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Tips for Reducing Auto Fuel Consumption

With just a little time and effort, most drivers can learn how to reduce their gasoline expenses by 20% or more. There is a lot of advice floating around on how to reduce gas consumption and save money, but in reality some of these tips may be inaccurate, inconvenient or even dangerous. Drafting behind semi trucks may let daredevils save a little fuel, but the prospect of pain and hospital bills after a major wreck makes it too risky for most drivers. Keeping safety, effectiveness and convenience in mind, there are a number of proven methods to cut back on fuel usage that you can put into practice today.

Skip “Fuel-Saving” Additives and Devices

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet when it comes to reducing the fuel consumed by your car, truck or SUV. Despite extravagant claims of savings, dozens of gadgets and fuel additives on the market have been shown through testing to have no effect or, even worse, to decrease a vehicle’s fuel efficiency! As reported on the Mythbusters tv show, only 7 out of 104 supposed fuel-savers tested by the EPA offered any decrease at all in gas usage, and the top performer only cut consumption by a paltry 6%. Rather than wasting money on products whose promises are too good to be true, stick with the verified tips described in this article.

Inflate and Align Tires Properly

When tires are in proper alignment and filled to at least the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended air pressure, you will get more miles to the gallon.  A tire that is under-inflated will have increased rolling resistance, causing the engine to work harder than it has to and burning up to 15% more fuel as you roll down the road.  The air pressure specified by an automaker is marked on a placard inside the driver’s door in cars made after 2002, and should be listed in the owner’s manual for all vehicles.

Some drivers choose to further decrease rolling resistance and fuel costs by adding air to the tires until the psi is over the car maker’s recommended level, but always below the maximum psi rating stated on the tire. This level of inflation is safe and even enhances cornering ability, according to hi-mpg.org, since the auto manufacturer’s psi recommendation is generally set lower merely to improve “ride quality.”

To get an accurate reading, check the tire pressure when the tires are cold and the car hasn’t been driven, such as first thing in the morning.  If this isn’t possible, check the Tirerack website for helpful instructions on adjusting psi to the proper level under various conditions, such as if the car has been recently driven, and for daily and seasonal temperature changes.

Drive Steady at the Right Speed

Tailgating and having a leadfoot on the gas and brake pedals as you travel down the road burns much more fuel than hanging back and maintaining a stable pace. Instead of repeatedly accelerating and decelerating, make it a habit to drop back and anticipate the flow of traffic ahead; use a lighter touch to adjust the car’s speed appropriately, and coast without resorting to the gas or brake whenever possible. In testing, city drivers who preserved a more consistent speed by accelerating and braking less often saw a 20% drop in fuel consumption.

Although earlier recommendations claimed that the best average fuel economy was obtained in the 35 to 40 mph range, the most recent Federal Highway Administration data indicates that driving 50-55 mph usually derives the most mileage from a gallon of gas.  However, faster than that isn’t better. According to the FHWA, raising your speed from 55 to 65 mph burns almost 10% more fuel, while an increase to 75 mph consumes over 17% more gasoline.  The optimum speed for maximizing fuel efficiency can vary somewhat by vehicle make and model, so seek out the exact figures for your car, truck or SUV to save the most money.

Plan Your Trips

A little forethought can slash fuel consumption whether the journey is to the grocery store, or across country. For longer trips especially, plan the best route beforehand using mapquest.com by typing in the addresses of your starting point and destination, as well as any intermediate stops. A link will appear next to each available route which allows you to calculate and compare the anticipated fuel costs. (This does require you to input your vehicle’s mpg figures, available from a linked Department of Energy website.)

For local drives, you will travel fewer miles overall if you can incorporate several necessary stops into one outing. Before you head out to the grocery store, think about other things that are on your “to do” list: are there books that need to go back to the library, or clothes to pick up from the dry cleaner? Combining different errands into one trip saves both time and fuel, plus driving any extra miles when your engine is already warm offers another boost to fuel efficiency, which is lower when the motor is cold.

Keep Up with Maintenance

If your air filter is dirty and plugged, it could be wasting 10% of the fuel you buy due to inefficient operation of your vehicle.  A spark plug that is past its prime or defective can boost fuel consumption by 30%. Neglected maintenance chores like these and others, such as checking fluid levels, can seriously hamper your auto’s functioning. Regular changes of oil, transmission fluid, and transfer case fluid or differential fluid allow mechanical parts to operate without the increased resistance from fluids thickened with age and debris. Refer to your owner’s manual for the optimal maintenance schedule to keep your vehicle running efficiently, or look it up by model and year on edmunds.com.

Use the Right Lubricants

Switching your vehicle to synthetic lubricants can result in up to a 12% reduction in gas consumption. Besides engine oil, synthetic substitutes are available for transmission fluid, differential gear oil and wheel bearing grease. Using a lower weight motor oil will also improve kinematic viscosity, making it easier to pump oil through the engine, which becomes more fuel efficient as it operates with less resistance.

Buy a More Fuel-Efficient Car

One of the best options for reducing fuel consumption may be to buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle.  Whether your budget has you contemplating the purchase of a new or used car, trading your current wheels for ones that get a better mpg rating will minimize gas usage. The EPA lists the top ten fuel sippers, if you are able to make a big up-front investment and recoup the fuel savings down the road. Otherwise, the “Your MPG” tab on the EPA website allows you to enter any vehicle’s year and model details to view statistics for it, so you can compare the fuel efficiency of your ride with other possibilities, and make a smart choice.

Fuel savings are sure to be in your future if you follow even some of the tips described in this article. The key points are to commit to a maintenance schedule for your car and tires, plan your drives, and drive with less braking and acceleration. For inspiration in achieving your goal of lower fuel consumption, look to the example of “hypermiler” Wayne Gerdes, who succeeded in averaging over 100 mpg during his summer driving.