MIDDLETOWN -- A depressed economy, high gas prices and limited incomes make it difficult for some motorists to adhere to a vehicle maintenance schedule, but keeping cars maintained goes a long way in reducing fuel consumption, several local mechanics said Wednesday.
"Sometimes, it's the small things people can do, like making sure their tires are not low on air," said Eric Weishaar, an Automotive Service Excellence-certified mechanic at Lee Delauter & Sons Inc. in Middletown.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that proper tire inflation can improve fuel economy by up to 3 percent, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, but only 17 percent of cars have all four tires properly inflated.
Whenever your vehicle is being worked on, make sure the shop checks your tire pressure, air filter and fluid levels, "but any good shop will do that automatically," Weishaar said.
Bad oil increases friction and more friction makes the engine work harder, resulting in more gas burned, Weishaar said.
Dale Delauter, who has spent all 65 years of his life around cars, said some things haven't changed, like seeing some vehicles so neglected they are too dangerous to be on the road, he said.
"People need to stop hauling all that weight around in their cars," said Delauter, vice president of LDS Inc. "Then there are those 10-pound key chains. Lessen the load and you save gas. It all adds up."
AAA advises drivers to lighten their vehicles by cleaning out the trunk, cargo areas and passenger compartments.
Weishaar was repairing an exhaust leak on a sport utility vehicle Wednesday.
"I see a lot of cars with exhaust leaks, and you're losing fuel mileage, too," he said.
An automobile engine is essentially a big air pump; the easier you make it breathe, the more efficient it is, said Drew Howe, service manager at Mr. Tire on East Street in Frederick.
Change your spark plugs and air filters, and perform a fuel injection service once every two years, which also helps to maintain the fuel filter and rid the engine of carbon that collects on the intake -- a prime cause of increased fuel consumption, Howe said.
Your tire pressure will go up or down 1 pound for every 10 degrees in temperature change, so inflate your tires to the recommended levels, which is usually found in the doorjamb, not on the tire, before driving long distances, Howe said.
With a good look-over, an ASE-certified mechanic can spot many problems without charging the customer, Delauter said.
Today's vehicles are a far cry from what they used to be, the mechanics said.
Many people go to automotive parts stores to research and diagnose their own vehicles; but the information they find might have nothing to do with their problem, Weishaar said.
Some of the worse cases of vehicle neglect he's seen involved bad tires and brakes, Weishaar said, including broken brake rotors cut almost in two, and tires so bald they are accidents waiting to happen.
As the price of gas increases, Delauter said he hears many people say, "'My car is using too much gas.'"
"That's what happens when gas is almost $4," he said.