Expensive Gas in CaliforniaI love going on Road Trips, but the increasing fuel cost can put a damper on my mood to drive long distances. Due to the recent hike in gas prices, I wanted to share this article about fuel efficient driving techniques with you. As a student I didn't have a lot of money and the cost of gasoline was always a major issue for me. I have learned many ways of saving money for gas by improving my gas mileage. There are many things you can do, aside from going out and buying a more fuel efficient car, that will help you tremendously to cut down your gasoline expenses. Many require only minor adjustments to your driving style. I am going to review some well known techniques and some of my own that I used as a student. I have always been able to exceed the specified gas mileage of my car (even meeting the specified numbers is pretty tough). In my previous article on gas prices, I speculated that those high prices are here to stay and that we will never see really cheap gas again. In this article I am going to talk a bit about what you can do to save gas. Update: I bought two Hybrid cars since I wrote this article and learned many new techniques that helped me with Hybrids: Improving Hybrid Car Gas Mileage
Changing your Driving Habits
Brake the right way
1. A car consumes most gas as it accelerates. It's a simply law of physics (force equals mass times acceleration). A moving car doesn't require much gasoline to keep moving (due to the inherent inertia). In real life this means, in order to improve your mileage you need to keep the ride smooth. Let me give you some examples.
About 30% of the drivers I see in somewhat heavy traffic apparently cannot control their speed with the accelerator pad alone. Instead I see those guys speed up and slam on the brakes all the time. Obviously, that makes the guy following too close behind very nervous and he too needs to brake and accelerate constantly. In really heavy (but still moving) traffic about 90% of the cars do this. It is relatively easy to hold a speed in a long line of cars without stepping on the brake. Just keep a little bit more distance and try to practice this. If the traffic moves along, you rarely need to brake, unless everything slows down. If you pay attention to the cars ahead of you (not just the one right in front of your nose, but the other cars ahead of that one), you can anticipate when things will slow down and you can ease off the gas. This means you won't lose all that power to friction (on the brakes) and you can keep your speed without having to accelerate. In heavy traffic this is the most efficient way to save gas and can easily get you 10% - 20% better gas mileage.
2. If you own a hybrid powered car, the statement above applies even more to you. Try to avoid fast braking. Hybrid cars have the ability to convert braking power into electric energy and store them in their batteries. However this (induction) will only give yo so much braking power. If you need to decelerate faster, your brakes will engage and energy will be lost.
So the next time you are approaching a traffic light, start braking a lot sooner and don't slam on the brakes the last minute. This will significantly improve the efficiency of your hybrid car.
By starting to decelerate sooner, I can often avoid coming to a complete stop (regular car), before the traffic light switches to green and the cars in front of me start rolling. This way I can keep some of my inertia and don't have to accelerate as much (<- more gas saved).
Turn off your air condition
3. This tip might be somewhat impractical in some areas. I would never dare to switch off the air condition of my car in Arizona in the Summer. However I also know that the compressor for the air conditioner loads the motor of my car more, which will reduce my fuel economy. I try not to use the air conditioner if I don't have to.
Park your car in the shade if you can, so you won't have to keep the AC working as hard when you go somewhere.
Roll down the windows just a tiny bit, so the air can circulate through your car while you are parked (might not be a good idea in areas with a high theft rate).
Turn off the AC 5 minutes before you reach your destination and don't keep it working until the last second.
4. A manual transmission is truly fantastic. I can only encourage everyone to try it out. You can pretty much determine if you want a sporty shifting (at higher RPM) or a fuel efficient shifting (at low RPM). No matter how "intelligent" automatic transmissions are, they aren't as smart as you. Due to the way an automatic transmission shifts, there are also higher losses associated with automatic transmissions. Overall a manual transmission can be a lot more fuel efficient.
If you have a manual transmission and want to save some gas, you need to shift up early and shift down late.
Most people get taught that they need to shift at a certain RPM, which is, excuse me, complete BS. You need to feel the car and the load condition to figure out when you need to shift. A car that goes uphill needs to pull a lot more and should be driven at a higher RPM (or else it jumps). On the other side, if you are gliding along an empty road, you can drive at extremely low RPM (high gear). Then if you want to accelerate (you need a bit more power), you quickly shift down, get up to speed and shift up again. I always shift by feeling the car and I rarely ever look at the RPM (except for my amusement or out of boredom, or if I really want to race and need to shift before the red line).
5. If you have a cruise control and there isn't a whole lot of traffic, you probably should use it (it will keep the speed constant and hence doesn't need to accelerate).
6. Use the overdrive gears, as this will generally keep your RPM down and your wallet happy.
7. Shift into neutral when you are standing still to reduce transmission strain and cool off the transmission.
I added some more information on shifting, down in the comments below this post.
8. Coming back to the force equals mass times acceleration. We already established that one shouldn't accelerate as much. You can also try to reduce the mass of your car by emptying out the trunk and removing heavy items that you don't need (keep your spare tire and car lift, but get rid of the gardening equipment).
Turn your car off
9. When you turn on a car, it uses a bit of gas. When the car is idling, it uses a fixed amount of gas over a period of time (especially with the AC on).
In most scenarios (depending on the car), the energy balance will be positive if you turn off your car for more then 20 seconds.
That means you can save gas if you turn off you car while waiting at long traffic light sequences, railroad crossings or while your better half pulls money from the ATM. Any time you can foresee that you will not be moving for more then 30s or 1minute you should turn off the engine to help your vacation budget.
10. Yeah right. Obviously thats not something I am all that fond off being the leadfoot driver I am. Well, it's a proven fact that driving fast will increase the drag (turbulence) and thus increase your fuel consumption, however I simply cannot bring myself to drive below the legal speed limit. It's your choice. There is not that much difference between 60mph and 65mph in terms of fuel consumption. However I grew up in Germany (no speed limits). A car racing along at its maximum speed of 200km/h (depending on the car), would consume about twice as much gas as if it were driven at 160km/h. At the upper end of the power spectrum engines become very inefficient.
11. Drafting has given me some excellent mileage when I used to commute long distance a long time ago. Obviously, it requires a bit of skill and it's not exactly recommended, since you should pay attention to the road and we all know, most people who read this just don't. However it is probably one of the best "secret" fuel saving tips I can give you.
This technique is frequently used by race car drivers to gain speed and truck convoys to save fuel.
Every car has a certain amount of drag (or wind resistance). This drag, the rolling resistance of your tires (see below under maintenance) and the friction in your engine are the three main causes of reduced efficiency. A car moving through the air causes the air to split around the car and turbulence behind the car. If you drive your car into another cars slipstream, both cars will save fuel (less turbulence). The following car saves the most gasoline.
Now remember, I am not advocating to tailgate. However, you can try to find a large truck (more turbulence and a longer slipstream tail) and slip in there. Now you can still keep some distance (unlike the NASCAR driver) and still save gas.
However, many people cannot regulate their speed without braking (see above). In this case you are probably better off just keeping your distance and not braking.
Close your windows
12. Believe it or not, but opening your windows will increase the turbulences and eventually cost you fuel. If you can, use only the ventilation system of your car. I cannot really gauge this against using the air conditioner. I believe that opening your windows at low speeds and using the air conditioner at high speeds gives you better fuel economy.
Fill up at Arco
13. Year after year Chevron and Shell are making new record earnings while squeezing the poor motorists for every penny. They advertise their expensive gasoline with buzzwords such as Techron, V-Power and some other BS words. Basically, that means they put some expensive stuff into the gas to sell it at a better profit. In fact, the gasoline of all gas stations flows through the same pipeline and the only difference is the magic stuff they poor into the gas to claim a cleaner burning fuel or better fuel efficiency. At the same time their average gas price is about 10c - 30c above other cheaper gas stations in the neighborhood. I can see no difference in my gas mileage when I empty a tank of Arco vs. a tank full off Techron enhanced souped-up high tech additive gas spritz. And if it cleans anything then certainly my wallet, which is all squeaky clean after filling up.
Well, I am tired of financing the billions of those mega empires. I am getting my gas at the Arco and I have never had any trouble with the quality. Of course you are free to throw your hard earned dollars at Chevron (pay 10% more and save 3% on their rebate cards - another scam to tie the customer to their high priced gas) or Shell in the hopes their magic bullet fuel additives do anything for you.
Now let me back up a second. Sometimes I actually go to Chevron to fill up. I put exactly 8 gallons into my tank so I qualify for a discount at the car wash.
14. When I am on the road, I try to keep an eye open for gas prices along the way. If I see the price jumping down, i usually fill up. Some gas stations offer free coffee with fill up or a free hot dog, and if their gas costs the same as the gas across the street, I go for the coffee with my gas.
Pick a better route
15. Avoid heavy traffic and lots of traffic lights. The shortest route is not always the most fuel efficient if you have to stop a lot.
Cheap Car maintenance
Why cheap car maintenance? I don't believe that spending a lot of money on fuel additives or special tires or whatever I see suggested elsewhere will really help you to improve your bottom line, and that's what this article is about. For instance I do not believe that your fuel economy suffers much if you change your oil every 5000 miles instead of 3000 miles (but it does save money not to change oil that often).
Pump it up
16. Inflate your tires to the specified level (I usually go about 0.2 PSI above). This will reduce the contact area of your tire to the road and therefore reduce the friction. It will help you to get a slightly improved gas mileage.
17. If you don't need Snow Tires or Chains, remove them. Don't drive around all summer with Snow Tires. They are softer and have a deeper profile which will increase friction.
Rent a smaller car
18. Remember that mass and acceleration equation? Well, a small car always has a better fuel economy due to its smaller mass. Smart budget travelers therefore rent smaller cars and don't care much about the status a shiny big car conveys. They rather indulge in a good drink at the end of the day (when they don't need to drive anymore) with all the gas money they saved. Their vacation pictures look just as glorious, but they still have pocket change for bigger prints.
19. Why are you driving around with that ski-, bicycle- or luggage-rack on your roof if you don't need it? Didn't you know that this increases the wind resistance of your car? Well now you do. Seriously, removing those will save you quite a bit of gasoline.
20. Chip tuning for your engine used to be pretty big way back when gas cost less then water. These days the buzzword is eco tuning. Many tuners offer replacement chips for your engine computer that increase the power while at the same time saving gas. How is this possible? Well to cut this already long article short, they improve both ends of the curve. At the upper end they give you more power (with reduced efficiency) and at the lower end a better efficiency. You choose with the gas pedal which mode to use. Make sure you use manufacturer approved tuners if you don't want to lose your warranty.
Use the correct grade of motor oil
21. The grade of the oil pretty much tells us about the viscosity. If you use the wrong grade, you may increase the friction in your engine. It gets hotter and uses more gas.
23. Replace your air filter when you need to, or your mix won't be right. However don't replace it every time the mechanics tell you to (they make money with it). Try to find out how often you need a new filter.
Turn off the lights
24. Well, this one might be a safety concern. Many Rental Car companies have daylights enabled on their cars which are rather efficient. However every electrical equipment is powered from the alternator which will increase its load on the engine to produce more power. So when you can do it safely, turn off those headlights.
Here comes the discussion we don't like to read as much.
25. Well, if two people are riding in a car, the gas used per person is immediately cut into half. If 4 people are sharing a ride, their individual gas bill becomes only one third. Since they can now use carpool lanes, they won't have to spend as much time in traffic (idle engines use gas too) and get an even better gas mileage, plus they get home sooner. Its not always feasible though.
26. Try to combine trips. If you live outside of town, try to go into town only once and get everything you need done.
Fuel Efficient Cars
27. If you are in the market for a new car, you definitely should consider fuel efficiencies. However I wouldn't buy a hybrid just for the better fuel economy if I weren't in the market for a new car. You can easily calculate how much money you would save a year and weigh that against the cost of the car (plus the potentially higher maintenance cost).
28. Its not commonly known, but Diesel engines can give you a much better gas mileage than Hybrids on long distance drives. That's one of the reasons, hybrids aren't popular in Europe but Diesels are.
29. Don't fill up unless you are on empty, since all this gas weighs a lot and as we have already learned (force equals .... - you know it). However I usually only do this when gas prices are falling or constant (so I can wait longer and get cheaper gas). When gas prices are rising, I fill up sooner. Due to the psychological impact of rising gas prices, people usually do the exact opposite, which will eventually cost them more.
30. The list still grows. Someone made an excellent suggestion for trucks in the forum. Dropping the tailgate of his small truck, Ronald is able to improve the aerodynamics and thus get a better gas mileage. Sounds plausible.
31. I also noticed that the first gas station you encounter after a long thirsty stretch is almost never the cheapest. After you leave a national park and didn't have a chance to pump gas for a long time, the first station will often have slightly higher prices as everyone pulls over to fill up as soon as they can. I usually drive a little further to find a cheaper station.
32. I do not fill up on gas stations visible from the Interstate I am driving on or from the main freeways. I usually take an exit at a moderately sized city when I am on a road trip and head for the city center. Before I actually get there, I usually find much better deals. Location and Competition are the factors that determine local price fluctations. This means you need to look for places with lots of competition (hence moderately sized city) and avoid prime locations (get away from the main roads). Large cities often have higher gas prices and are harder to navigate. On my last trip, I pulled over whenever I saw a station that had significantly lower prices then I had seen previously, even if my tank was only half-empty. On road trips, the rules are slightly different. Fill up whenever and wherever it is cheap and do not wait for yout tank to be empty. Book 3+ nights at Expedia and get a free $50 gas card! - Offer good Monday - Friday until June 30th.