By Allison Linn Senior writer
updated 5/26/2011 11:17:16 AM ET 2011-05-26T15:17:16

Memorial Day is fast approaching, and that means it’s time for millions of Americans to hit the road.

The American Automobile Association estimates that about 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday weekend, and the vast majority will do so by car.

Story: 9 great getaways to celebrate Memorial Day

Americans love to drive, but thought of a road trip, or even a commute to work, may not seem so appealing these days, with gas hovering around $4 a gallon in some states. AAA found that 4 in 10 drivers are altering their plans in some way because of high gas prices.

We can’t all just go out and buy a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle, and there are no silver bullets when it comes to saving on gas. Still, experts say there are some ways you can get the most mileage out of the car you have.

Here are some tips.

No junk in the trunk: It’s one thing to toss a few grocery bags and your gym stuff in the back of your car, but quite another to haul around a cooler, a tool chest and a year’s supply of water. An extra 100 pounds can reduce your miles per gallon by up to 2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That roof rack isn’t going to help your fuel efficiency, either.

Skip the drive-through: If you routinely get a pick-me-up on the way to work, experts recommend that you park your car and walk into the coffee shop instead of waiting in the drive-through line. Chevrolet tested the theory using its Chevy Cruze and found that the person who waited 15 minutes in the drive-through line for a cup of coffee used an extra quarter gallon of gas, adding as much as $1 to the cost of that coffee splurge.

Is it cheaper to fly or to drive?

Keep your cool: Yes, we know you’re in a hurry to get home, or to the next stop on your family vacation. Experts say that driving aggressively by accelerating fast, then hitting the brakes, is a drag on fuel economy, especially on the highway. The Department of Energy says driving sensibly can reduce your gas bill by a modest 5 percent around town, but up to 33 percent on the highway.

Use cruise control: Just as aggressive driving can reduce your gas mileage, so can constant fluctuations in your speed. Experts recommend trying to maintain the same speed for maximum efficiency.

Follow the speed limit: Yes, we all have a need for speed sometimes, but driving over 60 miles per hour will cost you. If you are paying $3.96 per gallon, the Department of Energy estimates that every five miles per hour over 60 will cost you 24 cents per gallon in gas.

Plan your driving: Whether it’s bundling a few errands into one or finding the quickest way across the state on vacation, you can save a lot by just planning better. Chevrolet notes that cold engines are less efficient than ones running at operational temperature, so it’s not just the reduction in miles that makes it worthwhile to combine a few trips into one

Shop around: Saving on gas starts at the pump. AAA has a free mobile app, TripTik, that shows you where the nearest gas stations are and what they are charging for gas. That’s one way to make sure you’re getting the most gas for your dollar.

Check the tires: Make sure your tires have the proper pressure. The Department of Energy says proper tire inflation can improve fuel efficiency by as much as 3 percent. You can also get better gas mileage if your car is properly tuned and you use the correct grade of oil.

Don’t drive, or at least share the car you do drive:The guys at Car Talk note that a great way to save on gas is to walk or bike short distances, take public transportation when you can or work at home when possible. If you have to drive, try to carpool.

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Video: Paying too much at the pump? Try these tips

  1. Closed captioning of: Paying too much at the pump? Try these tips

    >> very much. this morning on "today's consumer," we are talking about saving money on gasoline. the memorial day weekend kicks off the summer driving season. unfortunatelile gy gas prices are a dollar more per gallon than they were this year at the same time. kevin tibbless conducted an experiment to see if making little changes in the way you drive can save you big money .

    >> reporter: when i get behind the wheel i admit sometimes i'm an angel. and sometimes i'm not. go on, pass me. do it. turns out some of my bad habits are costing me money. to see how much i was wasting, i challenged myself to a little competition.

    >> reporter: driving two identical chevy cruises, i set out on the same 20-mile route from the leafy burbs to wrigley field in the heart of chicago . ready, set, go. but wait, how about a cup of joe for the road? did you know for every 15 minutes your car idles you burn a quarter of a gallon of gas so the $2 coffee just cost you $3. skip the drive-thru. you're better off parking and going in. okay. back on the road. i've got to get downtown. cruising speed, 70. but at 60, i can save four miles per gallon . at 50, another four miles per gallon . yeah, but i'm not that good. pedal to the metal . wait. traffic. this is chicago , after all. but when it comes to fuel efficiency , if you're hard on gas and hard on the brakes. [ tires screeching ]

    >> reporter: you will end up losing money. did i mention the junk in my trunk? yeah, that one. if you use your trunk as a storage unit you're wasting gas. for every 100 pounds of weight you reduce fuel efficiency by 2%. i'm cruising now and showing my support for the home team. turns out a third of the fuel is used to overcome wind resistance . even little flags have a big impact on efficiency. i make good time, but how about the mileage?

    >> 24 miles per gallon . that's not a lot.

    >> no. that's driving aggressively, going way over the speed limit . carrying extra weight and tire pressure down. absolutely, not the greatest.

    >> reporter: with the help of my pit crew , proper tire pressure , my load lighter, steady on the pedal and divine guidance to help me avoid my bad habits . just call me angel of the morning baby

    >> reporter: i took to the road a second time to see just how much gas i could save. this time, over 36 miles per gallon . that's a savings of $70 per month, $840 a year. that will get me three prime seats at wrigley. for "today," kevin tibbles, nbc news, chicago .

    >> today the federal government is unveiling new fuel economy labels you will see soon on new cars. ray la hood is the secretary of transportation. great to have you here. good morning. $3.81 is the average for a gallon of gas now. how much pressure on the administration to get it down?

    >> gas prices are killing family budgets. the president gets it. this is part of the president's plan -- the new label -- to help people save money at the pump. these gas prices are killing people. the president gets it. this is part of our plan here.

    >> this new sticker looks different. we'll see these on 2013 model years. jump in. tell me what's different about the label.

    >> it's easy to understand. it tells you immediately what kind of miles per gallon you will get, how much you will save over five years and the annual cost. you can quickly read if you have a smartphone, you click on this little thing here and you can also see how much you can save over a long period of time.

    >> you want consumers to make smarter choices.

    >> absolutely.

    >> this is the ford focus ?

    >> that's the focus.

    >> now a look at this car that's electric and gasoline, the chevy volt . look how it jumps up.

    >> absolutely. people are looking at opportunities for hybrid cars . the volt is a hot-selling car because people can save a lot of gasoline. this tells them the equivalent of using an electric powered car, how much they will save.

    >> how did the auto industry feel about this?

    >> they're coming along, matt. they understand people want to know how much they can save and they want to advertise that. these new stickerers really tell people quickly how much they are going to save. either electricity or on gasoline.

    >> when you look at the numbers, these are great. you want people to buy the cars. but when gas prices are higher there is interest in cars like these and when the price goes down the interest wanes?

    >> le while prices are as high as they are and with summer coming on we want people to have this opportunity. the president understands high gas prices are killing budgets. this is part of the president's plan to give people the option.

    >> and you will start to see these stickers on 2013 model year cars. thank you, mr. secretary. great to have you here. thank you very much.

    >> thank you.

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