In an age of electric cars and hybrids, the majority of us with ordinary gas-powered automobiles are becoming increasingly aware of the gas mileage our vehicles achieve. If your neighbor’s Prius gets 50 miles per gallon, it’s going to make you think twice about the 20 mpg you’re getting – and paying three dollars a gallon for – in your truck.
There are numerous advantages to a fuel-efficient car. First, it saves you time by reducing the number of trips required to the gas pump. Instead of stopping at a gas station every week, wouldn’t it be great to get 9 or 10 days between fill-ups?
Second, it saves you money. If a full tank of gas costs you $45, a very achievable 30% improvement in gas mileage can slash $540 off your annual fuel costs. Think about what you would do with $540 of found money.
Third, it’s so much better for the environment. The less gas we burn, the kinder we’re being to the environment and the less we’re contributing to climate change.
The good news is there are many things you can do to boost your car’s fuel economy without replacing it with a hybrid or electric vehicle.
Improve Fuel Efficiency by Maintaining Your Vehicle
The most obvious step anyone can take to improve their vehicle’s fuel economy is to maintain it properly. A poorly maintained car can suck up 30% more gas than one kept in tip-top running condition.
Here are some examples of proper maintenance:
- Bring your vehicle into the service station (or do the necessary checks outlined in the owner’s manual yourself) at the recommended intervals. Although these checkups may seem expensive and time-consuming, they pay off in the long run.
- Maintain proper air pressure in your tires. This is easy to do and doesn’t cost anything. Check your tire pressure once a month and fill them up if they are underinflated. A small reduction in tire pressure (as little as eight pounds per square inch) can increase road resistance by five percent and slash your fuel economy.
- Keep your battery cables clean. Corroded battery cables and posts put stress on the alternator. They can often be cleaned easily with some cola and a stiff toothbrush. The acid in ordinary cola neutralizes the buildup of lime on the cables and causes them to foam. Use the toothbrush to scrape it off.
(We don’t need to tell you not to brush your teeth with the toothbrush after using it on your engine, right?)
- Change the air filter at indicated intervals. More inexpensive and easy upkeep allows your car’s engine to run smoothly. When an air filter gets clogged, it restricts the critical supply of air to the engine, which requires air for the internal combustion process. Check your owner’s manual for guidance on how often to change the air filter.
- Check your wheel alignment. Most tire dealers will rotate your tires for free periodically to keep them from wearing unevenly. Uneven tire wear can cause the wheels to get out of alignment faster, which has a negative effect on gas mileage.
- Check your oxygen sensor. The oxygen sensors maintain the proper mixture of air and fuel to power the combustion process. When the mix is off, it reduces gas mileage as much as 20%. This is an often overlooked engine part, so make sure your mechanic inspects it when your car is being serviced if you aren’t doing it yourself.
- Clean your fuel system. Vehicles run better when their fuel systems are clean. When they clog, it prevents gas from flowing freely and powering the engine. The most common place for issues is the fuel injector nozzles, which can become coated with residue from leftover gas when the car is turned off and cooling. Water and impurities in the gasoline can also clog cylinders, fuel lines and fittings.
An easy way to deal with this problem is to add a bottle of the BlueDevil Complete Fuel System Cleaner into your gas tank that is half full or less. It removes fuel deposits while increasing vehicle performance, gas mileage and vehicle start-up.
Of course, proper maintenance has many other benefits besides good fuel economy. It reduces the number of necessary repairs and prevents costly and inconvenient breakdowns.
Other Ways to Increase Fuel Efficiency
In addition to proper maintenance, there are other things you can do on a daily basis to get the most out of every gallon.
Pump all the gas. How you fill up can have an impact on your gas mileage too. Make sure the pump is finished pumping before removing the hose from your gas tank, otherwise you will be paying for up to a quarter of a cup of gasoline that spills on the ground. You can even jiggle the pump before removing it from the tank, making sure every drop ends up in the vehicle and not polluting the ground.
Drive steady. Believe it or not, the way we drive can have a significant effect on the fuel economy of the vehicle. The steadier the speed and the closer to 50 miles per hour you drive, the better. Cars today are engineered to perform optimally at 50, and every 10 mph over that penalizes you about $0.50 of gas use. Using cruise control is a great way to ensure your car is operating at maximum efficiency. That alone can save up to six percent on fuel use.
Avoid gunning and stopping short. Stop and go driving is the opposite of driving steady. To the extent that you can, avoid idling for long periods, revving the engine or speeding up quickly and then stopping short. Cars today consume as much as a gallon of gas for every hour they are idling. Rapid acceleration and braking can rob as much as 40% of your vehicle’s gas mileage. That means a vehicle ordinarily sipping a gallon of gas for 30 miles can only travel 18 miles on a gallon in stop-and-go traffic.
Driving feedback devices have helped drivers improve their driving for fuel economy and boost their mileage by 10%.
Avoid junk in the trunk. Just as you must work harder to drag a heavy load, excess weight increases drag and places stress on your vehicle’s engine. For every hundred pounds added in the trunk, your car’s gas mileage dips by one percent on average, and even more in smaller cars.
Keep it aerodynamic. Placing items on your car, particularly on the roof, increases wind resistance and makes your engine work harder. How much harder? A large, flat-top cargo box on the roof creates so much drag that the engine must devour 25% more gas to move at interstate speeds. That takes a car getting 32 mpg highway down to 24 mpg and adds about $12 in fuel costs to a five-hour trip. Ouch!
Mind your left foot. Do you like to rest your left foot on the brake ever so slightly? Don’t! The brakes engage even with the slightest pressure and apply a bit of pressure on the wheels, causing drag and reducing your gas mileage.
Fuel Efficiency vs Fuel Economy
Why is fuel efficiency more telling than fuel economy? And what’s the difference anyway?
When we measure how far a vehicle travels on a relatively small amount of fuel, we talk about miles per gallon. That is fuel economy. It is the metric we all understand and the way we measure how far we can get on a given amount of gas.
Fuel economy tells us how much gas we are actually consuming. In many ways, it is more practical to measure our fuel economy.
That can be confusing, so let’s look at an example.
Suppose you’re driving from Chicago to Green Bay, or Dallas to Oklahoma City, or Memphis to Jackson, MS – each about 200 miles.
Let’s further suppose you’re driving a car that ordinarily gets 32 miles per gallon on the highway, but you have taken measures to optimize your car’s use of gas. You have serviced the vehicle just before the trip, kept the load light, driven in cruise control, and inflated the tires to their proper pressure before embarking on your road trip. The result? The car gets 40 miles per gallon.
Great, right? Instead of using six-and-a-quarter gallons of gas, you used five gallons and saved yourself $3.75. Go get yourself a gourmet cup of coffee and congratulate yourself for reducing your impact on the planet.
Traveling behind you in his truck, your brother-in-law is trying the same tactics in the hopes of saving some cash. His good habits improve his mileage from a gas-guzzling 10 miles-per-gallon to a still-miserable 15 mpg, a smaller difference than yours.
Ah, but his fuel efficiency has improved so much more than yours has. He reduced his gas purchases by almost seven gallons, saving himself twenty bucks. He can enjoy a full meal at Cracker Barrel, including the tip, and one-up you on his ability to reduce those greenhouse gases.
That is fuel efficiency, and it reveals much more about the fuel actually being consumed.