In Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel “The Magnificent Ambersons,” inventor and automotive industry pioneer Eugene Morgan exclaims that “for all their forward speed, (automobiles) may be a step back from civilization.” Little did anyone know, but the Indianapolis-born novelist may have anticipated America’s current fuel crisis.
We love cars and depend on them in countless avenues, from industry to family transportation to leisure; however, the economic impact that gas prices have had on our wallets may just be a step backwards for civilization. The American Automobile Association recently forecast that the number of car travelers during the Memorial Day holiday in 2008 would drop by almost 360,000 from the previous year’s total. This is widely attributed to the rising cost of gasoline.
However, our love/hate relationship with cars, trucks, RVs, and motorcycles continues. This is despite the fact that gas prices seem to hit new all-time highs every day. For those of us who need to squeeze as much MPG as possible out of our vehicles, here are 10 tips for maximizing gas mileage.
Make maintenance a priority –
one) Use the recommended grade motor oil for the vehicle. Most newer passenger car and light truck engines require 5W-30 oil for multi-purpose driving. This lighter oil provides protection that reduces friction and helps engines run more efficiently, which equates to higher fuel consumption. Older engines generally run better with 10W-30 or 10W-40. However, you should always check your owner’s manual or dealer to see what grade of oil your engine is designed for. If you use 10W-30 in an engine designed for 5W-30, you can actually lower your MPG. According to the US Department of Energy, using the proper weight of oil (as well as synthetic blends when possible) can increase MPG by one to two percent or more, or at least $0.04 to $0. .08 per gallon of gasoline.
two) Keep your tires properly inflated. Tires that are properly inflated are safer and last longer. You can improve your mileage by about 3.3 percent if you maintain proper tire pressure. That translates to approximately $0.12 per gallon. Depending on tire size and maximum vehicle load, proper inflation can range from 32 to 60 PSI on average. Keep in mind that for every 1 PSI drop in tire pressure, your mileage drops by 0.4 percent. Due to their more constant rate of expansion and contraction, some sources recommend filling tires with nitrogen instead of air, as racing drivers do. The overall benefit to the average driver is currently under debate, but in theory, nitrogen’s constant rate of expansion and contraction keeps tires in proper contact with the road, increasing traction and therefore mileage.
3) Check and replace air filters regularly. Prevent dust and dirt from clogging your engine cylinders with a fresh air filter. This allows them to run more efficiently, increasing both engine power and MPG. Replacing a clogged filter can improve gas mileage by 10 percent, up to a savings of $.41 per gallon.
4) Get a tune up. If your vehicle is out of tune or has recently failed an emissions test, improve your mileage by four percent with a standard tune up. For more serious problems like a bad oxygen sensor, repairs can improve MPG by up to 40 percent.
5) Use the necessary octane fuel. The octane rating determines how fast the fuel burns in an internal combustion engine. The higher the octane rating, the longer it will take for the fuel to burn. A slow burn is generally more efficient than a fast burn, so on the surface it would seem that high-octane fuel is the way to go. However, 92-octane is typically up to $0.20 per gallon more expensive than standard 87-octane, and the benefit of higher octane does not outweigh the increased cost.
Go Green: Go Hi-Tech –
6) try a hybrid. Hybrid electric vehicles are all the rage in our increasingly environmentally conscious society. Not only do they lower harmful emissions and reduce engine wear, but the fuel-saving features of hybrid engines allow them to achieve an additional 20 to 30 miles per gallon. There are also tax incentives to make the switch.
7) Don’t be fooled by gas-saving gadgets. OK, change the list format on this one. According Popular Mechanicsnot only do gimmicks like copper tubes, magnets and other devices and unconventional fuel additives show little to no improvement in your MPG, but most seem to hurt fuel economy and power.
Drive well –
8) Have you ever heard of hyper-milling and eco-driving?? These driving techniques center around a few basic ideas. For example, slide towards the red light stops. Accelerate slowly and smoothly. On the highway, set the cruise control at or slightly below the speed limit. Look for fuel efficiency in a new car, rather than horsepower. Drive behind larger vehicles for aerodynamic benefits, like a NASCAR driver, but at a much safer speed. Avoid excessive idling. Use overdrive gears. Ease off the throttle and save your brakes whenever possible. Not only will these techniques improve your MPG by 30 percent or more, but you’ll be much more relaxed once you get the hang of it.
9) Plan and Combine your Trips. Save fuel and reduce wear and tear on your car by doing things like staggering your work hours to avoid peak travel times, working remotely if you can, and using carpools and public transportation. When running errands, try to get multiple jobs done in one trip. Several short trips from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one longer trip, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
10) Lose weight. No, I don’t necessarily mean you, but every little bit helps. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle can reduce MPG by up to two percent, or $0.04 to $0.08 per gallon of gas. So don’t lug around that jet ski, trailer, or a quarter ton of garden bricks if you don’t plan on using them on that trip.
With these tips in your arsenal, you can get the most out of your car’s fuel economy and driving life, help save the environment, and ease that pain in the pocket. Once alternative fuels become more widely available for consumer use, do the right thing and make the switch at the earliest opportunity. It will be a step forward for civilization.