Not only can gassing up the car get expensive, but driving is also not so hot for the environment. Using more fuel means increased emissions. In fact, every 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms) of fuel you burn creates 19 pounds (8.6 kilograms) of harmful carbon dioxide, along with other emissions that contribute to global warming and air pollution.
Even if you're not concerned about environmental issues, saving fuel just makes sense. Fuel prices are higher than ever, and filling up those tanks is tough on our wallets.
Unfortunately, not all fuel-saving methods work as well as they claim to. Changing the air filter, for example, doesn't improve your car's mileage, and neither does filling up your tank in the morning while the weather and fuel are cooler. Do you want to skip the myths and actually spend less on fuel? We've got some solid tips and techniques to help you increase your miles per gallon (mpg) and save yourself a trip to the pump!
Whether you're sitting in traffic or starting up your car on a cold, winter day, idling is just a waste of fuel -- and it's actually bad for your engine. Expert advice varies on when it's better to shut off the engine than to idle. Some say that if you'll be idling for 10 seconds or more, you're better off just shutting off the car until it's time to move again. Others say that a minute of idling is OK, but after that you're wasting fuel. Whether you take the short or the long estimate, once you start paying attention to idling, you might be surprised at how often you do it.
Warming up the engine is one of the most common culprits when it comes to idling your car. Modern engines don't need to be warmed up when the weather is cold. In fact, driving will warm up your car faster than idling in the driveway, so your car's heater will actually start working faster if you just hit the road.
That's fine in winter, but what about getting better mileage in the summer?
Running the Air
There's something of a debate about when it's more fuel-efficient to run the car's air conditioning rather than relying on open windows to cool you down. While running the AC saps power from the engine and reduces fuel economy, driving with the windows down increases drag and costs you miles per gallon by making your car less aerodynamic. So, which is it?
While the speed at which the drag becomes more of a fuel drain than the AC varies from car to car, in general you want to rely on windows for in-town driving and switch to the air conditioner when you hit the highway.
Highway speeds can optimize your gas mileage, but only up to a point. Find out how on the next page!
Speeding is a major factor in fuel economy. You might get to your destination more quickly if you're going 65 versus 55 miles per hour (104.6 versus 88.5 kilometers per hour), but you're decreasing your car's fuel efficiency by around 15 percent while you're at it.
For every 5 miles (8 kilometers) per hour you're driving over 55 (88.5), you're essentially raising your gas prices by 21 cents per gallon, and that's assuming the price at the pump is only $3 per gallon. Of course, 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) per hour is just an average. Calculating your car's ideal speed for fuel economy is much more complicated. The ideal speed tends to be between 40 and 60 miles per hour (64.4 and 96.6 kilometers per hour), with sportier cars topping out at the higher speeds and larger vehicles at the lower end of that spectrum.
Speeding is just one way that your driving style can guzzle gas, but how else can your driving habits impact your car's gas mileage?
Don't Drive Like a Maniac
Don't race to that red light and then peel out when it turns green -- quick braking and accelerating wastes gas. Instead, you can ride out your car's momentum and take advantage of your engine's idle revolutions per minute to save some gas.
It's not the braking that wastes gas. The problem is that you're using fuel to close the distance between you and a situation where you're going to have to stop. Instead of keeping your foot on the accelerator, let your car coast to that light, applying the brakes later when you need to come to a full stop.
When the light turns green, let up on the brake, but don't hit the gas right away. Instead, let your car get to its coasting speed on its own before hitting the accelerator. It only takes a couple of seconds, and you'll save on fuel.
Some drivers take these fuel-saving driving habits to the extreme, getting as much as 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) per gallon! Check out some of their techniques.
Some of the tips we've touched on could fall under hypermiling, but true hypermiling goes further than simple techniques like coasting when you can and turning the car off instead of idling. Serious hypermilers have increased their cars' mileage by several times the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating. One Arizona hypermiler was actually disappointed to only get around 88 miles (141.6 kilometers) per gallon out of his 2000 Honda Insight.
Hypermiling will definitely boost your mileage, but some hypermiling methods, like riding closely behind trucks to reduce wind resistance, can be dangerous. Here are a few common ways that hypermilers obtain those incredible miles-per-gallon numbers:
- sticking to 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) per hour on the highway, even when it's below the speed limit
- forgoing the air conditioner and rolling up the windows, even on sweltering hot days
- turning off the car at stop lights
- overinflating their car tires to reduce drag
- coasting with the car turned off
- drafting, or riding close to large trucks to decrease drag
Techniques can range from the common sense to the outright dangerous, so play it safe if you want to try hypermiling.
Driving style can definitely have a big impact on your mileage, but what can you do to your car to squeeze out a few more miles per gallon?
Clean Out Your Trunk
Sure, cleaning out your car makes it more pleasant to drive, but it can also improve your gas mileage. Removing 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms) of weight from your car gives it a fuel economy boost of 1 to 2 percent. That might sound like a lot of extra weight, but many of us use our cars' trunks as storage spaces. Are you stashing your golf clubs or a stroller in your trunk? Pulling those things out and toting them only when you need them can help improve your miles per gallon with very little effort.
Auto makers are taking weight very seriously, striving to build lighter, more fuel-efficient cars. By replacing bulkier metals with lighter-weight ones like aluminum, they can improve mileage by as much as 10 percent without making any other changes to the design or the engine.
Cleaning out your car is just the beginning. Check out how proper maintenance can help improve your fuel economy.
Get a Tuneup
Maintaining your car's engine can go a long way in fuel savings. If your car needs service, a simple tuneup can improve gas mileage by around 4 percent. Make sure you're also changing your oil on schedule and using the right grade of motor oil for your car. That little bit of maintenance can buy you another 1 to 2 percent increase in fuel economy. You can check the owner's manual to see what grade of motor oil the car manufacturer recommends.
While a tuneup can make a big difference in gas mileage, maintenance won't always impact fuel economy. One common myth is that changing the air filter will improve your miles per gallon, but for most cars produced since the 1980s, this isn't true. If you have an older car, though, make sure you're changing that filter once a year or every 12,000 miles (19,312 kilometers) for a fuel savings boost of 2 to 6 percent.
Your engine isn't the only thing that needs maintenance if you want to maximize your miles per gallon. See how tending to your tires can boost fuel economy on the next page.
Check Your Tires
Underinflated tires create drag and can decrease gas mileage by 3 percent or more. It's simple to check your car's tire pressure using an inexpensive tire gauge. Most tires should be at around 30 to 35 pounds per square inch (psi), and your owner's manual will tell you what psi is ideal for your car. You should check your tire pressure at least once a month and add air when necessary.
The trick with tires is to maintain a safe tire pressure without overinflating. While slightly overinflating your tires can increase gas mileage, it also ups your risk of blowing a tire and makes it harder to brake and turn the car. You don't want to put fuel savings ahead of your own safety.
Maintaining your car can go a long way in getting better mileage, but for some drivers, switching to a fuel-efficient vehicle is worth the money.
Invest in a Fuel-efficient Vehicle
While not everyone can afford a new car, ditching an old clunker for a more modern, fuel-efficient vehicle is one of the most significant ways to save money on gas. Fuel savings only increase if you choose a hybrid or electric vehicle. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that trading in a car that gets 20 miles (32.2 kilometers) per gallon for one that gets 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) per gallon can save you $945 per year in fuel, and that's with gas prices at $3.78 per gallon. Over a few years, you might be able to make up the difference in price between your old car and your new one. With prices on the rise, a fuel-efficient vehicle will save even more cash over time.
Depending on your car's current mileage and what car you're considering, you may also be able to save enough in fuel costs to justify the higher car payments. To see what you'd save by switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle, check out the DOE's handy fuel costs calculator.
So, what's the No. 1 way to save on fuel? Check out some tips for ways to get around without cranking that engine.
Of course, the most fuel-efficient car is the one that isn't running at all. Using your feet or pedal power to get around can save you cash and help you get in better shape. Try walking or riding your bike for short errands rather than hopping in the car, and your wallet and waistline will thank you.
If your area has a transit system, look into commuting by train or bus instead of in your car. Not only does mass transit save on fuel, but you can also read your book or listen to a podcast on your commute without fretting about traffic. Is transit not an option, and your daily commute is too long a haul on foot? Set up a carpool with coworkers who live nearby to save fuel instead.
No matter what steps you take to drive less, leaving that car in the driveway is hands down the best gimmick-free way to use less gas.
For more great information, check out the links on the next page.
How bad is it for your car to run on a nearly empty gas tank? HowStuffWorks takes a look under the hood.
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