5 ways to improve your car’s fuel economy

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There are three things in life of which you can be sure of. All of your hard work is going to be taxed by the government, you’re eventually going to die at some point, and the cost of petrol (or ‘gasolene’ as the American’s call it) is always going to be on an upward trend. It is a finite resource which means it is going to be become increasingly more expensive as time passes, and we’re all going to run out of at some point. So what can you do to help reduce the amount you’re using, and more importantly, save money?

Before we begin, it is useful to know what gas mileage your vehicle currently achieves. This will either be as easy as checking the MPG or L/100km readout from your vehicle’s onboard computer, or the marginally more difficult way of calculating your fuel usage vs distance driven. So what do you need to do?

To do that, you’ll need to start with a full tank of fuel – so fill your car to the point where the pump cuts off and then ‘zero’ the trip counter on your vehicle’s dashboard before setting off. The next time you fill the tank, make a note of the number of litres or gallons you put in, and how many kilometres or miles are showing on the trip counter reading. What you then need to do is divide one figure by the other, as shown:

500km divided by 50L of fuel = 10L/100km
300mi divided by 15gal of fuel = 20mpg

Once you’ve worked out your vehicle’s current fuel economy figure, you can now use these 5 easy tips below to help improve your vehicle’s fuel economy – and keep your hard-earned money in the bank where it belongs.

Tip #1: Lighten your right foot

This first step doesn’t actually involve your vehicle at all – it is all about you and how you use your right foot. Your driving style can have big impact on your vehicle’s fuel economy, and there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to improve it.

For starters, if you’re pulling away from the traffic lights at full throttle, or faster than the majority of other people do, chances are you’re wasting petrol and increasing your fuel economy. Sadly, driving more slowly will absolutely improve your vehicle’s fuel economy – so the real question here is do you want to arrive at your destination more quickly, or save money? That’s up to you.

On the other side of the coin, it is also important to remember that every time you use the brakes, you’re literally burning money. Think about it – you burnt a particular amount of fuel (energy) to get your car up to speed, and when you need to slow down, the brakes on your car are removing that speed and converting it into heat. That’s speed you paid for. And while it would be silly (and dangerous) to never use the brakes in your car, there are a few things you can do to help minimise the amount of fuel wasted.

If you’ve just noticed the traffic lights up ahead are turning red, don’t race up to them and come to a complete stop at the last second. Instead, try lifting off the accelerator and let your car gradually slow down as you approach. The benefits of this are two-fold. Firstly, you’re using engine braking (instead of your brakes) to slow the car down – which essentially means the wheels of your car are turning the engine, which uses little to no fuel at all. Secondly, the lights may turn green before you get there, meaning you can continue on your way without coming to a complete stop – and it takes less energy to get the vehicle back up to speed from a slow roll than it does from a complete stop.

Tip #2: Check your tyre pressures

Checking your tyre pressures is also another easy way to improve your vehicle’s fuel economy, but sadly many drivers simply don’t do this on a regular basis. If your tyre pressures are low, you will be increasing the rolling resistance of the tyre on the road and that will have a negative impact on your vehicle’s fuel economy.

To rectify this, you’ll need to locate the tyre pressure placard on your vehicle. Most of the time, these can be found by opening the driver’s door and looking around the lower edges of the opening / door jamb. Depending on the vehicle, it’ll either be a fairly straight forward diagram, or a more complex table like the one shown on the right below.

tyre-placard

As you can see, the example on the left is much easier to work out – it shows the air-pressure in kPa, (kgf/cm2) and lastly in psi – the last of which is what you want – so 33 psi front, 32 psi rear.

The second example is from a 4WD/SUV vehicle and is more complex, due to the manufacturer listing multiple tyre sizes on the one placard. What you’ll need to do in this situation is check the sidewall of your tyres to ascertain which tyre size the manufacturer fitted to your vehicle, then look it up on the placard to work out your psi pressure. If it was a P185/75SR14 tyre and you ran normal loads in the vehicle, you’d inflate both front and rear tyres to 28psi.

Then it is simply a matter of hooking up an tyre pump, or heading down to your local gas station, and inflating the tyres to the required pressure. It won’t cost you a cent.

Tip #3: Trim the fat

No, this one isn’t about you losing weight (although truth be told that would help), but rather getting rid of everything on or in your car which you simply don’t need. Every single kilogram or pound of weight which you are able to remove from your car is going to improve your fuel economy

How? Well it is actually pretty simple – less weight means your engine doesn’t have to work as hard to get the vehicle up to speed and keep it there. I’m talking about any random things floating around in the cabin or boot/trunk of your car which you simply don’t need on a daily basis. Things like rubbish, old street directories, shoes, tools… you can even remove the spare wheel if you’re willing to take the risk or don’t usually venture far from home.

Then, if you’ll stop at nothing to achieve fuel savings, you can also take things one step further and remove the back seat, carpets, and sound deadening. But removing any of these items is going to have an impact on the practicality of your vehicle.

There’s fat which you can trim on the outside of the car too. Does your car have roof racks which you almost never use? Well they’re costing you money by creating aerodynamic drag. The same goes for wheels and tyres which are wider and/or heavier than what otherwise might have come factory fitted on the vehicle. What you’ll want instead are smaller diameter, lighter wheels which are easier for the engine to spin, and narrower tyres which will cut through the air better and roll on the road more easily.

Tip #4: Replace your engine’s air filter

The air filter is the first and last line of defense protecting your engine from ingesting all the dust, dirt and crap which is kicked up from other cars on the road. And if it does what it is meant to, it’ll catch all sorts of things and hold them in the filter element, which will eventually clog up and create restriction.

So it is well worth replacing your air filter at least once a year, to ensure your engine is able to suck the required amount of air it needs in order to achieve the optimum air/fuel ratio for combustion. Depending on the age of your existing filter, you might see anything from a 5 to 10% improvement on your fuel economy – not bad for something which typically only costs $20 to $50. They can be purchased on eBay or via your local car parts retailer.

Tip #5: Change your engine oil and filter

Here’s another thing which you should be doing, or have done on your car at least once per year – and that is have the engine oil and oil filter changed. While you’re unlikely to see any massive improvement by doing this, you’ll at least have the peace of mind of knowing that the fresh oil circulating within the engine means it’ll be able to perform at the peak of its ability, reducing friction and also helping to extend its service life.

What can I expect to achieve?

Depending on the type of vehicle you drive and the level of condition it has been kept in, if you follow the points listed above you could realistically see a fuel economy improvement of at least 15%, however the most important thing to remember is it isn’t just your car which has to improve – it is you as the driver who might have to take the time to change old habits which are hurting your fuel economy.

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