Tips for Improving Your Fuel Economy
By Tara Baukus Mello
Filling up is a fact of every driver's
life, but for some drivers it is a necessary evil.
If you are one of those people who gulps every time
you have to fill up your vehicle, there's good news:
there are some simple things you can do to improve
your fuel economy no matter what type of vehicle you
Monitoring your average fuel economy
regularly is a good idea, too. (Some vehicles have
a handy computer that computes this for you.) If you
notice a significant change, then something has changed
with your vehicle.
Here are 10 things you can
do today to get better gas mileage right away.
1. Follow the Recommended
A vehicle that is well maintained means it will operate
with greater efficiency. This not only improves your
overall vehicle performance, but it will improve your
fuel economy as well. Fouled spark plugs, a dirty
air filter or clogged fuel filter will all affect
your fuel economy. According to the U.S. Department
of Energy (DOE), replacing a clogged air filter can
increase your mileage by 10 percent, while replacing
an oxygen sensor could result in an improvement as
high as 40 percent. Proper maintenance also means
using the right octane gas and the recommended grade
of motor oil. Using the recommended types for your
vehicle will give you optimum fuel economy —
and can save you money as well. Check your owner's
manual for your vehicle's recommendations and have
maintenance performed regularly by a dealer or reputable
2. Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated
Underinflated tires require more energy to roll, which
translates into more frequent fill-ups. You can improve
your fuel economy by about 3.3 percent if you keep
your tires inflated properly, according to the DOE.
The psi number noted on the sidewall of your tires
is the maximum pressure of the tire and is not the
proper inflation level for your car. Your vehicle
manufacturer will list the recommended tire pressure
in your owner's manual or a sticker on the doorjamb
of the driver-side door. Buy a tire-pressure gauge
and check your tires monthly, adding air as necessary.
3. Take a Load Off
Heavier vehicles require more energy to move, so carrying
around excess weight will also affect your mileage.
Empty out your trunk (or even your backseat) of unnecessary
items. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk will reduce
your fuel economy by 1 to 2 percent in the typical
vehicle. If you have a roof rack or roof carrier,
install it on your vehicle only when absolutely necessary.
Not only does the carrier add extra weight, but it
also increases the aerodynamic drag on the vehicle,
which further contributes to a loss of fuel economy.
4. Don't Drive Aggressively
We're not talking road rage here, but the type of
driving many people do when they are in a rush. Mashing
the accelerator pedal from a stoplight, braking hard
and speeding all contribute to a decrease in fuel
economy. Give yourself extra time to get to your destination
and think "steady and smooth" as you drive.
On surface streets, driving at the speed limit will
give you mostly green lights, which improves your
gas mileage as well as reduces the wear on your brakes.
On the highway, the DOE says that every 5 mph you
drive over 65 mph represents a 7-percent decrease
in fuel economy.
5. Use the Highest Gear Possible
Cars are designed to start in the lowest gear possible
because that's where they have the most power, but
that power translates to an increase in fuel consumption.
To improve your fuel economy, drive in the highest
gear possible when you are cruising at a steady speed,
such as on the highway. If your vehicle has an automatic
transmission with a "sport" mode, it's most
likely that this is a computer program designed to
shift later (and therefore keep you in a lower gear
longer). While this gives you greater performance,
driving in "sport" mode will also decrease
your fuel economy.
6. Use Cruise Control — Selectively
Using cruise control can improve your gas mileage
by helping you maintain a steady speed, but only if
you are driving on mostly flat roads. If you are driving
in hilly terrain, using cruise control typically causes
your vehicle to speed up faster (to maintain the preset
speed) than it would if you were operating the accelerator
yourself. Before you push that cruise control button,
think about the terrain ahead.
7. Think Clean
Keeping your car washed and waxed improves aerodynamics
and therefore affects fuel economy. Engineer Tom Wagner,
Jr. reported to Stretcher.com (as in stretching your
dollars) a 7-percent improvement in fuel economy,
from 15 to 16 mpg, during a 1,600-mile road trip.
8. Avoid Excessive Idling
When a car is idling, it is using fuel, yet not going
anywhere. This translates to 0 mpg. When you leave
your car running while you are waiting in line at
the drive-thru, or as you wait outside your kids'
school, you are wasting fuel. It is more efficient
to turn the engine off while you wait and then restart
the car. If that's not practical (like in the line
at McDonald's), then park the car and go inside instead.
9. Think Before You Vent(ilate)
Running your air conditioner does cause your vehicle
to consume more fuel, but driving with your windows
rolled down can be even worse due to the increase
of drag on the vehicle. If you are driving slowly,
such as around town or in city traffic, then you are
better off leaving your windows open, if at all possible.
For highway driving, roll up the windows and turn
the air conditioning on.
10. Combine Your Errands
A little planning can make a big difference in fuel
economy. When your engine is cold, it uses more fuel
than when it is warm. Combining errands can improve
your gas mileage because your engine will be warm
for more of the trip. It might also mean you travel
less total miles. According to the DOE, several short
trips all begun with a cold start can use twice as
much fuel as a single, longer trip that covers the
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