With fuel prices hovering near all-time highs throughout much of this year and everyone looking for ways to save money in their budgets, there are some simple and low-cost ways to make trips to the pump less frequent. Whether your car has 20,000 or 200,000 miles behind it, keeping it properly maintained will always help it perform better and use less fuel.
The heart of any car is the engine, and if it doesn’t pump effectively, it will have to work harder and be thirstier. The sophisticated computer control systems on newer engines are able to automatically compensate for current conditions by blending the ideal amount of gasoline or diesel with the incoming air and firing sparkplugs at the best time for clean, efficient operation. Unlike older vehicles with carburetors and distributor ignition systems, modern engines don’t need frequent timing adjustments or sparkplug replacement, but they only work properly when all of the sensors work properly. Fortunately, the electronic systems are smart enough to detect failed sensors and let the driver know through the “Check Engine” warning lamp.
When a failure has been detected, the control system switches over to default settings, which can lead to increased fuel consumption of up to 40 percent. Drivers should get any problems fixed as soon as possible; that warning light you’ve been ignoring for three months might not mean disaster, but it could be costing you quite a bit of money.
With all of the moving parts in an engine, proper lubrication is critical for both efficiency and durability. Oil and filters should be replaced regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations in the owner’s manual or the oil life monitor, if the car or truck has one. It’s also important to use the grade of oil recommended by the maker of the vehicle. Using oil with too high or low a viscosity can lead to increased friction, lower mileage and premature wear.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s FuelEconomy.gov website (http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/maintain.shtml), “You can improve your gas mileage by 1 to 2 percent by using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil.” The EPA site also recommends using “motor oil that says ‘Energy Conserving’ on the API performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives.”
Another easy and inexpensive way to improve mileage is to replace clogged air filters. The EPA says that swapping out a clogged filter may “improve fuel economy 2 to 6 percent under normal replacement conditions or up to 14 percent if the filter is so clogged that it significantly affects drivability.” Drivers that live in dusty environments should have their filters checked more frequently and replaced as needed.
Many cars and trucks today are equipped with lower rolling resistance tires to help fuel economy. Unfortunately, these are only beneficial when the tires are properly inflated. Many new cars and trucks sold today are equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems that warn the driver if a tire is getting low, and all drivers should carry a pressure gauge in the glovebox along with registration and insurance. Every vehicle has a recommended tire pressure on a sticker that can usually be found on the driver’s doorjamb, and drivers should check their pressures at least once a month.
All tires leak some amount of air over time, and cold temperatures can cause the pressure to drop even more. From www.FuelEconomy.gov, “Underinflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires,” and a tire that is more than 10 psi lower than normal can cut mileage by three percent. Low-pressure tires also wear out faster and degrade vehicle handling, leading to safety problems.
The designers of modern cars and trucks spend thousands of hours tweaking the shape of those vehicles in wind tunnels so they slip through the air with less resistance. While sports fans often love to show support for their teams by adding flags to their windows and roofs, these ornaments work against the aerodynamic shape, especially at highway speeds where up to one-third of fuel is used just to overcome wind resistance. Replacing those flags with magnets or stickers inside the windows can save you money at the pump.
Finally, few things affect fuel economy as much as driver behavior. Avoiding jackrabbit starts and excessive highway speeds can help to save money. When combined with proper maintenance, these measures can keep your ride running reliably for many years to come.