How to drive your car the most efficiently
Probably the best way to drive and have the highest energy efficiency is to have either a hybrid or alternative fuel car. But for those of us that can't afford to replace our car right now, there are a number of ways we can improve our fuel economy and, thus, drive a lot more efficiently.
Following are 10 tips to help get the most out of your tank of fuel:
- Speed Limit - All car makes have different optimum speeds for fuel economy, but across the board, they all begin to decrease rapidly once you are going faster than 60 mph (about 95 km/h). For each 10 mph that you slow down, you can increase your miles per gallon by 5. So, it is definitely worth sticking to the speed limit, or even driving a bit slower.
- Cruise Control - If you are driving on the highway and have cruise control available, you should use it. Cruise control maintains a constant speed and thus will help you save gas. Also, if you are prone to driving a bit faster, by setting your cruise control, you can set your speed a bit lower and benefit from that gas saving strategy too.
- Acceleration / Deceleration - When accelerating, do so gradually. Stomping the gas pedal at every traffic light or stop sign causes your engine to suck fuel to meet the heavy load you are putting on it. A more gradual approach can significantly improve fuel economy. Let off the gas well before a stop sign or traffic light and allow yourself to coast to a stop while gently applying the brake. Accelerating all the way to the stop and then slamming on the brakes not only wastes gas, it uses up your brake pads more quickly.
- Excess Weight - Remove any excess weight from your car, particularly heavy items. An extra 100 lbs of weight can decrease your gas mileage by up to 2%. While a roof rack or carrier provides additional cargo space and may allow you to meet your needs with a smaller car when you are traveling, a loaded roof rack can decrease your fuel economy by 5 percent. Reduce aerodynamic drag and improve your fuel economy by placing items inside the trunk whenever possible. This affects smaller cars more than larger cars, as the excess weight is relative to the weight of the car.
- Air Conditioning - Generally, if you are driving under 40 mph, it is more fuel efficient to turn off the air conditioner and roll down the windows. Above 40 mph, however, the drag on your car created by the open windows causes you to use more gas, so turning on the air conditioning will actually improve your fuel economy.
- Idling - When you are idling, you are getting 0 miles to the gallon. It is a myth that turning your car off and on will affect the engine, so you are better off turning off the car instead of sitting at an idle. If you live in a colder area, investigate block heaters instead of running your car for 5, 10, 15 minutes in the morning! Typically, larger cars waste more gas at idle than smaller cars, but whatever you are driving, this is still a waste of gas.
- Tire Inflation - Make sure you keep your tires properly inflated at all times. This not only lengthens the life of the tire and is safer, it will help your fuel economy. By and large, the standard inflation for most car tires is 35 pounds per square inch (PSI). Some mechanics may recommend inflating your tires to 30 PSI to improve riding comfort, which is true, but with gas prices the way they are the best thing to do is maintain proper inflation. Please make sure you check with either your tire dealer or the tire owner's manual for proper inflation instructions.
- Keep Your Engine Tuned - Fixing a car can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, though results vary based on the kind of repair and how well it is done. Check your owner's manual for the recommended life span of your vehicle's spark plugs, plug wires, and coils. In general, spark plugs should be changed every 55,000 - 75,000 miles and plug wires every 100,000 - 120,000 miles. If your engine idles very rough, or cuts out easily, have your mechanic check the coils. Also make sure to change out your vehicle's air and fuel filters regularly. All of these parts affect your vehicle's fuel economy. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent!
- Tire Rotation and Balance - Have your tires rotated every 5,000 miles. This not only improves their life span, but also causes them to wear evenly, meaning improved fuel economy because they ride more smoothly. Your tires should be balanced when they are first installed and shouldn't need to be balanced again. Regularly check for the wheel weights mounted on the rim of each tire on your vehicle. These will be oblong metal pieces clipped to the rim, one per tire. If you don't see one on your tire, ask your mechanic to balance the tires when he rotates them. Most tire dealers that sell you your new tires will rotate and balance those tires for free.
- Fuel and Motor Oil Grade - Many car models have a minimum octane requirement for fuel, so it is important to check your owner's manual. Using a lower octane fuel than what your vehicle has been designed for drastically reduces fuel economy. Also, it does not improve your gas mileage to use a higher octane fuel than the minimum requirement for your car. Also, you can improve your gas mileage by 1-2 percent 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 1-2 percent. Finally, look for motor oil that says "Energy Conserving" on the API performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives.