Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fuel Efficiency Tips Roundup

Here's a quick round-up of fuel-efficiency tips I've posted about so far (and a few I haven't).  Of course, the best way to save gas is to simply drive less!  But since that isn't an option for everyone, I'm focusing here on tips you can use while driving.

Simple Tips - Tips everyone can use

These tips are geared towards the "every person".  Even if you can't use all of them, use the ones that work for you in your car with your lifestyle.  Every bit helps!

  • Slow Down - For every 5 mph you travel over 60mpg, you're paying on average $.30 more per gallon of gas.  Try to avoid Interstates where traffic regularly moves at speeds over 60mph.
  • Avoid idling & drive-thrus- While you're idling, you're getting 0mpg.  Park your car and go inside rather than waiting in line for minutes at the drive-through.
  • Coast up to red lights - There is no reason to accelerate towards a red light.  If you coast, the chances are still high that you'll have to stop entirely, but you'll be traveling slower, using less gas, and you won't have to brake as hard, saving wear and tear on your brakes too. 
  • Inflate your tires properly - Properly inflated tires can save you up to 3% (0.4% per tire per 1lb under pressure)
  • Plan your routes - Avoid steep hills and routes with a lot of stop lights whenever possible.
  • Avoid rush-hour traffic - In heavy traffic, you're likely to spend more time idling waiting for red lights or in bumper-to-bumper slowdowns on highways & interstates.  Leave a little earlier or later than normal when traffic is lighter.
  • Lighten up - Removing 100lbs of spare weight from your car can improve your fuel efficiency by 1-2%.  Check your trunk for junk!
  • Pull through parking - Try to find a parking space where you can pull through to the space in front of you to avoid having to use reverse when you leave.  It's also a little safer since you'll be able to see other moving vehicles better.
  • Avoid jackrabbit starts - For most of us, we get the worst mileage when getting our cars up to speed from a start.  Take your time and reach speed gradually rather than doing a "jackrabbit" start.
  • Combine trips - Rather than making several short trips in a day, try to batch up your trips.  You'll get better fuel efficiency once your car is warmed up, so making several short stops along one big trip will keep your car warmer than several short trips.
  • Use cruise control and overdrive gears - At highway and Interstate speeds, cruise control will help you maintain a constant speed, reducing the need to brake or accelerate.  Overdrive gears will help your engine run at lower speeds, using less gas.
  • Keep your car properly maintained - A dirty air filter, for example, can lower your fuel efficiency by as much as 10%.
  • Track your mileage - Keeping a log of your mileage and notes about your driving habits is a great way to figure out which tips work best for you.  Keep a notebook in your car or buy something like the ScanGauge II trip computer to log your trips.  You can also find mileage tracking applications for most current mobile phones.

Extreme Tips

I classify these tips as "extreme" because most people will find them difficult or risky to adopt.  However, if you're really dedicated to getting better efficiency, they can make a big difference.

Safety Note - Some of the following tips may increase your risk of causing or being involved in an accident.  Please use common sense when driving and obey all traffic laws and maintenance guidelines appropriate for your vehicle.

  • Fill your tank halfway - A gallon of gas weighs around 6lbs.  In a typical mid-sized car with a 16 gallon tank, you can save almost 50lbs by only filling up halfway.  The downside of this is that you'll be filling up more often.
  • Over-inflate your tires - This is very risky, as it increases your chances of a blow-out.
  • Don't use the air conditioning - Roll down the windows instead.  Personally, I leave the windows slightly cracked at highway speeds and then lower them all the way when I come to stops. 
  • Use low viscosity oil - The lower the viscosity, the less your engine has to work against the oil.  Use the lowest-weight oil recommended for your vehicle.
  • Ridge riding - When driving in the rain, you'll notice that water tends to puddle in the grooves in the road where most drivers position their vehicles.  By pulling slightly to the right and positioning your right tires on the side of the road and your left tires between the grooves, you'll be riding up on the "ridges" and out of the puddles.  Driving through the water increases drag on your tires and increases your risk of hydroplaning.
  • Drafting - This is extremely dangerous, but I include it for completeness.  By positioning your car closely behind a large semi truck trailer, you'll be driving in the vacuum created by the low aerodynamics of the truck.  If you follow too closely, you run a very high risk of being involved in an accident.  If you follow too far behind, you'll get stuck in the turbulence and you'll actually get worse mileage than if you were driving alone on the road.
  • One-shoe driving - This works especially well in the Honda Civic Hybrid.  This particular car can be coaxed into "EV glide" mode.  By applying the gas and then backing off until you hear the engine valves close, the electric assist motor helps maintain speed with very little gas consumption.  In this mode, you can cruise at an FE of around 85mpg on flat roads.  Driving without a shoe on your gas foot makes it easier to feel the subtle shift in engine response as you enter and exit EV glide mode.
  • Shift into neutral - This works well if you don't have a hybrid car.  Shifting into neutral while you're coasting down a hill or up to a red light can dramatically cut down your fuel consumption.  Just don't forget to shift back into drive before you step on the gas!

I'm sure I haven't listed all the great tips.  If you know of others not listed above, please leave a comment to let me know how you drive more efficiently.

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