Wrench Wench has been in love with automotive mechanics for decades. She loves sharing advice with fellow DIY mechs and curious cats.
Making the Most of Your MPG's
Who can remember the last time gas was less than a buck a gallon? It's been about 14 years for me! The ever-skyrocketing prices of gas are due to a multitude of issues, including but not limited to:
- Increased costs of wholesale crude oil
- The US dollar slowly being devalued as a result of inflation (thanks, Federal Reserve!)
- Global exchange rates and the crony US petrodollar system
- Production capacity limitations and increasing hazards
- The wars overseas and other political hurdles
- Environmental concerns
- Climate change
- And sadly, much more.
This grim picture isn't one that anyone wants to think about, but until the US economic market gives purchasing power to green engine technology, so many of us are still heavily dependent on gasoline-powered vehicles to traverse the curses and blessings our lives are filled with (like work). Just the cost of purchasing gas can be extremely prohibitive to even the most modest and conscientious lifestyle, and often results in severe impacts on our most necessary of expenses.
Because of this, it's obviously in everyone's best interests to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to filling your tank and keeping it full for as long as possible. With gas expenses hijacking budgets across the country, the more you can invest in fuel-efficient modifications and regular maintenance, the better.
In this article, we're going to go over three super simple ways you can start making the most of every mile you drive.
1. Proper Inflation: Flat Tires = Flat Fuel Efficiency
This is a really simple, yet an often overlooked way to ensure your car is efficiently utilizing fuel. When properly inflated and regularly inspected, your tires can reduce the amount of fuel you consume by more than 3%.
That might not seem like a huge amount of savings in the bank, but when you add that 3% to another 5% and another 15% and so on, it certainly adds up to more money at the end of your month!
When your tires aren't properly inflated, your fuel efficiency goes flat along with those tires. It might not seem like much at first, but the longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. Once you learn to keep an eye on your rotating concrete warriors, you'll form a healthy habit that will leave you with much less work to do keeping the rest of your car in good shape, as optimally inflated tires also save wear and tear on your suspension, alignment, brakes, lighting, belts, and internal mechanics.
When your rubber meets the road correctly, the resulting improvement in traction also means you're safer on the road, and less likely to end up in an accident in wet weather or quick-stop reactions. While no one wants to dwell on potential automotive accidents, proper vehicular control should not be taken for granted. Not only because it means preventing the loss of your life, but also because it spares you the expense of extensive car repairs or having to replace your whole car. Should there still be a collision, the chances are it won't be nearly as bad as it would be, had your tires not been properly able to grip the road when you need to stop or maneuver out of the way.
Thankfully, keeping track of your tires inflation situation, is not difficult. Most of the time, a visual inspect will do whenever you get fuel up at the gas station. The rest of the time, all you need is a simple tire pressure checker that you can insert onto the tip of your tires air valve, and it will tell you if your tires are properly inflated or not.
It's also super easy to find out just how much pressure your tires need to be at optimal inflation, as it's branded into the outer rubber, so that you can find the information any time you need it. Tires can vary between 25 and 85 psi, depending on the size, width, and specialization of the tires, so make sure that you do check for the proper psi before filling them up. Too much and they'll explode. Too little and you'll never see the cost savings and improved safety of keeping them at proper levels.
Also keep in mind, that unless your tires are literally brand new from the factory right now, they'll likely lose a little pressure each month, especially if you live anywhere that experiences any extreme weather or climate changes. This is why it's important to check your tire's air level at least once per month. To make it easier on yourself, because we all forget from time to time, pick the same day of the month every month, and then set an alarm on your phone or write it down in your calendar, so that you get a gentle reminder to check them regularly.
Besides the pressure, you'll want to keep an eye on the tread of your tires. That is the outermost part of the tire, where the rubber meets the road. That outer rubber will grind down over time, and once it gets too low, it won't matter how well you maintain the air pressure in each tire, you'll still lose fuel efficiency and safety.
Thankfully, it's super-simple to check your tires. Just grab any shiny penny with honest Abe's head showing on it. Place the penny with Lincoln's head upside down, in between the tire tread. If you can barely see Abraham's chin, then your tire tread is virtually brand new still. If you can see more than half of Lincoln's face, your tread is getting extremely low. Any lower than that and your tires are balding, which presents an extra danger in extreme weather conditions. It's best to replace your tires when you can see Lincoln's hairline so that you don't risk a blowout or lack of traction in the rain or snow.
2. Consistent Maintenance: Happy Cars = Happy Wallets
To help your vehicle become as efficient as it can be, you need to keep your engine in great shape, so that every major and minor part does its job effectively and lasts as long as possible.
Keeping your engine consistently and regularly maintained can get you up to 30% better fuel efficiency than you'd get if you do what most people do, and ignore or neglect regularly suggested mechanical maintenance after the first 88,000 miles.
Make sure to follow the maintenance schedule that came with your car or van, or look yours up online, to get the most out of your engine and the gas it consumes. Make sure that you regularly change your oil and oil filter every 3 months or every 3,000 miles, whichever comes first, regardless of how often you do or don't drive. Your engine's crude oil loses its viscosity over time, even if it just sits. Just imagine if the water in your kitchen sink slowly turned into old stale coffee every three months, and you had to keep drinking it the whole time until someone changed the water municipal water filter. That's effectively what you're putting your truck through when you don't keep up on regular oil changes. And as the oil gets staler and staler, you lose more and more miles per gallon as the engine starts working harder and harder to do its job. Of course, you'd be sluggish and over-consumptive too if you had to live with stale blood.
When it comes time for a regular inspection or tune-up, you'll also want to pay close attention to things like:
- the condition of your spark plugs and wires,
- distributor or ignitionless system components, and
- the O2 sensors and emissions systems.
Also, for completeness, I'll say you need to routinely check your air filter, transmission fluid and filter, steering alignment, suspension and bushings, brakes, bearings, thermostat and coolant, heater core and blower fan, belts and hoses, battery and terminals, alternator and starter, fuel injectors and inline pressure, and if your vehicle has them, the "brain" and OBD I or II system.
The better-cared for your car is, the more efficient and inexpensive it will be to drive.
Tune Up Checklist
Here's a basic list of parts you'll want to inspect or replace when you're tuning up your car for fuel efficiency:
- Oxygen sensor (a.k.a O2 Sensor)
- Any emissions components
- Air conditioning system
- Inline/Intank gas filters
- Spark plugs and wires
- Oil and oil filter
- Smog pump (air injector)
- EGR valve
- Air filter
3. Weight Load: Less Weight = More Money
You can go the extra mile to lighten the load your car carries around by upgrading your heavier parts to lighter ones. Simple things—like investing in an aluminum exhaust, headers, starters, alternators, carbs, pulleys, and radiators—all go a long way in removing serious poundage. You can also get lighter hoses, belts, plug wires, tires, rims, headlights, shocks, and more.
Sometimes the best ways to save involve spending a little extra on a one-time upgrade, in order to reap the benefits: less spending for the life of the car. It's similar to spending a few extra pennies to get the organic food, or upgrading your light bulbs and windows to save on electricity. You'll easily gain back more than twice as much as you spent in cost savings from the upgrades.
Driving around with less weight can also help you speed up your daily commute with a little speed boost.
This is why race car drivers literally gut the entire car or truck of everything except what they need to drive around the track. It's also why many classic car drivers let go of non-essentials like the smog pump, air filter extensions, hubcaps, air-conditioning units, unnecessary undercarriage parts, and floor mats.
Another factor that easily escapes notice in our busy lives is the amount of junk we accumulate in the trunk.
If you think about it logically, the heavier an object, the more energy it takes to get that object moving and to keep it continually moving. The more energy it takes to move, the more fuel has to be consumed to move it. Just imagine that every day you have to carry around a 30-pound backpack. Now imagine getting up and down stairs, up and down from the toilet, and out to the mailbox and back. Just those simple tasks become excruciatingly difficult to complete when you have to carry all that extra weight. And after you've walked around all day like that, you're not only exhausted; you're famished.
Your car feels the same way when you carry around all that extra stuff in its trunk, along with however many passengers or extra objects throughout the week.
That's why it's vital to make the time to take inventory of everything in your car that you absolutely need to keep there, and all of the things you don’t. This starts with what's just floating around inside the car, like garbage, knick-knacks, toys, papers, and other neglected items. Then go to the trunk and limit yourself to just the bare necessities:
- Tire iron and small jack
- Emergency supplies
- Compact repair tool set
- Spare tire
- Gallon of water
Cutting your load down to these bare necessities can drastically improve your fuel consumption. That being said, if you don't mind riding on the wild side and you absolutely need to save money on gas, you can remove that spare tire and water, as well as things like rear seats or other accessories. That can lighten your weight load as much as 80 lbs, and seriously save you at the fill-up station. I definitely do not recommend driving around without at least the basic necessities, but it can be done in times of dire need.
Either way, think about everything carefully and take out what you don’t need. My general rule of thumb is to ask two questions about everything in the car: 1. Is it something I would need in an emergency? and 2. Is it something I use every day in the car? If the item in question doesn't pass at least one question, it gets pulled out of the car.
Reducing the weight you have in your car makes it easier for the car to get up and go, and continue to propel you around town. That reduces the fuel it consumes to accomplish the task, and saves more money for your groceries, utilities, or funner activities.
Make the Most of Your Miles
Fuel system cleaners, internal engine cleaners, etc...
There are many more ways you can get a boost in the fuel caboose if you're really after it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 Wrench Wench
Penelope Bucket from Seattle area on November 04, 2016: