In the quest to improve fuel economy, you will find magic fuel additives, special spark plugs, Tornado-simulating air intake systems, and fuel line magnets. However, when it comes to actually producing some measurable gains, there are really only 10 proven methods that are worth both your time and your dollar.
10. The Glorious Right Hand Turn
In 2004, the UPS adopted a fuel savings technique which made a lot of sense. Whenever practical, drivers map out their deliveries to include as many right turns as possible. The reason they do this is it reduces the wait times often associated with making a left hand turn, such as when sitting at a red light, waiting for oncoming traffic behind a line of other vehicles. If you think about it, right turns are usually accomplished immediately, barring a red light or pedestrian in the crosswalk. In many cases, making several quick right turns versus one long left turn offers not only a time savings, but fuel savings to boot. Just a helpful tip from your friendly, non-disgruntled UPS driver!
9. Put the Squelch on Excess Idling
Excess idling is a very common source of reduced fuel economy for many people. Just sitting with an engine at idle and not going anywhere, is as practical as burning dollar bills outside of a savings and loan. The key is to know when to idle and when not to. Anytime you are going to be sitting motionless for over one minute, it is to your advantage to shutdown your vehicle and restart when you are ready to go again. This rule takes into consideration the wear and tear of restarting a vehicle, and any excess gas used in the starting process. Often, waiting at a light or during gridlock traffic are not appropriate times to follow this advice, however when picking-up/dropping-off a friend or waiting for a train, this can add up to some measurable fuel savings.
8. Air-Conditioning Versus Open Window/Sunroof
There is a lot of debate over the increased efficiency of an air-conditioner vs. open windows/sunroof. The debate hinges on the idea that by opening your windows, you are reducing aerodynamics, thereby diminishing any of the efficiency gained by not turning on the air-conditioner. What Car and Driver found during a series of tests, however, was that driving with the windows down is always better. This is especially true when a vehicle is traveling at low speeds. An air-conditioner can reduce economy by as much as 15 percent during idling and inner city travel. However, that goes to the single digits once the vehicle is traveling at constant highway speeds of 55 mph or greater. Of course if its 100+ degrees outside, any difference in fuel economy gained, is certainly not worth the suffering to be endured!
7. A Clean Vehicle is Home to a Happy Driver
The lighter a vehicle, the better the fuel economy it will provide. The less weight your engine has to pull around, the less your engine has to work (less fuel) and the less overall resistance on the vehicle. Think of it this way, for every 100 pounds you remove from a vehicle, you receive usable horsepower. This means that a vehicle will have to work less in order to yield the same performance. Reducing weight can be as simple as removing leftover trash, luggage, phone books, unnecessary tools/jackets, speakers, holding off on a second helping of Aunt Matilda’s pumpkin pie, and anything else offering up excess weight that isn’t necessary.
Wind drag certainly plays a part in fuel economy, although each small improvement only logs a very small percentage of efficiency gained. Therefore, to make the greatest difference, the entire vehicle should be engineered for maximum aerodynamics. Most new vehicles today have already undergone proper engineering to offer minimal fuel economy loss due to wind drag, but there are still some improvements that can often be made, such as lowering your vehicle (retaining minimum clearance of 2.7 inches from bumper to ground), installing functional air dams (front and back), and removing all sources of drag, such as antennas, cargo, and bike racks.
5. Driving 55, Will do More than Just Keep You Alive
There are many reasons why driving at the magic speed of 55 logs better fuel economy. One, this is assuming you are on a highway, which produces better fuel efficiency by reducing the gas guzzling effects of inner city stop-and-go traffic. Two, as most vehicles increase speeds beyond 55 they burn more fuel. This is due to increased engine effort, heat, air, and tire resistance. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a vehicle will burn 10 percent more fuel at 60 mph, and up to 25 percent more at 75 mph. Another interesting tidbit to keep in mind, is that when a vehicle is developed from a manufacturer, it is designed to log optimum fuel economy during tests from the EPA, which range from 48 to 60 mph (the speed range for the highway portion of the tests).
4. Free Flowing Exhaust System
This is once again another greatly misunderstood after-market upgrade for vehicles. A free flowing exhaust system can increase the fuel economy of a vehicle, simply by improving the overall efficiency of the engine. A free flowing system does not mean that the exhaust has to be loud, it just needs to flow better. Sound has little to do with a properly tuned exhaust. What we’re after here is efficiency, and the greater the efficiency of an engine, the less fuel that will be necessary for the engine to perform at its original intended level. However, any increased fuel efficiency attained, can be lost due to poor driving technique, which brings us to the next method of improving fuel economy.
3. Free flowing Air Intake System
While the performance oriented air intake system takes a lot of flack for being just for street racers, this is certainly not the case. Many vehicles will benefit from a free flowing intake filter within some type of box to help shield the incoming air from under hood temperatures. Some after-market intake systems can do more harm than good, however, so it is always important to make sure that you are using a system which has been designed and tuned to function properly with your vehicle.
2. Proper Tires (Tread Pattern/Roll Resistance, Size, Inflation)
Tires are another often misunderstood portion of good fuel economy. They are actually one of the most important links between you and the road. Without them, you’d just sit in your driveway making a lot of noise. There are three factors of a tire that can affect your fuel economy, the overall size, tread pattern, and inflation value. Overly Large wheels (both width & diameter) hurt mileage due to their increased weight and roll resistance. Tread patterns are also a factor in economy, as certain patterns create more rolling resistance than others. The last factor is inflation. A tire off by as little as 5 PSI, according to Car and Driver, can reduce fuel economy by one to two percent. Research the benefits of new Goodyear tires for you car, SUV or truck.
1. Tune-up, Clean Filters, and Properly Gapped Spark Plugs
The day your vehicle left the showroom, was probably the best fuel economy it will ever see. This is because as an engines wears, it becomes less efficient overall. In order to maintain that original efficiency as much as possible, you need to maintain and change your vehicles oil, filters, spark plugs (properly gapped), spark plug wires (if you still got them), and keep the engine in proper tune. An engine in poor tune can lose as much as 20 percent of its original efficiency. This is why the first step to any project aimed at improving fuel consumption, should be to restore the engine back to its original state.
By Eric J. Leech