tobacco worms and, presto, you have homemade gas.

Keep your tires properly inflated. This can make a huge difference in your gas mileage — up to a six percent loss for every single pound your tire is under-inflated. For even better results, deflate all your tires, park your vehicle and walk.

Don’t carry bulky, unnecessary items in your car. Ask your wife, girlfriend or significant other to get out.

Gas credit cards offer discounts of up to five percent. For a better deal, run up a big balance on your card and then skip the country.

Avoid fast starts and sudden breaking. Those rules do not apply when running late for work and then meeting a law enforcement officer.

Don’t let your vehicle idle. If you’re going to be sitting still in traffic for more than a minute, running your engine wastes more gas than restarting it. However, your starter may expire quickly if you are an I-440 commuter in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Buy gas when it’s cooler during the day (like the early morning or at night) to reduce gas evaporation. Better yet, siphon gas from your neighbor at night. That way you won’t sweat so much.

This is probably obvious — but slow down. Most cars are less fuel efficient at higher speeds. You’ll save two miles per gallon driving 55 mph rather than 65 mph. That adds up. Warning: do not attempt this slow-down method on the interstate.

And finally, in order to save gas, do not run the air conditioner. Also, do not roll down the windows. This causes drag, thus reducing gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. By combining both suggestions, you’ll sweat, in turn lose weight, which lessens the load your vehicle must carry, which results in better gas mileage.

I’m taking a break next week so I’ll see ya’ll again on July 28, not unless my wife kills me for the bulky, unnecessary items remark!