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Your car's air conditioning can use up gas: How to save fuel on hot days

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Hot temperatures are scorching much of the United States, breaking records ahead of the official start of summer.

And while you might want to seek relief in the air conditioning, blasting it in your car can use up gas just as prices at the pump soar.

"If you're trying to save mileage, you're giving up a little bit of comfort," Steve Reinarts, automotive instructor at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, told KARE.

Here's what experts say about conserving fuel while getting a break from the heat.

How could air conditioning affect fill-ups?

Using air conditioning can affect your car's fuel economy, which refers to the distance you can travel before having to fill up again, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

"Running your car's air conditioning is the main contributor to reduced fuel economy in hot weather," the department said on its website. "Its effect depends on a number of factors, such as the outside temperature, humidity, and intensity of the sun. Under very hot conditions, AC use can reduce a conventional vehicle's fuel economy by more than 25%, particularly on short trips."


Drivers can conserve fuel if they use less air conditioning, according to experts. In this file photo, morning traffic begins to swell on the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.

Though the topic has been debated, experts say riding with open windows also has the potential to reduce fuel economy.

"Rolling down your windows instead of using AC causes aerodynamic drag," AAA told McClatchy News in a June 15 email. "In many cases, this increase in drag at highway speeds negates any savings on engine load from not using AC."

How can you conserve gas?

Cutting back on air conditioning can help to conserve gas, but that might not be the best option when you hit the road on a hot day. This week, heat alerts and record high temperatures have stretched across the United States.

Experts urge drivers seeking lower costs to recognize when it makes the most sense to open the windows for relief.

"At lower speeds driving around town, rolling down the windows is the most efficient choice," the energy department wrote in a 2015 online post. "However, because having the windows down increases wind resistance, it's not very efficient at highway speeds. When rolling down the freeway, it's best to turn on the air conditioning at a temperature that keeps you comfortable, but not cold."

Here are some other tips from experts:

— Park your car in the shade or use a windshield shade to block out the sun.

— Drive with the windows down to let hot air escape before turning on the air conditioning.

— Reduce the amount of time you spend idling with the air conditioning on.

— Consider getting a car that's a lighter color or has tinted windows.

While those fuel economy suggestions focus on how to stay cool when temperatures climb, it's possible to take steps toward efficiency throughout the year. Some tips include staying up to date on vehicle maintenance, using cruise control and mapping out trips to avoid traffic, McClatchy News reported.

Drivers might be looking to conserve fuel as they face higher prices at the pumps following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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