Owning a car is no longer a privilege of the few, but rather a fundamental necessity in modern life. Families get to enjoy a long weekend with the convenience of traveling as a group while emergency situations are better managed with a vehicle readily available. Unfortunately, there is clearly one thing about vehicle ownership that frustrates a lot of ordinary folks, if not all of them. True, you can be frazzled by maintenance costs and instant fix-its but the one thing that is constantly changing is the price of petrol. While electric hybrids offer a more ecologically friendly alternative, there really is an appeal to the hum or even the roar of engine running on fossil fuel. Regrettably, the prices of petrol fluctuate more frequently than the ebbing of the tides. But all is not lost, since there are things you can do to extend the utility of the fuel you put in your tank. We’ve prepared 20 tips to improve your gas mileage and see some savings into your bank account.
1. Take it easy on the pedal
We all have this tendency to unleash the speed demons in our inner beings, living our wildest fantasies of becoming an F1 racer or even a WRC driver. Regrettably, this is not the best way to save on fuel since you’re technically requiring your engine to push you that fast. Imagine the space shuttle being launched into outer space. You’ve got several rocket boosters propelling the entire spacecraft until it reaches the emptiness of space. The point is that while our cars may be able to blitz 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds, it will be definitely burning more fuel. The reason is quite simple. The faster you go, the greater is the drag that your car will have to work against. Unfortunately, work requires fuel to be consumed. So go easy on the pedal.
The same is true when coming to a stop. Don’t try to be a Formula 1 racer who applies the brakes just in the nick of time to make that critical apex, allowing it to turn in perfectly without any significant loss in momentum. The problem with most of us today is that we clearly don’t have any regard for the traffic lights. As soon as the lights turn yellow, we step on the pedal like some drag racer hoping to beat the other motorists alongside us. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. The sudden acceleration will burn more fuel. Some drivers imagine that there’s an egg between their foot and the gas pedal just to condition themselves to use the accelerator as slowly and gently as possible.
And if you have to stop abruptly, energy will have to be spent to bring your car to a complete stop. As such, mind your distance from the driver in front of you so you will avoid sudden braking. When coming to an intersection with the traffic lights turning yellow, you’d better get your foot off the pedal and simply allow your vehicle to come to a slow rolling stop.
2. Adhere to your vehicle’s recommended fuel type
There’s this notion that premium gas is the best when it comes to getting the best performance from your car. Racers, stunt drivers, and even professionals recommend premium or even regular as their fuel type. Unfortunately, many fail to understand that the car manufacturers always test their vehicles for the best performance using the most ideal type of fuel. If your car manual says that you need to put in unleaded fuel or even the cheapest petrol with a not-so-high octane rating in your vehicle, then you really have to trust them since they know what they are saying. Now, if you have a high-performance vehicle that comes with a monstrous high compression engine, then you’d definitely have to go for higher octane fuels. But if you belong to the three-quarters of the world’s population that owns cars, then you’re perfectly fine with cheap petrol. Just make sure it is within the lower limit of the octane rating recommendation by your vehicle manufacturer.
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3. Watch the weight
In an effort to economize, some of us would rather turn our vehicles into cargo or delivery trucks, packing as many luggage and other stuff that we can squeeze into our trunks or even flatbeds. Unfortunately, doing so increases the weight of our vehicle which puts more strain on the engine, making it work harder. As you already know, an engine that is working exceptionally hard or near double its normal operating performance will require more fuel to be burned. Don’t believe us? Imagine yourself carrying a 10-pound bag. It’s relatively easy, right? Try increasing that to around 50 pounds and you’d definitely be huffing and puffing as you move around carrying it on your back. Of course, you’re able to carry it, but your muscles will be working doubly hard. You’ll be perspiring more. You’ll feel out of breath or even feel your heart thumping off your chest. In other words, it is not comfortable at all.
Now put your personal experience into your car. Sure, it doesn’t have blood vessels and muscles you’d have to worry about, but the fact remains – any increase in vehicle weight will substantially lead to increased engine workload which easily translates to poor gas mileage. While the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR of your car will give you a fair idea of just how much is its weight capacity, we really don’t recommend pushing it to the hilt. For example, if the GVWR of your car states that it is about 4,009 pounds, don’t push the weight limit to 5,000 pounds. Doing so will increase fuel consumption.
4. Reduce drag
In similar manner, avoid putting roof racks and any other storage accessories on your car. Sure, it will make your car look really cool. However, not only is the added weight going to increase your car’s fuel consumption, the unusual surfaces of these accessories can also increase aerodynamic drag. Even so-called aerodynamic storage compartment shells can increase drag. As you may already be aware, an increase in drag simply means your car’s engine will have to work harder to push through air. Unless you’re an engineer who specializes in aerodynamics and you’ve got a whole wind tunnel to test these additions before installing them on your car, it’s better to leave these behind. Of course, if you really have to haul a lot of things, then you can install it. But for everyday use, you’re better off without them. This is also true regarding bike racks where you mount your bikes or ski equipment for a weekend of outdoor fun. If you’re not using them, then by all means, get them off your car.
5. Inflate those tires to the correct pressure
One of the easiest ways to improve your gas mileage is to inflate your tires to the correct pressure. Sadly, a lot of motorists today neglect this part. As long as the wheels are able to turn and the tires maintain good contact with the ground, then it’s already good enough for them. Regrettably, running on low tire pressure increases the rolling resistance of your tires on the ground surface. This robs you of very precious fuel. So make sure to inflate your tires to their correct pressure even before rolling out of your garage. Thankfully, you don’t have to second-guess the pressure levels in your car’s tires. There are now plenty of useful gadgets that seamlessly connect to your mobile giving you real-time information on tire pressure. This way you will know when you need to make the necessary adjustments.
Since the major factor that can increase fuel consumption is rolling resistance, you might want to check the tread pattern of your tires. The thing is many tire manufacturers today produce tires with relatively low rolling resistance. What this means is that the tires are able to roll along the surface of the road almost effortlessly. This reduction in resistance translates to easier workload for your engine which means, better fuel mileage.
6. Stick to the motor oil recommended by your vehicle manufacturer
Haven’t you noticed how adept aftermarket providers are when it comes to drumming up interest in their products? They will promise you improved performance and better gas mileage. While some of these products may actually deliver on their promises, do understand that these are not specific to your vehicle. As such, the testing done on the effectiveness of such products such as motor oils may not include the specific type of car brand, model, and trim that you have. You see, when car manufacturers designed their car, they always put these to a battery of tests to determine what specific type of motor oil to use will bring out the best performance of your engine under a variety of test conditions. That is why they always have this long list of recommended motor oils as well as what can be provided as alternatives. Using synthetic motor oil that has never been tested on the kind and type of car that you have in various conditions may result in the creation of increased friction in the mechanical parts of your engine. This pushes your engine to increase its work. And you know what happens next.
7. Keep your gas cap fully sealed
How many of you spend time to check the integrity of your gas cap? For most of us, we are only mindful of this part of our vehicle whenever we have to reach for that button to pop open the fuel door. The gas cap contains a rubber seal which forms an airtight protection against the possible entry of air into your gas tank. Unfortunately, this rubber seal degrades over time, forming cracks or failing altogether. This can allow oxygen to pass through into your gas tank, increasing the amount of air entering your car’s engine while fuel is being drawn or pumped from your tank. Because of this increased air in the fuel, your engine will have to burn more gas and this increases your fuel consumption.
Thankfully, most modern cars now have sensors to detect the integrity of the seal. Replacing these should be pretty straightforward. However, we really would caution you against using non-OEM parts as these may not be recognized by your car’s sensors. They may be inexpensive but the convenience of early detection through your car’s sensing mechanism will be grossly lacking.
8. Avoid prolonged idling
Did you know that running your engine at idle actually consumes roughly half a gallon to about a gallon of fuel every hour, not to mention the carbon dioxide that your engine pumps into the atmosphere? If this is the case, you can easily do the math. This means you’re burning about 1.067 to 2.13 ounces of fuel every minute that you are idle. This easily translates to about 10.67 ounces to 21.33 ounces for every 10 minutes of idling. Modern cars are now more efficient that you’re more likely to burn less fuel if you simply turn off your engine, wait for whatever it is you’re waiting for, then restart it rather than having your engine running all the time even though you’re not really moving. The same is true early in the mornings. Most of us have this tendency to rev it up in an effort to warm the engines quickly enough. Unfortunately, doing so burns more fuel than actually driving it. So start your engine, let it run for about 20 seconds, and roll off.
9. Drive in the highest possible gear but without putting undue stress on your engine
It might be counterintuitive, but it makes perfect sense. If you’re driving a manual, you should always run on the highest possible gear for the average speed that you’re going without subjecting your engine to unnecessary load. For example, instead of putting your gear into third when you’re hitting the road at about 40 mph, then you’ll be able to save 25% fuel if you put your gear on the 5th instead. The point is that if you’re traveling at any given speed, it is best to use the higher gear upon which its lower limit covers the speed that you’re travelling. This improves fuel efficiency as the engine doesn’t have to work that much to run on the higher speed limits of a particular gear. Running at high speeds in low gear can rob you of as much as 45 percent fuel than what is necessary. So keep this in mind. Of course, if you’re driving an automatic, just be easy on the gas pedal and make sure overdrive is on.
10. Forget aftermarket solutions
In keeping with our tip on using only parts that are recommended by your car manufacturer, you can also forget including in your engine anything that resembles ‘performance enhancing gizmo or technology’. While these may work, theoretically, its real-world results specifically in your type and make of car may be different. In most cases that they do work, the improvement may be almost negligible that you’re better off with not putting them onto your vehicle at all. Aftermarket enhancements such as airflow disruptors, pills, fuel line magnetizers, and a whole lot more can promise you 50% improvement in your fuel consumption, but these are exactly what they are – promises. Many auto reviews comment that these products don’t work at all. And in some instances, they do impact fuel consumption but in a negative way. Remember, even products that are endorsed by celebrities do not necessarily mean quality or that they are effective.
11. Utilize online resources to find the best deals on petrol
Of course, we’re only kidding about deals on petrol. However, it is not unusual for different organizations to provide discount coupons to be used on your next refuel in exchange for purchasing their products and/or services. While this doesn’t really improve your gas mileage, you are nevertheless, given the opportunity to save up on your next petrol. Use the internet for such a purpose. Even when on the road, you can use your internet-enabled mobile device to search for the petrol stations that offer the cheapest fuels within any given location. There are even 24-hour convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and burger joints that give you petrol coupons when you purchase any of their products. As long as you will be able to save some dough on your refueling needs, we believe you’ve got to grab the opportunity.
12. Refuel in the morning, not towards the end of the day
Did you know that refueling early in the morning can actually save you a dollar or two? It may not be that much, but if you’re refueling on twice weekly basis, you’re looking at 5- to 10-dollar savings a month. The reason is quite simple. You take advantage of the physical properties of petroleum products. Petrol stations have their storage tanks buried deep underground. Early in the morning the ground itself is still relatively cold, making the petrol dense. As the day progresses, temperature rises. With each increment in the temperature scale, you can expect the molecules of petrol to be expanding. So, if you’re going to refuel later in the day when the gas has already expanded, the 1 gallon that you put into your car’s gas tank may not be 1 gallon at all. This is because it has already expanded giving you an actual volume of less than 1 gallon.
The pumps used in petrol stations measure the flow rate of the fuel passing through the system. Fuel volume is then estimated based on this flow rate. Sensors in petrol station fuel pumps do not measure the actual density or volume of the fuel; only estimation based on the flow rate. Now here’s the deal breaker. Temperature affects density but not the flow rate. As such, if the fuel pump has been pre-programmed to deliver 1 gallon in 10 seconds, provided the flow rate is at maximum, colder petrol will be denser giving you substantially more fuel. But just how much more, you say? Well, studies show that refueling on a morning at 59 degrees Fahrenheit will net you 2.5% more petrol than refueling on an afternoon at 95°F. The thing is, you’re actually paying for the exact same price.
13. Consider remapping your car’s ECU
Modern tuners tweak a car’s engine control unit or ECU to bring out the best performance they wish to unleash from the motor. What many do not know is that you can actually use the same process to tweak the ECU for better mileage, which is technically the opposite of performance tweaking. Do understand however that remapping the ECU of your car is typically an expensive proposition. Additionally, the practice is quite dodgy as it often means your vehicle won’t successfully pass the emission tests that the government requires of all vehicles. If you have an Android phone, we’re pretty sure you are already familiar about flashing a custom ROM into your device so you can technically get absolute control over things about your phone. That’s exactly the same thing with ECU remapping or chipping for better mileage.
14. Give your fuel injectors a really good ultrasonic bath
If you’ve been to a jewelry store where they can restore any piece of gem into its former glory, then you have an idea of what we are talking about. Known as ultrasonic cleaning, the process involves immersing your car’s fuel injectors in a tub that is filled with a purpose-built cleaning solution before being subjected to ultra-high frequency sound waves or vibrations. This effectively shakes, loosens, and dislodges carbon deposits that may have accumulated in your fuel injectors. This gives you the full functionality of fuel injectors, enabling you to obtain a more efficient and more ideal fuel-air mixture in your engine. This leads to the more efficient burning of fuel, resulting in significant improvement in your gas mileage. Take note, it’s quite expensive.
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15. Do not ever forget replacing your air filter
A lot of vehicle owners are guilty of this. Many simply forget that among all the various tips to improving gas mileage, changing or replacing one’s air filters could be perhaps the easiest and most practical way to improve gas mileage. The reason is simple. If you own a car vacuum cleaner, you know that the powerful suction of your machine can be affected by the degree of blockage or obstruction due to debris and other particles in the bag. Cleaning or replacing the bag helps bring back the vacuuming efficiency of your gadget. In like manner, replacing your air filter within the recommended replacement period of your vehicle’s manufacturer can help improve overall engine efficiency by improving its ability to draw air from the environment. If the air filter is clogged up with dust, debris, or other particles, your car’s engine will have to work double time to draw air for mixing with fuel. This increases fuel consumption and lowers gas mileage. Replacing the engine air filter can instantly bring you amazing improvement in your gas mileage by as much as 15%. Not bad for an easy DIY quick fix.
16. Consider fitting an electric thermatic fan
Most new cars today already come with electric fans replacing the belt-driven fans of old. Unfortunately, if you’re still driving a vintage, you won’t have this luxury. The good news is that you can also replace your engine driven fan with more modern electric thermatic units. This effectively reduces the drag that is inherent in belt drives, although don’t expect the gas improvement in gas mileage to be very significant. In fact, it may be even negligible. But, given that fans are an important component of your car, then installing more efficient ones should help in the overall reduction of fuel consumption.
17. Plan your trip
We’re pretty sure you’ve experienced this already. You just came home from work when your wife asked you to go to the grocery for some stuff. You go in your car and as soon as you drive into your garage, there’s another errand that needs to be done. Why not just accomplish all of these things even before you drive home? We’re all guilty of this at some point in our lives. We fail to combine errands into a single trip so we don’t have to waste precious fuel driving to and fro. Several short trips can actually consume up to 2 times more fuel when initiated with a cold engine. So, even before you start bringing your car out of your garage, make sure you already have your list of things to do and errands to run to maximize the fuel you will be using for the trip.
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18. Choose your wheels carefully
The wheel is one of the easiest ways to deck out a car. You don’t need fancy body work to look especially awesome. All you need are some really nice-looking wheels to get the attention of the crowd. Unfortunately, if you’re not careful in your choice of the type of wheel to put into your car, you might as well end up with poor fuel mileage.
Remember that weight really matters when it comes to fuel economy. And while the wheels are what connect your vehicle to the tires and to the road surface, their weight can increase the workload on your car’s engine. That is why it is important to choose wheels that are lightweight yet super tough and durable that they can hold the entire weight of your vehicle without adding substantial weight on their own. This is where alloy wheels can be quite a joy to have. It doesn’t end there, however. Upsizing your wheels can also impact fuel economy. Even if you do manage to put a super lightweight alloy under your car, if you’re going to upsize it several sizes from its original size, then you still end up with a heavier set of wheels. Let us say you have a 15 x 6.0 inch wheel giving you a 22.9 mpg fuel economy. Upsizing this to say, 19 x 8.5 inches will substantially drop the fuel economy by about 10% to 21.1 mpg. Upsizing it to about 2 inches (17 x 8.0 inches) will give you a 0.4% reduction in fuel economy. So you see, the greater the upsize of your wheels, the greater the reduction in fuel mileage. As such, it will be wise to really take your time to study which type of wheel will suit your car best.
It is also important to factor in what type of tires you have fitted to your car depending on the conditions you are driving. Our guides on all-season tires, all-terrain tires and winter tires may prove helpful when making a selection. You can also use our tire size calculator here.
19. Use your car’s cruise control
We have this tendency to match the speed of the motorist in front of us whenever we’re on the highway. Even if the other guy is already beyond the speed limit, you’re more likely to follow his lead without you actually realizing it. Not only is this illegal, it is also very unsafe, not to mention very fuel-inefficient. Using the cruise control on your car will help you maintain speed that is legal, safe, and very fuel efficient. This is because it helps you move along just fine regardless of how fast other motorists are going. Cruise control also helps reduce your need for acceleration and braking which we already know can have a significant impact on fuel economy.
20. Be sensible when using the air conditioning unit
It is true that using your air conditioning unit can substantially lower fuel economy. However, it actually depends on when you’re going to turn on the AC. Studies now show that in city driving where stop-go-traffic won’t let you go anywhere near the 60 mph mark regardless of how much you’re aching to step on the pedal, it is more fuel efficient to roll down your windows and turn your car AC off. Now, when it comes to highway speeds in excess of 60 mph, the best approach is to roll up your windows and turn on the AC. This reduces drag caused by open windows. In short, if you’re driving slow turn off the AC and roll down your windows. If you’re driving really fast, then do the opposite.
Fuel economy is more about the right driving practices as well as a basic understanding of how certain physical principles affect the work of an engine. The bottom line is that any increase in engine work load results in an increase in fuel consumption, thus lowering gas mileage.