by Jim Kerr

The cost of fuel for your automobile has increased in leaps and bounds since the 1950′ and 1960’s. Even so, our fuel cost today is cheap when compared to some European countries where fuel is over $2.00 a litre. As we approach the coming year, fuel costs will likely continue to increase due to the limited world oil reserves available. Here are a few tips to help you conserve the fuel you use and decrease your automobile operating costs.

One of the best methods of conserving fuel is to buy a new fuel efficient car. A car’s fuel economy is determined by several factors. One of them is the vehicle’s coefficient of drag (Cd). The easier air can flow around the body shape, the better your fuel economy. Cd ratings are often supplied by the manufacturers. Lower Cd ratings indicate less air resistance.

Along with the Cd rating, check out the frontal area of the vehicle. This is the size of the vehicle when viewed from the front. A car with a large frontal area and a low Cd rating will still have more air resistance than a car with a small frontal area and a slightly higher Cd rating. Think small when buying fuel efficient cars!

Small cars weigh less and have smaller engines. Lighter cars use less fuel getting the vehicle up to driving speed and smaller engines require less fuel to operate. Again, think small and light.

Buying a new car is not an option for some drivers but they too can increase their fuel economy. Here are a few “no cost” methods of improving your fuel economy.

Have you ever noticed that you seem to use less fuel when you are “checking” the mileage? This happens because most drivers modify their driving habits during this driving period. Drive the car as if there was a raw egg placed between the accelerator pedal and your foot. Accelerate gently; sudden acceleration from a stop can use up to four times more fuel.

Keep your distance when driving in city traffic. Every time you use the brakes also means you have to accelerate again. Try to keep the vehicle at a steady speed to increase fuel economy.

Shift the transmission into a higher gear as soon as possible. Staying in low gear too long can use up to 30% more fuel. If your car has an automatic transmission, you can allow the transmission to shift earlier by slightly decreasing the pressure on the accelerator pedal for a few seconds.

Fuel economy can be increased when driving over hills by keeping a constant pressure on the accelerator pedal. Permit the car to slow when driving up a hill and speed up slightly when going down a hill. The use of cruise control (which maintains a constant car speed) will decrease fuel economy when driving over hills.

Keep your speed down. Decreasing your speed from 110 kph to 90 kph will give you a 10% increase in fuel economy. Your chances of getting a speeding ticket are also improved!

Turn off accessories when not required. Any electrical accessory turned on puts extra load on the car’s alternator, which in turn is driven by the engine. Turn off the air conditioner when not required. Around town, open a window or use the fresh air vents. When driving on the highway, better fuel economy is obtained by closing the windows (less air drag) and using the air conditioner. If the outside air is near room temperature, again turn off the air conditioner and use the fresh air vents to cool the interior.

Remove all unnecessary weight from the vehicle. This includes the sandbags in the trunk. Extra weight in the vehicle requires more fuel to accelerate to driving speed.

Check your tire pressure regularly. Low tire pressure increases the rolling resistance of the vehicle and uses more fuel. The correct tire pressure for your vehicle should be listed on a sticker in the glove compartment or on the driver’s door jamb. The maximum tire pressure for a tire is embossed on the tire’s sidewall, but using this pressure may increase tire wear on some vehicles. Use the car manufacturer’s recommendations.

Once all the “no cost” methods of increasing your fuel economy have been mastered, there are a few “low cost” means of improving fuel economy. Have the engine’s spark plugs changed at the manufacturer’s recommended mileage. The change interval should be listed on a chart in the owners manual or can be supplied by the dealer. A single misfiring spark plug can cut your fuel economy by 10%, so for every 1000 kilometres you drive you pay for fuel for another 100 kilometres that you have not driven.

Have the rest of the ignition system checked by a repair shop. A poor spark plug wire or distributor cap could cause the same decrease in fuel economy as a misfiring spark plug.

The thermostat plays an important part in obtaining good fuel economy. Temperature sensors on the engine tell the fuel injection computer to inject more fuel when the engine is cold. A faulty thermostat will prevent the engine from reaching normal operating temperature so extra fuel is always being injected. If the temperature gauge is reading low or the car heater is not putting out hot air, have the thermostat checked immediately. Your fuel economy will increase.

Have the wheel alignment checked on your vehicle. A four wheel alignment will ensure the vehicle tracks straight down the road and the tires are pointed straight ahead. This decreases rolling resistance and improves fuel economy.

While the alignment is checked, have the technician check the brakes for drag. A seized or binding brake caliper has the same effect as you driving with your foot on the brake. Fuel economy drops instantly. The wheels should turn freely after the initial first two turns. If there is still resistance, the brakes should be checked.

Finally, keep engine warm-up time to a minimum. With the engine running and the car not moving, your fuel mileage is Zero. The engine requires only a minute of time to lubricate all moving parts before it can be driven; then use light throttle until the engine has warmed up completely.

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