AAA: The Number One Waste Of Gas Is…

Running the air conditioner on full blast, keeping the trunk full, and idling excessively are all great ways to waste gas; but, the number one waste of gas may surprise you:

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that the average driver can improve mileage by 3.3 percent simply by inflating their vehicle’s tires regularly. In fact, according to the AAA, under-inflated tires are the No. 1 way we waste gas. One out of every four cars and one out of every three pickups, vans, and SUVs have at least one extremely low tire.

Next time you pull into a gas station, whip out the old tire gauge and see if your tires need some air. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

The #1 Waster of Gas in the United States [FreeMoneyFinance]
(Photo: Michael_L)

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  1. CaptainRoin says:

    Your tires loose about 1psi per month and about 1psi per 10 degree F decrease in temperature.

  2. Ikki says:

    Actually, running the air conditioner on full blast has very little to do with wasting gasoline. Even on full, the mileage that you save when it’s off is about 1mpg. I know I’d rather be cool and relaxed than sweaty and paying just a little less for gas.

  3. Ikki says:

    @Ikki: Bleh, let me rephrase that: COMPARED TO running on full, the mileage that you save when it’s off is about 1mpg.

  4. ColoradoShark says:

    Most gas stations don’t even give you free air anymore. Usually it is 75 cents around here. And the pumps aren’t even that good as there is no pressure gauge. They are invariably wimpy little pumps that takes a long time to fill up your tires. Compare that to the old style pumps where you dialed in the pressure you wanted and it would go “ding” until your tires reached the selected pressure.

    You could turn the whole thing into a DIY upper body work out by getting a good bicycle pump with a built in pressure gauge….

  5. HDC says:

    If the gov’t gave a damn, they’d push station owners to make it easier to use their air. Here in Cali, the stations are required to let paying customers use the air gratis, but it’s always a screaming pain in the ass to get the attendants to unlock the systems. And then they usually are on timers which are set for like two minutes. All of which results in a back and forth from the pumps to the cashier to get enough time to do the job. I usually just end up sucking up the cost and pumping quarters into the machine.

  6. evilrobot says:

    i couldn’t agree more with you HDC. it’s a PIA to go “ask” to use the air after buying gas. assuming that there isn’t an “out of order” sign on it already.

  7. mantari says:

    One regional convenience store chain actually uses free air as part of its draw. Every single store has one unit on the far side of the lot, with a big red button, and a long retracting hose.

    Mind you, they’re doing a lot of things right. But this is just one of them.

  8. Skeptic says:

    Actually, I think that driving over 55 mph is the biggest waste of gas. Driving 70 uses 15-20% more gas.

  9. TechnoDestructo says:

    If I see an obviously-low tire (or a damaged one) on someone’s car, and I have a pen and paper on me, I leave a note under the windshield wiper. (I’ve done this in 3 countries and 3 languages!)

  10. Trick says:

    Even if you can get air her in California for free… the hose and gauge is often in bad shape. I use my own accurate gauge to get around that.

    Also, be sure to fill your tires when they are cold. If you have been driving for a while let them cool off, first.

    I usually use the air compressor on my toybox to fill the tires in the evening, adding a few extra pounds knowing they are hot then adjust them to the correct pressure in the morning.

    Another benefit of increased mileage is even tire wear… tires are pretty expensive these days and under-inflated tires will not last as long or give your car/truck/suv good handling.

  11. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Skeptic:

    Depends on the car. Also, air resistance keeps going up as you go faster, but then again you’re also covering more distance.

    Best fuel economy I ever got (relative to the car I was driving) was leaving the cruise control at 70-75. (28mpg in a 1996 Thunderbird V8)

    I got over 40 mpg driving my 1984 Corolla from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska, going about 80mph most of the way. I’d get around 35-37 going between Fairbanks and North Pole, where I’d never go faster than 65, and 55 when I was actually in North Pole (it’s kind of a speed trap).

    55mph is NOT always the optimal speed. It might have been when cars had poorer aerodynamics and gearing, but it isn’t now.

  12. One more point; don’t overinflate! Overinflation is as detrimental to proper tire wear than underinflation.

    Agreed on the California mandatory air/water for customers. While this is a great idea, proper maintenance of the facilities is rare; I always carry a $5.00 pen-style air gauge in my car and check the tires a couple of times a month because the nearest station’s gauge is invariably out of order.

    I do think more states should encourage safe motoring by having air available for customers. In Louisiana, I once had to visit five gas stations before I found one with a working air and water station – which cost me $1.50 because the station owner had set the timer to 90 seconds.

  13. dieman says:

    I cant believe we do not have a law in MN for mandatory air. I’ve seen under 5 minutes for a quarter before. It’s abusive. I picked up a pump to run off the 12v in the car from target instead.

  14. biminitwst says:

    Thats the difference between car guys.. er people, and everybody else.
    I’d be willing to bet that everyone who reads Jalopnik, let alone everyone who posts here, owns at least one tire gauge.
    I have three, I think, plus the one on the 12V compressor that I bought at Target for $15.00.
    Theres no excuse not to have one at that price.
    BTW, Most gas station compressors are not even owned by the store, they are placed there by a vendor. The same one who services the condom machine, perhaps.

  15. zolielo says:

    Want to counter AC parasitic lost? Easy just add more horsepower equal or greater to the loss. Nothing extreme is needed. Just a better flowing yet tighter filtering air intake modification should be enough. Or if one want to hit the AC parasite on the head, a set of underdrive pulleys.

    Make sure you know the benefits and hazards of automotive modification / tuning…

  16. Christopher says:

    I’m quite fortunate, there’s a car wash right near my house with free air. It’s even one of those nice ones that you dial in the desired pressure, and it fills it perfectly. I filled mine up before a long drive on Memorial Day weekend, and I got ~29mpg with my Dodge Caliber.

    I do return the favor by using this company every time I wash my car (I live in an apartment, so I can’t wash it myself), but I’m afraid that most people abuse the system and they may eventually take away the free-air.

  17. LAGirl says:

    @HDC: so true! or their crappy air machines don’t even work.

    and i’m no rocket scientist, but how does having low air in your tires lower your gas mileage?

  18. Triteon says:

    @Ikki: Actually, according to Tom and Ray on Car Talk, for newer vehicles (last 5 years) running the A/C uses as much or less gas than running with the windows down. This is due to the relatively recent push to increase aerodynamics and the increased efficiency in how the A/C motor works…lower the window on an ’05 and the drag will drop your mileage faster than anything.

  19. ngth says:

    @LAGirl:

    A decrease in air pressure means more rolling resistance against the tire and the road… nominally inflated tires reduces the rolling resistance.

    A good way to experience this is on a bicycle: deflate your tires below the recommended values, and riding is a bit tough. You expend more energy going at a good pace than what you would normally require. Reinflate those tires and riding is a lot easier.

  20. rbb says:

    A simple solution to the air pump being on a timer is to fill your tires first and then check them with a guage afterwards. The point is to slightly over inflate your tires and then adjust them down to the correct pressure afterwards.

    And, don’t inflate your tires when they are warmed up. Tires are meant to be filled when the are “cold” (i.e., have been sitting overnight). If you have to drive a few miles to find an air pump, then you are better off getting a 12v pump..

  21. MadMikeB says:

    I’ve seen tests in which tire inflation was neglible as far as saving gas. But it is a major safety issue, so like Mario Andretti says, “Check your tires”.

    A really good way to save gas is to simply SLOW DOWN. Don’t accelerate like you’re John Force. Don’t drive so fast on the freeway. Set your cruise control to 70mph or so, and just chill. Driving slow is definitely not fun, but it saves gas.

    The best way to save gas? Simply don’t drive, unless you have to. Walk or ride your bike on short trips. Carpool. Take public transit. Or work from home if you can.

    Enjoy your day. I’m going for a bike ride!

  22. HDC says:

    @rbb: It’s usually what I try to do. But when the air hose is on a waaaay too tightly sprung reel I spend most of the time just getting from wheel to wheel when fighting with the machinery. Add to that an impatient toddler in the back seat on a hot day and it’s even more fun. The whole experience becomes a loathsome chore I don’t look forward to so it’s farther between top offs than I’d like.

  23. mrrobotanger says:

    Why don’t we have cars yet with a little compressor built into each wheel? Could this be that hard?

  24. roamer1 says:

    @mantari:

    One regional convenience store chain actually uses free air as part of its draw.

    Sounds like QuikTrip… :)

  25. zolielo says:

    @mrrobotanger: Not sure but I would think that it would the increase in unsprung mass.

  26. smokyburnout says:

    @mrrobotanger:
    the hummer h1 had (as an option) an onboard compressor, and the valve stems were routed through the hub of the wheel, with hoses air hoses between the compressor and wheel hubs. in short, it aired up your tires when it sensed low pressure. but, this was a rather pricey option, and it only worked with the wheels the truck came with.

    a compressor built into the wheel would be hard to do, because it would, as zolielo just said, increase unspring mass, as well as throw the wheel balance waaay off. also, powering it would be a little complicated…

    by the way, this is the reason all cars sold in the us in 2008 are required to have tire pressure sensors in each wheel, which will tell you which tire you need to air up. course, this is an extra pain for whoever rotates your tires, and when the batteries die in 5-10 years, or when a sensor is damaged when you have a tire blows out, itll cost ya big.

  27. Sudonum says:

    @smokeyburnout
    It will also cost you an extra $5-10 buck when you change your tires. I know, I have them on my car.

  28. Anonymously says:

    How do you know what PSI you should inflate your tires to if you’re not running the OEM tires/wheels any more?

  29. bbbici says:

    “Most gas stations don’t even give you free air anymore. Usually it is 75 cents around here.”

    What?! Is nothing sacred to you Americans? sick.

  30. sandwich_pants says:

    This seems a rather silly claim from AAA, as tire pressure has to be quite off to have more than a couple percent difference in fuel economy.
    Still, I run my tires 5psi over the recommended pressure, which make the car feel more responsive, in addition to not harming fuel economy. 5psi is actually a recommended increase if one ever takes their car to a race track (at least one with turns), there’s really no problem with it. 10psi over recommendation can start to shrink one’s contact patch a bit much, and also focus tire wear on the middle of the tread, which isn’t good of course.
    It seems to me that fast highway driving is a much bigger waste of gas. These days most small and midsized sedans have drag coefficients in the .32-.36 range, which is a bit worse than the .28-.32 range that seemed common in the late 90s bubble car era (though our cars look lots better now for the most part). SUVs and crossovers, which are more common, tend to have much worse levels of drag, and MUCH more swept area than cars, and most cars are wider and taller than they were a few years ago. This all adds up to a lot more air resistance, which increases exponentially as one drives faster, not to mention increased stress from mechanical friction as one goes faster. So what I’m saying is, if you want to get good mileage on the highway, try to keep your speed around 60, as long as your revs are between 2000-3000, depending on the type of car you have (bigger engines with more cylinders need less revs to operate with enough torque to actually move the car).
    Also, paying attention to light timing, and perhaps even using a different traffic route, even if it’s a little longer and slower if it has well timed traffic lights can help fuel economy. Every time you have to use the break, all of the kinetic energy of the car is converted to heat in the brakes and just goes up into the atmosphere where it does nothing particularly useful.
    Also, for those wondering about AC vs. windows, it depends largely on what your vehicle is, but a general good rule is under 45 mph, the windows are probably less wasteful.
    By driving carefully, trying not to speed too much on the highway, keeping my revs as close to 2000 as I can, I got 34.7 miles per gallon between my last two fill ups on my Mazda Protege 5, which is rated at 26-32 with the old, “optimistic” EPA standard. I also like to accelerate fast and have fun, so if I really focused, I might be able to get it above 40.

  31. affidavid says:

    Anyone who rides a bike regularly understands this as well. It takes a lot more human energy to pedal a bike with the tires are a little soft but it rolls nearly effortlessly with full tires. Especially up hill.

    Granted, there are cardiovascular advantages to riding on soggy bike tires…

  32. rmz says:

    @Greg P: The tires will say somewhere on them. Just read the text on the sidewall and you should see a recommended PSI level to use.

  33. ibelli says:

    Biggest waste of gas:

    NASCAR, Warplanes. (tie)