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By Paul Williams

There’s no doubt that rising fuel prices have got the attention of consumers. In Canada, we’ve never seen prices this high, and it’s causing some drivers to trade in their trucks and big SUVs (if they can…) and purchase more fuel efficient vehicles.

Indeed, choosing a fuel efficient vehicle (which may not necessarily be a small vehicle, but could be a particularly fuel efficient vehicle within a specific category) is one of the two key things that consumers can do to reduce their fuel costs.

The other is to drive fuel efficiently.

But what is “fuel efficient” driving? Does it mean you have to crawl around at Sunday-drive speeds? Are you going to impede other traffic? Maybe you’ll be a danger on the road…

Not at all: what we mean by “fuel efficient” driving is a combination of smooth driving techniques. Drive close to the speed limit, for example; use a light foot on the accelerator when increasing speed; pace yourself to avoid coming to a full stop at red lights; avoid “jackrabbit” starts, and if possible, plan your daily commute to reduce the frequency of stop signs or lights on your way.

Specifically, here are some other techniques that you can employ to reduce your vehicle’s fuel consumption:

Reduce engine load

A key factor in reducing fuel consumption is the load placed on your vehicle’s engine. Reduce the load, and you’ll reduce the fuel it requires. In practice, this means adopting a smooth and even driving style. Rapid acceleration uses considerably more fuel; moderate acceleration uses less fuel. So-called “jackrabbit” starts from one stoplight to the next equate to a two-to-four per cent time saving in an hour, but a 37 per cent increase in fuel consumption, according to a study referenced by Natural Resources Canada. In short: accelerate smoothly, brake in good time, and try to maintain an even speed on route.

Reduce unnecessary weight

Reduce unnecessary weight in or on your vehicle (this also reduces the load on your vehicle’s engine). For example, clean off the snow and ice in the winter (it can be very heavy; why transport it?). Remove unnecessary items from the trunk and passenger area. A 50-kilogram reduction in weight equates to another one-to-two percent fuel savings (it all adds up!).

Avoid unnecessary idling

Except when driving in traffic, turn off your vehicle when waiting for extended periods of time (turn on the radio; chill to music rather than the air conditioner!).

Drive at moderate speeds on the highway

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an increase in speed from 110 to 125 km/h burns 15 per cent more fuel; a decrease in speed from 110 to 90 km/h uses 15 per cent less fuel. To achieve the latter, try using an alternative, two-lane highway route on longer trips. An added bonus is that two-lane highways are often less travelled, more scenic, and can be more fun to drive than superhighways.

Consider a block heater in winter

Set it to turn on two hours before you plan to use the car. You’ll find the interior of your car will warm up very quickly after you start the engine, eliminating the need for an auto-starter and saving fuel.

Maintain proper tire pressure

According to the Rubber Association of Canada, under-inflated tires can add one- to three per cent to your fuel costs (or three weeks worth of driving per year). Check your tire pressure monthly. Do so when the tires are cold (before driving, in other words), and set them to the factory recommended pressure. You can find the correct pressure in the vehicle’s operating manual, or on the plate on the door jamb. Note that the correct pressure for your car IS NOT the maximum pressure identified on the tire.

Engine condition and air filter

Keep your vehicle’s engine in good condition. A key component is the air filter, an inexpensive part that can increase fuel consumption by up to 10 per cent if clogged. It’s a simple fix.

It turns out, though, that “fuel efficient” driving in the city is often hard to practice. Too many stop signs and uncoordinated traffic lights mean that you’re continuously stopping and starting (increasing the load on the engine). More traffic circles at intersections would help, so you don’t always have to stop. And wouldn’t it be great if the lights would reliably turn green as you approach them? You can sometimes time your arrival at a green light. If you see a red light a few blocks ahead, and it’s safe to do so, simply take your foot off the gas and begin a slow deceleration. Often the light will have turned green by the time you arrive, obviating the need to come to a full stop.

At Autos, we’ve found that a fuel efficient driving style can save you money, and won’t significantly delay you. It’s also a stress reducer, so there’s an added bonus.

We challenge you to adopt a fuel efficient driving style. We’re certain you’ll see results.

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