Getting Buff Could Save You Pain at the Pump

Losing a few pounds could mean a smaller waistline and fewer trips to the gas station

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Want to save some pennies at the pump? Then hit the treadmill and you'll be pulling into the pump less often, making your wallet and waistline happy.

According to a recent report from Cars.com, between 1960 and 2002, America's battle with the bulge has added an additional 1 billion gallons of gasoline usage a year. With gas prices flirting with $4 per gallon recently, excess fuel consumption due to increasing passenger weight and other factors has squeezed already tight consumer budgets.

For automakers it's a tough situation. Federal mandates requiring better fuel efficiency along with heightened consumer demand for cars with great gas mileage has pushed car companies to streamline passenger vehicles to decrease weight and drag.

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All sorts of technology, from the type of materials used to build a car — lighter high-strength steel and aluminum — to various electronic systems that optimize fuel usage, has been incorporated into today's vehicles with the express purpose of increasing fuel economy.

But many of those benefits are lost as the ranks of America's obese grow, now one-third of U.S. adults, the Cars.com report points out. For every 100 pounds of extra weight, vehicles lose about a mile per gallon in fuel economy. Compounding that is the greater likelihood that heavier individuals drive larger cars, many of which burn more gas and potentially require more frequent, and expensive, fill-ups.

All that extra weight amounts to about 39 million gallons of extra fuel for every pound gained in average passenger weight every year, according to the report and given the high gas prices recently, that's no small figure when it comes to how much consumers pay.

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Increased gasoline use also has broader implications when it comes to the nation's energy independence.

"It's more about the aggregate," says Patrick Olsen, editor-in-chief at Cars.com. "As our country has gotten heavier, every one pound we add on costs us 39 million gallons of fuel. If we're talking about fuel independence, that's a big issue."

But it's not just heftier passengers that could be cutting into gas mileage. Additional weight from that case of water you bought at Costco three months ago or your kids' sports equipment could be impacting your car's fuel efficiency.

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"Weight in a car is proven to affect your fuel economy whether it's the stuff you're carrying around in your trunk or the weight of your passengers," says Brandy Schaffels, senior editor at TrueCar.com.

One thing that weighs nothing at all and could help you get better gas mileage? Air. In your tires that is.

"That does a lot to improve fuel efficiency," Schaffels adds.

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Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.