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Gas mileage has gotten far more important in new-car choices over the last 10 years, and that's not likely to change.
But not everyone really understands automobile efficiency--or how to maximize their mileage--and which tactics will really save them money.
Here's our cheat sheet.
(1) Your driving style matters (and so does your highway speed).
You know how they say "Your mileage may vary"? The way you drive is one of the major variants.
If you want to save money on gas, drive as if there's an egg between your foot and the accelerator pedal: Accelerate gently and smoothly, and look several cars ahead so that if you're going to need to slow down, you can lift off and let your car coast up to a light or stop sign.
Man clocks fastest speeding offence in UK historyEnlarge Photo
Any time you have to brake, you've wasted more gas than if your car rolls up to the stop sign and ends up stopping right at the line of its own accord.
Stay safe and be very mindful of surrounding traffic when you drive this way, though--there are a whole lot of impatient, aggressive drivers out there.
Once you nail the smooth driving, focus on your highway speed. The energy required to push a car through air resistance rises almost exponentially above about 45 mph--so going from 60 to 75 mph costs you a lot more than the "same" 15-mph increase from 45 to 60 mph.
Try driving the speed limit on highways for a week--instead of 12 mph over--and see how much gas money you'll save. You may be surprised. Just remember: Do it in the right-hand lane, not the fast lane!
2014 Ram 1500 EcoDieselEnlarge Photo
(2) Improving a low number saves more gas (and money) than improving a high number.
It saves way more gas money to improve a car from 10 to 20 miles per gallon than it does to go from 33 to 50 mpg. (Here's the math.)
But most Americans surveyed think the opposite is true; they get gas mileage exactly backwards.
While a 50-mpg Toyota Prius hybrid will give you great bragging rights, if you move up from a 33-mpg compact car, you're only saving 1 gallon every 100 miles.
If you can replace your old 10-mpg truck with a new 20-mpg pickup, you'll save 5 gallons 10 gallons every 100 miles. You do the math on that one.
2014 Chevrolet MalibuEnlarge Photo
(3) Any new car gets better gas mileage than the same car 10 years ago.
After years of stagnation, new corporate average fuel-economy regulations came into effect a few years ago.
For the next 11 years, the average gas mileage of new vehicles sold in the U.S. must rise each year--to an average of 54.5 mpg in 2025, which translates to about 42 mpg on the window sticker.
That's well below what the current 2013 Toyota Prius achieves, never mind the more efficient model coming in 2015, but it applies across all vehicles--including those pickup trucks.