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Let's visit the topic of vehicular fuel economy. It's not realistic to believe that the cost of a gallon of gas is going to markedly decrease, given the politics and economics of the world's available supply of petroleum. This feature won't cover alternative fuels, hybrids, water or compressed air cars; we'll hit common sense stuff you can do to stretch your mileage. Admittedly, some of the items are not in the "gee whiz" category, but every little bit helps, right?

Francesca Clark, in her excellent post, covered a number of tips; I'd like to explore a couple of those in depth and add several more that are (perhaps) off-beat or not generally considered when thinking about saving fuel in your daily drive.

But first, the gallery!

  • Don't idle your engine excessively -- a no-brainer; if you are stopped in heavy traffic, you are getting zero miles per gallon; if I am going to be stopped more than 60 seconds, I shut the engine off.
  • Cruise control -- if you've got it, use it on flat ground (if you drive a bunch in hilly country, the cruise will cause excess fuel use trying to maintain your selected speed); it prevents the engine from "hunting" to find the appropriate engine speed versus road speed; same goes for automatic overdrive, keeping the engine speed lower versus road speed.
  • Don't drive excessively fast; we know (intuitively) that high speed driving uses extra fuel; aerodynamic drag is a major cause of excess fuel use. About 50-60% of engine power, at highway speeds, is used to overcome drag; it increases, roughly, at the square of the vehicle speed.
  • "Time" your traffic lights; on my long trips, I try to slow down enough such that I don't come to a complete stop at a light; the downside here is that you tend to irritate the folks behind you, who want to rush to the light to use their PDA's or engage in mindless chatter on a cellphone.
  • Trucks: several things. There has been much discussion about whether or not to leave your tailgate up or down -- even the Mythbusters hit this one; leave it up, according to a number of folks. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but facts are facts (I'm guessing the folks who make tail gate nets are not too happy with Adam and Jamie); tonneau covers reduce drag, also.
  • Roof racks are a great convenience for trips, but aerodynamically, they are a real drag; at least get one of those babies that is streamlined, and remove it after your trip.
  • Fuel economy is significantly affected by the weight of the vehicle (other things -- horsepower, for example -- being equal) so lets take a look at that. If you live in the northern climes and your vehicle is subject to snow and ice loading, or you tend to keep a bunch of junk in your car or truck, or you have a van that has extra back seats that are never used, clean them out. Gasoline is heavy (about 6 pounds per gallon); if feasible, only fill your tank half full each time; if you have a 30 gallon tank, the last 15 gallons costs you about 90 pounds of dead weight, although you gradually burn it off.
  • Another significant factor in reduced fuel economy is rolling friction. Examples of this causing fuel waste are: four wheel drive engaged when not required; poor wheel alignment, where the tires are not pointing straight ahead when under load; improper inflation; brakes dragging; worn or improperly lubricated driveline components.
  • Engine and driveline friction decrease your fuel economy; using "energy conserving" oils, keeping the engine and driveline fluids clean, and warming your vehicle properly (especially in cold weather) will all stretch your fuel mileage.

OK -- there you have it; I've done my best to enumerate some (certainly not all) of the tips to help you keep your bucks in your pocket. It's up to you now.

  • jason.schlauch

    Constantly turning off and starting your car can be hard on the battery and/or alternator.

    You can also increase mileage by replacing the intake air filter periodically. On most cars this is an easy DIY job. You don't need to invest in the expensive "performance" filters -- just grab a few Fram filters from the auto parts store and change them yourself whenever you get your oil changed.

  • Bill Volk

    Jason-thanks for your comment. Francesca's post covered, very well, the usual maintenance tips, so I skipped over that. Your point is well taken about the tradeoff between conserving fuel and wearing out the critical elements of the starting system; it's something that the individual owner will have to consider; the age of the vehicle is likely the biggest determinant in which of the fuel-saving steps you want to use.

  • phez

    The best advice you can give anyone is to invest in some time learning some advanced driving - ie, gears. Gears are perhaps the worst culprit in driving mileage, and you can drastically improve your MPG with some simple knowledge about your vehicle. It doesn't matter if it's automatic or manual.

    I'm assuming guides like these are probably for people who drive automatics anyways, so let's focus on that. Essentially, most modern cars are electronically controlled to change gears at certain speeds. For example, my van goes into its last gear at 61km/h. What you need to do is to reach that speed and shift your vehicle into the higher gear. The higher gear means less fuel usage. For analogy sake: let's say you're using 1 "unit" of fuel per RPM. If you're driving at 59km/h, and your engine is running at 2000 RPM, you're using 2000 "units" of fuel at that RPM. If you reach the specific gear speed, your engine will shift and your RPMs drop to say 1100. Now you're saving 900 of those 'units'.

    Imagine the fuel saved in an average surburban drive if you just stick to lower RPMs?

  • Bill Volk

    phez--thanks for your comment; I couldn't agree more. I have found, with my vehicles, that if I can keep the engine rpm below 2000, I get markedly better mileage.

  • jedd

    thanks for the tips in there. based on experience, i can save fuel through my driving techniques. and glad you had mention that tip in your post. keep up the good work! loved the article, so timely.

  • carwaterguide

    it's has review many sites like gas for free,run your car on water etc.

    You can truly get better mileage......

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