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How to Improve your Vehicle's Fuel Economy

How to Improve your Vehicle's Fuel Economy

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
Use high quality motor oilAs the price of gasoline remains high, many consumers are finding themselves driving less or thinking about purchasing a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle. Before taking such measures, there are several easy ways to squeeze a few extra miles per gallon out of your existing vehicle without unnecessary inconvenience or excessive cost. They fall under three main categories: engine maintenance, tire care and driving habits.

Engine Maintenance
Engine maintenance is crucial for fuel economy. As the miles add up, engine air and fuel filters get clogged, spark plugs deteriorate and can misfire, and wheel alignments may fall outside of manufacturer specifications. Each of these problem areas add an additional load to the engine-making the powerplant work harder and requiring more fuel to be burned while driving. It's always a good idea to change vehicle filters and spark plugs at regular intervals as suggested by the maintenance schedule in the owner's manual.

Always use high quality motor oil that meets or exceeds the manufacturer's specifications (the information is found in the owner's manual) and change the oil as recommended by the manufacturer. Oils are labeled with a "viscosity" number based on how thick or thin the liquid oil is. Low numbers mean the oil is thinner. Oil with low viscosity generally flows well in cold temperatures. Higher viscosity numbers are used for thicker oil. This type is typically reserved for older vehicles or for use during the heat of summer. Eliminating some of the confusion, certain oils are specifically labeled "Energy Conserving" on the bottle as they have met specific efficiency requirements set by the API (American Petroleum Institute).Tires are the workhorse of today's modern vehicles. They are tasked with carrying the entire weight of the vehicle, with passengers and luggage, and transferring all of the engine's power to the ground under acceleration. Add their crucial braking and cornering responsibilities-and the ruggedness required to handle potholes and unimproved driving surfaces-and it is easy to see why they wear out every few years and are prone to alignment issues.

Maintaine proper tire pressureWheel and Tire Car
When wheels are out of alignment, the engine must work harder as one or more wheels are literally resisting being driven down the road in a straight line. Not all vehicles require the wheels to be aligned at the same time-some vehicles are more susceptible to alignment issues than others. A good rule of thumb is to have the tire shop check alignment each time tires are replaced. In many places, the inspection service is performed for free. A good alignment will also significantly increase tire life.

It is also important to realize that tire pressure also plays a very important role in fuel economy. Underinflated tires are a double-edged sword. First, heavily flexed sidewalls are more difficult to roll down the road than properly inflated tires. This means the vehicle's engine must work harder and burn more fuel in the process of performing its task. Second, tires with low air pressure are a serious safety issue-they are much more susceptible to damage from road debris and heat-related failures. All vehicles are required by law to have manufacturer's recommended inflation pressures clearly located on the door jamb or in the glove box (do not use the tire's sidewall as a reference-that number is maximum safe inflation pressure, not the normal tire pressure). Tire pressures may not be the same for all four tires if the tires are not all the same size, or under all driving conditions-this is especially true when carrying a heavy load or towing. Proper tire pressures should be checked with a special tire gauge when the tires are cold (hot air increases tire pressure) at least once per month.

Driving Habits
Your vehicle's engine runs most efficiently when it is fully warmed to operating temperature-this typically takes about 10 minutes (the "temperature gauge" on the instrument cluster displays coolant temperature-it heats more rapidly than oil). The quickest way to bring an engine up to temperature is to drive it normally and avoid quick starts and high revs during warm-up time. It is poor practice-and a waste of fuel-to let it sit in the driveway and idle ("warming up" a car equates to zero miles per gallon). It is a best practice to group errands and trips together, not at separate intervals, to ensure the engine is operated in its most efficient manner.

There are a few other small things that make a big difference when it comes to your vehicle's fuel efficiency. Starting and stopping are all part of the daily commute-they cannot be avoided-but jackrabbit starts (hard acceleration) and sudden stops burn fuel more rapidly than gentle acceleration and anticipatory coasting (easing off the accelerator in advance) between stoplights.

Weight is also the enemy of fuel efficiency-this is why "economy cars" are small. Remove unnecessary items from the car as they require your engine to work overtime as you drive around. Lastly, use cruise control while on the interstate or highway-today's computer-controlled accelerator pedals are much more efficient at maintaining a steady speed than any human right foot.

Currently, automakers are spending billions of dollars to design and manufacture fuel-efficient cars and trucks. Why? They are more attractive in the showroom, and it helps them to meet strict government requirements. It isn't always necessary to buy a brand-new car to take advantage of the efficient engineering. With just a few simple changes to vehicle maintenance and driving habits, you can take full advantage of your vehicle's potential fuel efficiency-allowing you to put less gasoline in your tank and keep more money in your pocket.


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