Gasoline prices on rise across nation

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Gasoline prices have steadily increased around the region, and the national average cost for one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is $1.69, according to the AAA.
   Drivers are spending about $0.07 more now than they were last month to keep their automobiles running. The average Tennessean can expect to pay $1.59 per gallon for regular unleaded, $1.68 for mid-grade, and $1.76 for premium.
   The nationwide retail price for all types of gasoline increased by four cents per gallon last week, averaging $1.68 per gallon as of Feb. 23. Prices are 22.1 cents per gallon higher than they were in mid-December 2003, and 3.1 cents per gallon more than they were at this time a year ago.
   West Coast drivers are feeling the pinch more than others with prices topping at $2.02. Californians are paying up to $2.10 per gallon.
   According to the American Petroleum Institute, drivers can conserve gasoline and make the most of each gallon by having cars tuned regularly. An engine tune-up can improve car fuel economy by an average of 1 mile per gallon.
   API suggestions include:
   * Keep tires properly inflated. Under-inflated tires can decrease fuel economy by up to 1 mile per gallon. Drive slower. The faster you drive, the more gasoline your car uses. Driving at 65 miles per hour rather than 55 miles per hour reduces fuel economy by about 2 miles per gallon.
   * Avoid jackrabbit starts. Abrupt starts require about twice as much gasoline as gradual starts.
   * Pace your driving. Unnecessary speedups, slowdowns and stops can decrease fuel economy by up to 2 miles per gallon. Stay alert and drive steadily, not erratically. Keep a reasonable, safe distance from the car ahead of you and anticipate traffic conditions.
   * Use your air conditioner sparingly. The use of air conditioning can reduce fuel economy by as much as 2 miles per gallon under certain speeds and operating conditions.
   * Avoid lengthy engine idling. Turn your engine off when you are delayed for more than a couple of minutes.
   * Plan your trips carefully. Combine short trips into one to do all of your errands. Avoid traveling during rush hours if possible, to reduce fuel-consumption patterns such as starting and stopping and numerous idling periods. Consider joining a car pool.