Like most places in California, the hot topic around the water cooler at our office is the rising cost of gasoline. We have seen a drastic increase in gas prices over the past several months and we haven't even reached the summer yet. There has also been talk of premium unleaded costing three bucks by the time summer exits. Thank god my commuter is a Miata (stop laughing) and it gets a gas-sipping 30 miles a gallon on the highway, unlike my other four vehicles, which are only able to muster 20 or so miles per gallon. Keeping them in top shape is a major priority. As many of you might already know, a well maintained vehicle not only saves you money at the pump but can also increase performance. Everyday commuters can easily perform some of these tips while some require skills and specialized technical equipment. We will rate each task on a one to 10 scale so you can decide for yourself whether you can perform these tasks or if you should have a hired mechanic perform them for you.

1 One of the easiest and simplest preventative steps you can take is checking tire pressure. If a vehicle's tire is not inflated to the proper specifications, it can cause additional drag on asphalt, slowing the vehicle down. Not only can the situation waste gas, but it may also lead to hazardous driving conditions. First check the manufacturers pressure rating on the tire's sidewall. It should read something like "maximum tire pressure xx". With that information, inflate the tire pressure of all four tires to two or three psi below the maximum pressure. Never inflate the tire past the maximum pressure! Difficulty: 2

2 If you love your car you must be religious, not it the sense of believing in God, but religious in the sense of changing your oil. Oil and filter changes should occur every 3000 miles or even more frequently depending on driving conditions. Changing your oil can be as easy as going to the nearest Jiffy Lube or similar establishments. If you are a do-it-yourselfer it can be as cheap as $10 if you buy all the parts from your local parts store. Dirty old oil can easily turn into sludge, hindering moving parts from moving freely, causing performance loss, poor fuel economy and increased wear. Difficulty: 1 or 3 for the do-it-yourselfer.

3 Another cheap upgrade is your spark plugs. Not necessarily with high performance exotic alloy units, but just new factory replacements. An average conventional spark plug has a lifespan of about 30,000 miles. Anything past 30,000 miles, and the spark plugs electrode has probably worn off. Spark plugs should be checked every 10,000 miles for wear on the electrode and if needed, replaced with new ones. Difficulty:: 2 to 4 depending on vehicle.