What can you do to your car to save fuel?

Using less fuel will lead to more money in your pocket and a cleaner environment. See more pictures of alternative fuel vehicles.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Fuel prices are on the rise, and those fill-ups are no trivial expense. Once you leave the station, that gasoline has a strong environmental impact. In the United States, cars and trucks cause more air pollution than any other factor. Motor vehicle emissions are responsible for almost half of the smog in our air, which directly affects our health. In cities, these emissions are linked to respiratory illnesses like asthma and bronchitis.

Switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle can make a big difference in your car's gas mileage, but not everyone is ready to go out and buy a new car. For drivers who want to save on gas without getting a brand-new vehicle, there are some kits and options to help improve your car's fuel economy.

As fuel prices go up, more of these products are hitting the market, and unfortunately, many of them are very ineffective, and others are straight-up gimmicks. Many fuel additives, for example, tend to be a scam, and the ones that do work may not be very effective. There are also mechanical fuel-saving gadgets out there, but most of those don't do much, and some even reduce fuel economy or are dangerous.

Luckily, there are things you can do to your car that will help you use less gas. Tired of polluting the air and paying too much at the pump? Check out some ways you can mod out your existing car to save fuel.

A few manufacturers have released electric cars, but not everyone can afford a Nissan Leaf. One do-it-yourself solution is converting your gasoline-powered vehicle to an electric. Some ultra-handy car owners have converted their engines from scratch, but for the less mechanically inclined, there are kits that take some of the guesswork out of switching to an electric engine. Electric conversion kits can vary in price, but most cost several thousand dollars, and many companies require that an authorized dealer do the installation.

The downside to going electric is that fully charging the car takes time -- usually several hours -- and electric car owners have to consider their motor's range when planning trips. An electric car can be ideal if you tend to only drive on short, in-town trips. If you're looking at a longer trip, though, you have to plan your trip carefully to pass by charging stations, since most electric motors have a range of 100 to 200 miles (161 to 322 kilometers), and some kit conversions may be even lower than that.

Go Veggie

If you're driving a diesel car, you have a couple options to save on fuel: filling up with biodiesel or doing a veggie oil conversion.

Biodiesel is an alternative diesel fuel made from processed vegetable oils. While it's possible to run a car on 100 percent biodiesel, it's more typical to find blends, or a mix of biodiesel and conventional diesel fuel. The naming convention for biodiesel blends tells you what percentage is biodiesel. For example, B20 is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel. B50 would be 50 percent biodiesel. B100 is pure biodiesel with no diesel fuel added.

The upside to biodiesel is that you don't have to make any changes to your engine to use it, but it can be hard to find filling stations that offer it. In colder climates, be careful about filling up with pure biodiesel, since anything above B20 can gel in colder temperatures, which is bad for your engine. Stick to B20 or less in the winter months to protect your engine.

Running a car on biodiesel isn't the same as running it on waste vegetable oil, but it's possible to convert a diesel engine to run on plain old veggie oil.

Veggie oil conversion kits range in price from $300 to around $800, not including the cost to install. Since most vehicles can't run on 100 percent veggie oil, you'll essentially end up with two gas tanks: one for diesel and one for vegetable oil. Once your kit is installed, your car will start up using regular diesel; then you can switch to veggie oil once the car is warmed up. Before shutting off a veggie oil engine, you have to purge the oil from your fuel lines by switching back to diesel at the end of your trip, unless your conversion kit includes a pump that automatically cleans the fuel lines for you.

The best thing that you can do to your car to save fuel is avoid starting the car in the first place. Instead of hopping in the car, you can bike, walk or take public transit, and leave that gas guzzler at home. If your trip is too far to walk or bike the whole way, you can drive part of the way to your destination and then bike or walk the rest of the way. Even shaving a couple of miles off of your daily driving routine can add up to big savings at the pump over time.

For more great information, check out the links on the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Buckeridge, David L. et al. "Effect of motor vehicle emissions on respiratory health in an urban area." Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto. March 2002. (June 10, 2011) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240770/
  • Chiras, Dan. "Vegetable Oil as Fuel?" Ecomii. (June 21, 2011) http://www.ecomii.com/cars/vegetable-oil-fuel
  • Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. "Biodiesel." (July 21, 2011) http://www.dancingrabbit.org/energy/biodiesel.php
  • Kahn, Chris. "Oil prices rise on concerns about future supplies." The News Tribune. June 10, 2011. (June 10, 2011) http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/06/09/1699756/oil-prices-rise-on-concerns-about.html
  • McIntire-Strasburg, Jeff. "Converting Diesel Engines to Run on Vegetable Oil." Treehugger. July 24, 2006. (June 21, 2011) http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/07/converting_dies.php
  • National Biodiesel Board. "Biodiesel Basics." (July 21, 2011) http://www.biodiesel.org/resources/biodiesel_basics/
  • National Biodiesel Board. "Let It Snow." (July 21, 2011) http://www.biodiesel.org/cold/
  • Union of Concerned Scientists. "Cars, Trucks, & Air Pollution." April 4, 2008. (June 10, 2011) http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/vehicle_impacts/cars_pickups_and_suvs/cars-trucks-air-pollution.html
  • U.S. Department of Energy. "Electric Vehicles." (July 21, 2011) http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/evtech.shtml
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Cars, Trucks, Buses, and 'Nonroad' Equipment." Aug. 29, 2008. (June 21, 2011) http://www.epa.gov/air/caa/peg/carstrucks.html
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Reduce Climate Change." U.S.Department of Energy. (June 10, 2011) http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/climate.shtml