20 ways to improve your car’s fuel efficiency

Tips to improve car fuel efficiency
Tips to improve car fuel efficiency

If you’re concerned about the price of gas or want to minimize the impact of your driving on the environment, you don’t have to scrap your car for a hybrid or a subcompact econo-box.

Did you know that a vehicle can burn up to 30 per cent more fuel if proper maintenance is not performed on a regular schedule? We all know the importance of regular car maintenance, but for many reasons, we just don’t do it often enough.

I am asked more questions about fuel economy than any other topic. Short of becoming a “hyper-miler,” these tips will help you use every last drop of fuel you pour into your tank.

Here are 20 ways to improve your car’s fuel efficiency:

  1. Check your tire pressure at least once a month. Under-inflated tires burn more fuel. If tires are 8 pounds under inflated, (not an uncommon condition), rolling resistance of the tires increases by 5 per cent.
  2. At the pump, keep the hose in the tank until after the pump shuts off and make sure you allow all the fuel to pour out of the nozzle. As much as a quarter of a cup can pour from the hose. It’s yours, you paid for it.
  3. When appropriate, use your cruise control. This can save you up to 6 per cent in fuel consumption on the highway.
  4. Corroded battery cables cause the alternator to work harder, using more gas. Have them cleaned as a matter of course with each engine check-up.
  5. Don’t let the vehicle idle for more than a minute. Idling consumes half-a-gallon to one gallon of gas per hour and pumps needless CO2 into the atmosphere. The modern engine will consume less fuel turning off and re-starting than idling for extended periods. We are already being faced with no-idle zones. Also, to effectively warm an engine, drive it, don’t rev it. Engines only work hard under load and will warm up much quicker if you simply start the engine, wait for 20 seconds, (this builds the oil pressure,) and drive away.
  6. Change the air filter at least the set number of times outlined in the owners manual, more if you drive in dusty conditions.
  7. Have a regular engine check-up. Since the advent of computer controlled fuel injection, there is no such thing as an old fashioned “tune-up” any more. At worst, you may be expected to replace spark plugs, oxygen sensor, the air and fuel filters.
  8. If your car was built since the mid-1980s, chances are it has an oxygen sensor in its exhaust system. It should be replaced just as you would spark plugs, following the manufacturer’s recommendations. This little device trims the fuel delivery and has a profound effect on fuel economy in the process.
  9. Driving in the highest gear possible without labouring the engine is a fuel-efficient way of driving. Driving at 60 km/h, a vehicle will use 25 per cent more fuel in third gear than it would in fifth. Travelling at fast rates in low gears can consume up to 45 per cent more fuel than is needed. If you have an onboard trip computer, you probably have an “Instant fuel economy” setting. Watch this gauge and keep the litres per 100 kilometres as low as you can. The manufacturers have turned this into a bit of a game. The new Ford Fusion Hybrid has a leafy graphic display that sprouts leafs each time you reach a fuel economy milestone. I had the opportunity to drive one and each time we pulled into the driveway, my son would ask “How many leaves on the tree, Dad”?
  10. Think ahead: Drive smoothly. By applying light throttle and avoiding heavy braking, you can reduce both fuel consumption and wear and tear. Research suggests driving techniques can influence fuel efficiency by as much as 30 per cent.
  11. Lighten your load. Think carefully about what you need on a journey. If you do not need something, do not pack it. Remove roof racks if not needed, as they create wind drag. The lighter the load, the lower the fuel consumption and emissions. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk reduces a typical car’s fuel economy by 1 to 2 per cent. Carrying excess weight wastes gas.
  12. Choose the right octane gas for your car. Check the owner’s manual to find out what octane your engine needs. Octane ratings measure gasoline’s ability to resist engine knock. But the higher the octane, the higher the price. Only about 6 per cent of cars sold need premium gas. Still, premium gas accounts for about 10 per cent of all gas sold. Resist the urge to buy higher octane gas for “premium” performance.
  13. Combining errands into one trip saves you time and money. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm. Trip planning ensures that travelling is done when the engine is warmed-up and efficient.
  14. You can improve your gas mileage by one to two per cent by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil. For example, using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed to use 5W-30 can lower your gas mileage by one to two per cent. Thicker oil is harder to pump. This adds to parasitic horsepower loses.
  15. Avoid “revving” the engine, especially just before you switch the engine off; this wastes fuel needlessly and washes oil down from inside the cylinder walls. This is really bad thing for the next start up, as the cylinder walls will be dry.
  16. Drive steadily. Slowing down or speeding up wastes fuel. Also avoid tailgating. Not only is it unsafe, but if affects your economy if the other driver slows down unexpectedly.
  17. Do not rest your left foot on the brake pedal while driving. The slightest pressure puts “mechanical drag” on components, wearing them down prematurely. This “dragging” also demands additional fuel usage to overcome the drag.
  18. Avoid rough roads whenever possible, because dirt or gravel can rob you of up to 30 per cent of your gas mileage. Every time the wheels bounce up and down, forward motion energy is removed from the vehicle. The best way I can describe this is to experience driving on a “washboard” road. Not only is it very uncomfortable, the vehicle will actually slow down from the transfer of energy – and you thought physics classes would have no application later in life! This causes the driver to apply more throttle – wasted fuel.
  19. Inspect suspension and chassis parts for misalignment. Bent wheels, axles, worn shocks, and broken springs can contribute to drivetrain drag, not to mention the unsafe condition they create.
  20. SUV owners should consider switching from an aggressive patterned off-road tread to a fuel efficient highway tread.

These are some of my observations and some of my responses to many questions about fuel economy. I’m sure you have your own and I would invite everyone that reads this to add their experiences on the comments tab of this story. And yes, this includes you hyper-milers out there.

One way you may be losing fuel economy that has nothing to do with tire pressure or tune ups

Will we ever share Europeans’ taste for premium-priced small cars? Fuel prices will be the determining factor. If they remain at current levels or even drop, then the push to small vehicles with European roots might be a flop.