In the era of $3.50 gasoline, it can be discouraging to notice a gradual or sudden mileage slip of 2, 4 or more miles per gallon. While a wide range of factors can affect fuel efficiency, today we focus on a few of those that are easy to monitor.
- Driving Habits. That Estimated MPG label that came with your vehicle applies to both the car and its driver. Fast, aggressive driving – and its cousin, sudden braking – cause the engine to use more fuel. You want to stop and start your vehicle as few times as possible on each trip, and your best guide to doing that is following the posted speed limit. Speed limit adherence not only helps with safety, it also facilitates an even flow of traffic, which improves fuel efficiency. Another habit that can affect mileage is your ‘errand efficiency ratio’. When you combine several errands into a single outing, you tend to perform more warm restarts (as opposed to cold starts, which occur after the car has been parked for several hours). Warm restarts use less fuel.
- Traffic and Idling. If you frequently find yourself stuck in traffic, test alternate routes or, as much as possible, alternate times to make your trips. Some experts put the ‘tipping point’ for idling at as little as 10 seconds! (Meaning their recommendation is to turn off the ignition if you know you will be idling for more than 10 seconds.)
- Regular Maintenance. Changing your oil before it begins to break down, and your air filter before it loses efficiency are two keys to better gas mileage, but regular maintenance checks touch on a number of other factors that can affect fuel efficiency. In addition, maintenance checks should include Tire Pressure Monitoring, as too high or too low pressures can negatively affect mileage. Also, try to avoid maintenance hopping. Sure, it can be tempting to ‘follow the coupon’ and go from garage to garage in search of the best oil change price, but doing so increases the likelihood that different oils will be used in your vehicle; this slight mixing of oils can negatively affect engine performance and mileage.
- All Gas is NOT Created Equal. If you notice a drop in mileage, ask yourself if have you recently changed brands, or stations under the same brand. In addition to a mileage and fill-up log, which we highly recommend, also jot down where you purchase your gas for each fill up. You might be surprised to discover an easily fixable explanation for decreased fuel efficiency.
- Checked the trunk lately? Carrying around unnecessary items can hurt your fuel efficiency. Many drivers can’t remember the last time they opened their trunk. That unused mountain bike, and even those winter tire chains, are better moved to the garage where they won’t be costing you a thing until they are really needed.