by Jim Kerr
Gasoline prices always seem to rise in summer, just as more frequent trips to the lake or holidays are planned. There are many ways to lower those fuel bills, and most of them require little effort on our part.
One of the best methods of conserving fuel is to buy a new fuel- efficient vehicle. Hybrids, diesels or small cars like the Smart Fortwo can quickly shave those fuel bills. Aerodynamics are also much better on many newer vehicles – underbody shielding and front air dams reduce wind drag. Perhaps you are not in a position to buy a newer vehicle. There are still many other things you can do.
Reduce the rolling resistance of your current vehicle. Running boards, visors, and roof racks all create considerable drag. Ever see a sports car with running boards? Not likely. The extra drag uses more power and fuel to move the car down the road. If you already have these on your vehicle, consider removing them.
Add an air dam to the front of your vehicle, or repair the existing one. Many vehicles have small plastic air dams below the front bumper and these are often damaged on curbs during parking. They may be small, but prevent a lot of air from flowing below the vehicle, reducing air drag on exposed suspension and frame components.
Remove roof rack crossbars when not using them and pack gear inside the vehicle if possible. Suitcases, bags and bicycles on the tops of vehicles are terrible for increasing drag. Sometimes it may not be possible to put everything inside. A streamlined car top carrier is better than hauling irregular, drag inducing objects on top.
Pump up those tires. 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. Using this pressure will increase economy but may increase tire wear on some vehicles. I generally use the car manufacturer’s recommendations and check those tire pressures regularly.
Clean out that trunk. This includes the sandbags from last winter. Extra weight in the vehicle requires more fuel to accelerate to driving speed. Lighter cars use less fuel and are easier on the brakes too. Think light.
Watch your speed. Decreasing your speed from 110 kph to 90 kph will give you a 10% increase in 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 and shift to a higher gear as soon as possible to increase 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 owner’s manual or can be supplied by the dealer. A single misfiring spark plug can cut your fuel economy by 10%. For every 1000 kilometres you drive, you are paying for fuel for another 100 kilometres that you have not driven.
Check that wheel alignment. 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.
Finally, keep idle time to a minimum. Letting the car interior cool down in summer or warm up in winter is nice, but wastes a lot of fuel. Up to 15% fuel economy savings are realized by the new ‘autostop’ features on some hybrid vehicles that turn off the gas engine when the vehicle is stopped. You can also see some savings by turning off the engine if you have to wait for more than a couple minutes.
Improving fuel economy is like putting money in the bank and most improvements can be made with only a little effort.