NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - If you're dismayed with the poor gas mileage your car is getting, you might be thinking about buying a more efficient vehicle. In many cases, changing the way you care for your car and the way you drive it might provide a quicker and easier solution.
Don't buy what you don't need. Premium, high-octane fuels aren't necessarily better for your car just because they're premium, high-octane fuel. Such fuels don't provide any greater fuel efficiency. In fact, many cars are designed to use regular low-octane fuel. Check your owner's manual to see what your car requires and, at most, stick with that.
Smooth and steady. Plan a route that lets you travel at constant speed and bypass congested areas. Use your gas and brake pedals gingerly. Slamming on the gas or the brake lacks a certain grace, but more than that, hard acceleration and quick stops waste fuel. When you see brake lights coming on up ahead, ease off the gas right away and depress the brake pedal gently to come to a slow, steady stop.
If your car has cruise control, learn to use it. By keeping your car at a steady speed, cruise control helps save gas. It can save you a lot of money in speeding tickets by preventing the pernicious "speed creep" that can happen during long, boring highway drives. That's the tendency to unconsciously increase your speed, bit by bit, the longer you drive.
Speed and your gas tank will bleed. The faster you drive, the more fuel your car consumers per mile. If you drive at 70 miles per hour instead of 55 mph, you'll lose 17 percent of your car's fuel economy, Jim Kliesch, a research associate at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Driving 65 miles per hour isn't much better either. You'll lose nearly 10 percent in fuel economy.
Be cool about keeping cool. If you really must park in the sun, don't jack up the air conditioner as soon as you get back in the car. Drive for a bit with the windows down to let out the excess heat first. Once you're at highway speeds -- 55 miles an hour or more -- driving with your windows down actually consumes more fuel than using the A/C because it creates so much aerodynamic drag.
Lose the junk in your trunk. For every 100 pounds of excess weight in your trunk, your car loses one percent of fuel economy, Kliesch said. So pack light. And clean out the any extra "baggage" that may be riding around in your car simply because you haven't gotten around to taking it out yet.
Pamper your four-wheeled pet. Keeping your tires inflated is a quick way to insure you get the best gas mileage. For every three pounds your tires are below their recommended pressure, your fuel economy drops one percent, Kliesch said. And the harder your car has to work, the more visits you'll make to the gas station. That's why it's always smart to have your car's oil, transmission and spark plugs checked before a road trip.
Pamper yourself. If you're taking a vacation road trip, consider a destination that doesn't require that you drive everywhere once you've arrived. Pedestrian-friendly locations are worth considering, as are cities with good public transit options. Otherwise, you'll spend more money on gas, a lot of energy in traffic, and less time getting the rest you need.
This article was originally published in August, 2002. It has been updated.