Oil prices have once again topped $80.00 per barrel, so if history is a good indicator, we’ll soon be paying $3.00 per gallon at the pump. Despite what the tiny ads in the back of Popular Mechanics claim, you can’t double your fuel mileage by magnetizing your fuel line. You can’t ‘grow your manhood’ by taking pills, either, but that’s a topic for a different blog.
Money’s tight for all of us these days, and you can only cut back on your driving by so much. Want to keep a little bit more green in your pocket? Follow the advice below, after the jump, and you’ll see a noticeable reduction in your weekly fuel bill.
Inflate your tires
Tires are the most overlooked part of any car. Unless one is flat, most drivers ignore them until it’s time for new ones. Want to get better mileage? Make sure your tires are inflated to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. This info is in the owner’s manual, and it’s also located on the door frame or inside the fuel door. If you don’t mind a harsher ride, it’s OK to inflate tires a little more than manufacturer’s recommend, but don’t go more than 2 psi higher per wheel.
Tires will lose air over time, so check them monthly. We’ve told you how before, but here’s a friendly reminder – always check tires cold, before you’ve driven on them. If you forget, wait three hours for the tires to cool before setting the pressure.
Change your air cleaner
Air cleaners are another often overlooked part, since today’s cars can go much longer between tuneup intervals. I change my air cleaner every 10,000 miles; if you can’t remember the last time you changed yours, it’s probably overdue.
Change your oil to a synthetic and run the thinnest grade you can
Manufacturers are very careful to specify what oils can be used in your vehicle, and typically there is more than one choice. Unless you’re towing a boat or a trailer, or driving at wide open throttle across the desert, you can squeeze out a few more mpg by opting for a lower viscosity oil (choosing 0w20 over 5w30, for example).
Synthetic oil is more expensive than the cheaper petroleum based stuff, but it lasts longer between oil changes and does give you a slight increase in mpg. Don’t want to spring for the good stuff? At least make sure you change your oil at factory recommended intervals.
A few words of caution here: if you manufacturer specifies synthetic oil, use it. Don’t cheap out and try to get by with petroleum based oils, because there’s a reason the manufacturer’s engineers want you to use the good stuff. Also, make sure you follow the owner’s manual for you car. If it doesn’t say that 0w20 oil is safe to use, then don’t use it.
Shut your engine off at long traffic lights
Here in Jacksonville, we’re cursed with more traffic lights than any other city I’ve ever seen. Some of these, especially at off hours, are ridiculously long, in excess of three minutes per cycle. A five mile cross-town trip can take you thirty minutes if you hit the lights wrong, and that’s a lot of time for your engine to be idling. Assuming you have a good battery, put you car in park (with an automatic transmission) and turn it off at traffic lights that have cycles longer than two minutes. When you see the light in the opposite direction go from green to yellow, start up your car again. It takes less fuel to start a car than it does to keep it running.
With a manual transmission or a shiftable automatic, you can shift gears at a lower RPM to save fuel. Don’t shift too soon, since lugging the engine can cause premature wear on expensive parts. As a general rule, shift at 3,000 RPM. If your car accelerates smoothly in the next gear, you’re fine. If it bucks or strains to accelerate, shift at 3,500 RPM next time.
Also, avoid downshifting where possible. Keeping the car in the highest usable gear will save fuel.
Avoid using A/C and electronics
Tough call on this, since a car with the windows down will get worse mileage than one with the windows up and the A/C on, especially at high speeds. Lowered windows change a cars aerodynamic profile and create drag, which reduces fuel mileage. At low speeds, this is less of an issue.
Use your A/C sparingly, and try to limit the use of plug in chargers for phones, laptops, DVD players, etc. Any device that draws current (including the radio, vent fan, defroster, headlights, etc.) will put additional demand on the motor and reduce fuel mileage by a fraction of a percent. Every little bit helps though, right?
Reduce your speed
For me, that’s just crazy talk. If you can resist the temptation to launch your car from traffic light to traffic light and accelerate gently, you’ll boost your mpg. Or so I’m told.
Colin Chapman was right – adding lightness makes a car go faster and boosts your mpg. It never ceases to amaze me how much unnecessary crap people haul around in their vehicles. That portable jump starter that you got as a Christmas gift two years ago and haven’t ever needed? Pull it out. That rear cover that hides the contents of your SUV or station wagon? Unless you’re shopping for Christmas or birthdays, pull it out.
The more you can reduce the weight of your vehicle (and its driver), the more fuel you’ll save.
Use cruise control
If you’re driving on the highway (in dry weather), use cruise control as much as possible. Cruise control does a much better job of maintaining a constant throttle setting than the average driver can. Constant throttle, with little acceleration or deceleration, produces the best mileage.
Never use cruise control in the rain or on slippery surfaces, as it can lead to a loss of control if one wheel loses traction.
Advanced drivers only: big rigs are your friend
I’m not advocating tailgating, especially not for the untrained driver. However, following a semi at the closest possible safe distance will reduce your fuel consumption. Try this: approach a tractor trailer on the highway. At a few hundred feet behind them, you’ll feel buffeting caused by “dirty” air coming off the back of the trailer. As you continue to drive closer, the buffeting will be reduced. The trick is finding the pocket where you’re getting as little buffeting as possible while maintaining a safe following distance from the truck.
DO NOT attempt this while texting, talking on the cell phone, programming your GPS, checking email, eating breakfast / lunch / dinner, shaving, applying makeup, reading the paper or milking the one-eyed gopher. If you can’t give your full and undivided attention to driving, just back off and join the rest of the lemmings.