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4 ways to conserve fuel and stop paying so much at the pump

Fuel prices have traditionally been at their highest during the summer months. That's unfortunate for vacationers and road trip enthusiasts who must budget the cost of fuel into their vacation expenses. Those costs can be considerable, especially if gas continues to hover around $4 per gallon as it has for much of 2012.

But as costly as gas has become, drivers can still mitigate those costs by employing a few strategies aimed at increasing their driving efficiency. The following are a few ways drivers can offset high fuel costs regardless of the time of year.

1. Maintain a consistent speed. Though it might be hard to maintain a consistent speed when driving during rush hour, it should not be too difficult to do so when hitting the open road. If most of your driving is done on the highway, go easy on your engine by maintaining a consistent speed. The easier you are on the engine, the less taxed that engine will be and the less fuel it will need as a result. If going on a long road trip or if your daily commute involves long stretches of highway driving, rely on your vehicle's cruise control function to make things easier on your engine and conserve fuel.

2. Don't drive when you can walk or bike. It might sound simple, but the best way to conserve fuel is not to use it at all. During the warmer months, walk or ride your bicycle when performing local errands. This is especially beneficial during the summer, when gas prices are typically higher. Save a few gallons of gas by running errands on foot or on your bicycle. If a physical condition makes it hard for you to walk or bike, make use of public transportation when you need to travel locally.

3. Obey the speed limit. The open road entices many drivers to put the pedal to the metal, but driving over the speed limit is both illegal and expensive. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that drivers pay an additional $0.31 per gallon for every five miles they drive over 60 mph. Since gas prices have already hovered around $4 per gallon for much of the year, drivers would be wise to obey the speed limit and conserve their fuel as well as their money.

4. Don't make your vehicle into a traveling closet. Many drivers keep excess materials in their cars, whether it's a cooler for picnics, a set of golf clubs or an old baby stroller. Excess weight will rear its ugly head at the pump. The DOE notes than an extra 100 pounds in a vehicle can reduce its miles per gallon by as much as two percent. Before hitting the highway, check your trunk and the backseat and remove any unnecessary items.

Drivers spend a considerable amount of money at the gas pump each week. But a few simple strategies to conserve fuel can save money and help the planet at the same time.