By Jim Kerr
As gas prices continue to climb – or should I say jump – drivers are becoming more frustrated at the cost of everyday driving. While public transportation or walking may be an option for a few of us, most of us are dependent upon our vehicles. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce fuel costs and some can be used right away.
The first tip is to check your tire pressures. An under-inflated tire has a higher rolling resistance and uses much more power from the engine. While the recommended tire pressures for your vehicle should be in the owner’s manual or on the door jamb decal, inflating them a couple PSI higher will help decrease rolling resistance. Unfortunately, higher pressures also may make the ride harsher and the tires may wear slightly more in the centre. Check the tires a minimum of once a month or more often if there are large changes in outside air temperature, and never inflate a tire more than the maximum shown on the tire sidewall. It could be dangerous.
A wheel alignment can also save fuel. Keeping the wheels pointed straight ahead reduces rolling resistance. A four-wheel alignment will ensure that the complete vehicle is pointed straight down the road. If your vehicle is sitting a little crooked because the rear wheels are not in alignment, then the side of the body creates more aerodynamic drag too. Make sure that any chin spoilers beneath the front of the car are in place. Many newer vehicles use a small lower shield to block air beneath the vehicle. This can be damaged by parking curbs or tough snow banks and under-car drag increases.
Remove running boards, windshield visors and other add-on equipment. They all create drag. However, if you drive on gravel or in mud, the running boards might be worthwhile. Trucks can benefit from reduced drag by using a box cover. Some are quickly removable so that the utility of the truck is not hampered.
Turn your engine off while the vehicle is stopped. Hybrid vehicles obtain some of their fuel economy improvements by stopping the engine as much as possible. You can too. If you must sit for longer than about 30 seconds, it is cheaper to turn the engine off and restart it rather than let it idle.
If your vehicle has been down the road quite a bit, it might be worth spending some money on a tune-up. One intermittently misfiring spark plug can decrease fuel economy dramatically even though the vehicle appears to be running fine. Check the spark plug wires too. High resistance in a plug wire can cause misfiring sparkplugs.
Poor heater performance is an indicator that your car is wasting fuel. One of the main inputs for determining fuel delivery is engine coolant temperature. If the engine’s thermostat is opening too soon, it takes longer for the engine to get up to operating temperature. You are wasting fuel all that time. Often, a new thermostat is all that is needed so the engine warms up quickly.
Changing driving habits has to be the easiest way of improving fuel economy. Combine trips when possible and if you have to stop at several places, organize so you have the shortest driving route. Avoid quick starts and if you have a manual transmission, shift to the next higher gear as soon as the engine will pull the vehicle smoothly. Avoid stopping unless it is required. Often you can coast up behind traffic and they will start moving before you have to stop. Anytime you use the brakes, you are converting energy in motion into wasted heat energy. Conserve that energy by keeping the vehicle rolling.
Lighter vehicles accelerate easier and therefore typically get better fuel economy. You can often reduce the weight of your vehicle by removing unnecessary items from the trunk. Do you really need that snow shovel or those sand bags? That winter survival gear you packed can go back in the house. Every pound helps.
Of course, there are more expensive ways to improve fuel economy. Buy a new small compact car. Convert to another fuel such as natural gas or propane. Drive a diesel. In the future, we may even have the option of using alcohol or hydrogen. One thing is for sure – costs will increase. The worldwide demand for fuel is increasing, especially in countries like India and China. The supply of oil is limited. Conserving fuel will save in the pocket book now and in the future.