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Car Care: Saving Fuel

Simple tips to help you maximize every tank

With gas prices remaining stubbornly high, drivers can still reduce their operating costs. There are plenty of little things you can do to improve the fuel efficiency of the vehicle you’re driving, without spending a lot of money.
 
In the old days, a thorough tune-up on a regular basis could go a long way toward making an engine run better. Thanks to modern electronics, tasks like adjusting points, checking the distributor timing and adjusting the carburetor are in the past. 
 
While modern cars may not need old-style tune-ups, your dealer’s service technicians can still help make your ride run better. The sensing systems on contemporary engines are constantly checking for problems, and when something isn’t as it should be, the “Check Engine” warning lamp will illuminate in the dashboard. When this happens, the adaptive control systems revert to default values so you can usually get to a service center, but the engine will typically use more fuel in the process. When the engine light comes on, getting the problem corrected promptly can save a lot of gas.
 
Cars and trucks, no matter how new or old, are still mechanical devices that require energy to move. If everything works smoothly, it takes less energy, in the form of fuel, to operate them. Even with the most sophisticated sensor and control systems, reducing friction can go a long way to increasing the time between visits to the pump.
 
Following the factory recommended maintenance schedule for oil changes will help ensure that that the engine doesn’t have to expend as much effort just moving its own parts. Your dealer’s service department will ensure your oil is replaced with lubricant approved by the automaker’s engineers for durability and efficiency. On engines with distributorless ignition systems, the spark plugs are typically good for 100,000 miles, but they should be checked and replaced according to the schedule to make sure the fuel you use is properly ignited.
 
Weight is huge factor in determining how much work the engine has to do. A lighter vehicle is easier to move. Whether you drive a subcompact or a full-size pickup, check the trunk and the bed for extra stuff that you are carrying around but don’t need. If you have sandbags for extra winter traction, golf clubs you’re not using or tools you won’t need on the road, take them out and leave them at home. The EPA estimates that every extra 100 pounds you haul around reduces fuel efficiency by about two
percent.
 
Moving a vehicle through the air also takes a lot of energy, and the work increases exponentially as your speed increases. Consider sticking closer to the speed limit to save at the pump. Driving 70 mph on the highway instead of 80 mph will only increase a 25 mile commute by about two and a half minutes, but it could increase your mileage by up to four mpg.
 
Americans love to show their support for their favorite sports teams, often with flags sticking up from the top edge of the windows. While athletes certainly appreciate the fan support, those flags can cost a lot of gas.
 
At highway speeds, up to a third of the fuel a vehicle uses goes to overcoming air drag. Open windows and uncovered truck beds can dramatically increase the workload for the engine. If you have air conditioning, using it on hot days can actually save you gas compared to driving with the windows down on the highway. If your air conditioning isn’t working, head over to the dealer service department and get it checked out. The cost of a recharge could be less than a tank of gas.
 
If you aren’t carrying tall items in the back of a pickup, consider getting a tonneau to cover it up and smooth out the airflow. Dealer parts departments typically sell custom-fitted covers to fit your truck and they can even do the installation.
 
With the air flowing easier around your ride, and the engine running properly, it’s easy to overlook the suspension and tires. Keep a tire pressure gauge in the glove box and check the tires at least once a month. Be sure to keep them inflated to the pressure listed on the sticker on the driver’s door jamb. A tire that is just 10 psi under the recommended pressure can increase fuel consumption by three percent.
 
The tires also need to be rolling in the right direction. If your tires are not properly balanced or your wheels are out of alignment, it not only affects the ride and handling, the tires are also dragging and making the engine work harder. Have your dealer check and correct balance and alignment for optimal fuel economy and reduced tire wear.
 
If the tires are ready for replacement, talk to your service manager about new lower-rolling-resistance tires. The latest generation of tires from most manufacturers will run longer, quieter and save you gas.
 
Taking care of basic maintenance tasks and keeping your car up to spec will keep it running properly for many years and save you money, too.

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