The average gallon of regular gas costs a record $1.80, and that figure could reach $3 this summer. Here are a few tricks to help you hold down costs at the pump.
GO ONLINE. Sometimes there's a 20% price difference among gas stations in a particular area. Several Web sites let you comparison shop. More than 75,000 "spotters" across the country provide gaspricewatch.com with information on cheap gas prices in your neighborhood. Gasbuddy.com is a portal with links to more than 170 sites with cheap gas info. And www.fuelgaugereport.com provides data on local prices.
REPLACE FAULTY PARTS. A dirty air filter increases fuel consumption and can cause poor performance -- so check it twice a year. A new one can enhance gas mileage by as much as 10%. Getting rid of a faulty oxygen sensor can improve mileage up to 40%. A tune-up can bolster gas mileage by 4%.
CHECK TIRE PRESSURE. Underinflated tires not only pose a safety hazard but can cut fuel economy by as much as 2% per pound of pressure below the recommended level. Most practice golf balls are flimsy wiffle balls that don't replicate the feel of a real golf ball. Now there's BirdieBall, a limited-flight practice aid that comes darn close (birdieball.com; $16.99 a dozen, or $26.50 with hitting pad). BirdieBall's marshmallow-like appearance is odd. But it offers longer distance -- 40 yards on average -- than other balls, as well as more hang time and a truer trajectory. The idea that index funds beat actively managed funds is sacrosanct in academia. But a Duke University study, to be published in the Journal of Portfolio Management this summer, challenges that belief by looking at the Vanguard Group. In "Index Fundamentalism Revisited," co-authors Kenneth Reinker and Edward Tower found that from January, 1977, through January, 2004, active equity managers at Vanguard beat the indexers by 0.77 percentage points per year. They garnered an 8.67% average annualized real return (returns adjusted for inflation). International funds beat indexers, too, but those data only go back to 1991.
Even more significant, the actively managed funds produced these gains with less volatility, indicating they didn't goose performance by making riskier bets. While managers beat indexers in only 11 years of the 27, that rose to 18 years when returns were risk-adjusted. But the study is not a ringing endorsement for actively managed funds. According to the text, the authors chose Vanguard's active funds because they wanted to see if managers can add value if their costs are low enough. Vanguard's managed equity funds have an average expense ratio of 0.42%, compared with the 1.58% industry average.