Good Morning La Vergne: The Better Gas Mileage Edition

Taxes, hell. What about the RIDICULOUS gas prices? Luckily I know a few things about cars and can give you some handy tips on getting better gas mileage. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

First, you have to look at how much car you need. Obviously if you already have a car and aren’t looking for one, this doesn’t apply. But if you *are* looking to get a new (used, whatever) car, think about how large of a car you need, and how much horsepower you need. It cracks me up whenever I see women say, “I had to get this (insert some behemoth vehicle here) because I have two kids now and I just didn’t have enough space in my little Honda Accord.” I can fit one teenager, one tween, and one 7 year old in a booster seat into the backseat of my car. Do they hate it? Yeah, but how often do I really drive around with all of them plus my husband in the car? It’s not much. Take it into careful consideration when you buy. Minivans typically get better gas mileage than SUVs.

Next, make sure your car is properly maintained:

I have heard the argument that synthetic oil improves gas mileage. Now, there are a lot of really technical reasons I could go into as to why it is supposed to increase gas mileage, but I’ll just go with my own data I’ve compiled- I have tracked my mileage both with and without synthetic oil, and there is a difference in gas mileage, but it’s slight. So slight, in fact, that I think the extra cost associated with the synthetic oil (especially if you are using full synthetic which is EXPENSIVE) really negates the gas savings.

However, changing your oil regularly will not only save wear and tear on your engine, but it will also help your car’s gas mileage. The reason for this is simple: the older and dirtier oil gets, the harder your engine has to work. The harder your engine has to work, the more gas you use. Some people swear by the every 5,000 mile oil change, but I go ahead and do mine every 3,000 miles as most manufacturers recommend.

Make sure your air filter is clean. As it gets dirty, you can pull it out and beat some of the dust out of it, but after awhile, that doesn’t work and you have to change it. This is the same principle as above: if there isn’t enough air flowing through your engine, it has to work harder.

Keep your fuel system nice and clean. Many modern gasolines contain cleaners, so in theory, you should never have to use a fuel system additive if you use decent gas. Fuel companies that I know for sure use the cleaner additive are Exxon, Shell and BP. There are probably others, but I’m only sure about those three. I don’t always use their gas in my car, I do sometimes get gas at Kroger and places like that, however, I do *mostly* buy gas from those three places. About once a month I fill up with the non-ethanol gas, as well.

Don’t forget your ignition system! That would be things like spark plugs, spark plug wires, distributor cap, rotor button, ignition coils, etcetera. I change my spark plugs a bit earlier than the manufacturer’s recommendation- about 80K miles compared to the recommended 100K miles. I don’t know that there’s any real benefit to that, I’m just an overachiever.

Keep your tires properly inflated. For every 10 psi your tires are low, there is a 4% decrease in fuel economy. The proper inflation level for your tires is normally printed on the sidewall of the tire. Unless you have nitrogen in your tires (usually marked by green caps on the valve stem), you need to check the air pressure in your tires any time there is a major temperature change. This is because air expands when it is hot and contracts when it’s cool. Keeping your tire pressure correct not only helps with gas mileage, but it also helps extend the life of your tires.

EDIT: This, from our own awesome Sarah: When I worked at dealership, I was taught to find the correct PSI for your vehicle on a white sticker on the inside edge of the driver’s door and not on the tire wall. This is especially true of high performance tires. I once made the mistake of filling a customer’s tires on a Jaguar coupe to 42 PSI and they came right back because the car was handling like crap. It turns out they were only supposed to be filled to something like 32 PSI.

There are also several non-maintenance related ways to improve your fuel economy:

First, remove any extra weight you may be toting around in your car. Nah, you don’t have to go on a diet or toss your husband out on the side of the road. But it’s pretty normal to accumulate a bunch of junk in your car’s trunk. Try to keep it cleaned out. It’s interesting- older Honda Civics with the same basic engine they have today, get far better fuel economy than the newer Civics. Know why? Safety equipment that is now standard on newer cars adds weight to the cars. It’s a trade-off, safety for gas mileage. Don’t ditch your safety equipment (like your spare tire, you might need it!) but do get rid of all that extra crap you have in your car.

Don’t be a leadfoot. Accelerating uses more gas than maintaining speed. So don’t peel off from the stoplight, accelerate steadily instead. Additionally, you will get the best fuel economy when you drive between 35 and 55 miles per hour. So, slow down. (But don’t do it when you’re in front of me, I’ve got places to go and I hate slow drivers, ha)

But also don’t slam on the brake. If you see a red light ahead, the best thing to do is to take your foot off the gas and coast toward the stoplight, braking gently. Stop and go traffic is the killer of gas mileage.

Plan your routes accordingly. I read somewhere that UPS minimizes how many left turns it makes so their drivers don’t have to sit around waiting for traffic. Obviously, if it’s going to take you out of your way, go for the left turn. However, if you plan your route to minimize left turns and stoplights, you may find you’re getting far better fuel economy. On the same note, try to combine your trips. Instead of running to the grocery store now and going to pick the kids up from soccer practice later, can you wait and do it all at once?

Don’t let your car sit around and idle. Especially if you aren’t in the car, which is actually illegal in Tennessee. Letting your car run for more than a minute and a half uses more gas than a cold start.

Well, LaVergne, there’s a thousand words on how to save money on gas. I bet you have some ideas, too- let’s hear them!!

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