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10 Gas Saving Tips: How to Improve Your Gas Mileage to Save Money

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Dan is a "backyard mechanic" who has always done his own auto repairs whether on motorcycles, boats, cars, or even motorhomes.

Improving Your Gas Mileage

Well, it's happening again—they're predicting the price of gas to reach $5 this year. It will behoove us all to get better gas mileage as the savings can be considerable.

This article is broken into two sections; general tips on optimizing your car for gas savings, and a second section of tips on improving your driving habits to improve your gas mileage. It is not unusual to see considerable savings from following these simple tips - even a 10% improvement in mileage can translate into hundreds of dollars each year, and how many of us can't use an extra few hundred dollars?

Whether your car is designed from the factory to get high gas mileage or a pickup truck that gets 15 MPG you can benefit from observing and following these simple tips to save gas and money by improving your gas mileage. It is worth the effort.

Optimizing Your Car for Fuel Savings

Fuel economy is always one of the things on the mind of the engineer designing a new car, but if you allow your car to deteriorate that engineers work won't be of much value. Pay attention to these simple things:

  • Tire Pressure. Tires flex as they move down the road, and the more they do the more energy is required. At the same time, a tire that has too much pressure will wear out rapidly and show decreased traction - neither idea is attractive. Considerable effort has gone into finding the right tire pressure that will give good tire life and traction while reducing gas mileage as well. Make sure your tires are at the recommended pressure.
  • Tune Up. Keeping your car tuned up per manufacturers recommendations is crucial. While the car may run, and seem to run well, if the car is out of tune or needs such parts as new spark plugs, it will result in increased fuel usage.
  • Maintenance. Separate from a tune up, oil changes and particularly air filters are required on a consistent basis. Air cleaners are often something forgotten by the home mechanic, but if your engine can't get enough air it will not operate efficiently. Keep a clean air filter in your car.
  • Repairs. On the occasion that your car needs repairs, either to the engine or the body, make sure they get done. An engine has many, many sensors that constantly check the operation of the engine and it only takes one defective sensor to seriously degrade performance. Needed body work will adversely affect air resistance and cause fuel mileage to degrade as well. This also brings up something else, in aftermarket additions to your car. A pickup, for instance, with webbing instead of a tailgate will see reduced mileage; that webbing will cost you every mile you drive. Manufacturers have worked hard to decrease air resistance; don't ruin it by changing the flow of air around your vehicle.
  • Empty the Car. It takes more energy to accelerate more mass. If your trunk is full of worthless junk that you don't have an immediate need for, empty it out. Many people are carrying an extra couple of hundred of pounds that they don't need to, and it can kill your mileage. Get rid of it. Be careful with aftermarket additions; unless you are prepared to buy extra gas every pound you add will cost you every mile you drive.
It won't do much good to put air in this tire, but then your own tires don't look quite like this one.

It won't do much good to put air in this tire, but then your own tires don't look quite like this one.

Improve Your Driving Habits for Fuel Economy

  • Slow Down! This has to be number one on the driving list. Air resistance is a primary factor in fuel mileage, and it increases exponentially with speed. A 15 mile commute at a posted seed limit of 45 MPH will take 20 minutes, while speeding through the drive at 65 MPH will take 14 minutes. Is that 6 minute savings worth a reckless driving ticket or an extra couple of tanks of gas per month? We've all seen the idiot weaving back and forth through 3 lanes of traffic, alternately mashing the brake and then the gas pedal, turning the energy they have given the car into waste heat from braking and then putting it back by using more gas. Don't do it.
  • Maintain your speed. As much as possible, maintain an even speed. Watch the stop lights and coast down from 45 to 30 MPH, for instance, rather than rush up to the light (burning gas all the way) and slam on the brakes. If you can make it through a light without stopping you will save a little gas each and every time it happens.
  • Accelerate and brake gently. You don't have to coast the last 3 blocks to a stop sign, but it isn't necessary to provide fuel to come within 50 feet at high speed and then mash the brakes to stop in time. There is a major difference between the fuel used at an idle (coasting) and driving; make use of it by coasting some of that distance to a stop sign. Likewise, it takes far more fuel to accelerate rapidly than it does slowly. Putting the "pedal to the metal" results in an inrush of fuel to your engine that it cannot burn efficiently at slow speeds, so be a little gentle on the accelerator when starting. Like speeding, the increased time is minimal, but it can really help the mileage you will see.
  • Plan your Trips. If you have several stops to make, try to make them in the simplest path possible rather than back-tracking and going for the same drive twice. Plan your trip to make a circle, hitting all the stops in sequence and driving the least distance.
  • Use the proper gas. While not strictly a fuel saver, using the right grade of gas can certainly help your pocketbook. Most cars today will run just fine on regular gas and do not need premium grades. The use of a higher grade costs more, but that's the only change you will see - there is no more energy in Premium gas than there is in Regular. Gasohol, on the other hand, will most definitely reduce your mileage as alcohol does not contain nearly as much energy as gasoline. If available at the same cost or just pennies more, the use of pure gasoline rather than the common mixture of 10% alcohol will result in a higher MPG figure.

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A typical speed for many residential areas.  No need to do any more, either.

A typical speed for many residential areas. No need to do any more, either.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, all of this comes down to just a few simple ideas: maintain your car in as nearly as possible the condition it was in when received from the factory, drive slowly at a constant speed, and drive as little as possible.

A little common sense goes a long way, too. Many people will idle a car for 20 minutes in the morning to get it warm remove snow or ice. This can be very expensive (and result in a stolen car) - scrape the ice and wear a coat or empty that garage out so you can park inside. Don't leave the car idling while you run in for a mocha; while it used to require an extra shot of gas to start a car that is no longer true in modern cars. A couple of drops rather than a healthy squirt or two is all the extra that is necessary, so if you're going to sit in line for 10 minutes, kill the engine. While a warm engine will perform better and get better mileage, it doesn't make up for idling - start your engine, run it for a few seconds and drive off with gentle pressure on the gas for a block or two. No need to wait.

A final word - there are a very few cars that require slightly different techniques, although most of the tips here will help a great deal with all cars. Maximizing your fuel economy in the hybrid Prius, for example, can take advantage of certain techniques that other cars don't offer, and the tiny diesel engines used primarily in Europe can be slightly different as well. For the vast majority of drivers in the states, though, use of these suggestions will increase your gas mileage to a considerable degree. How much depends on you - give them a try.

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.

© 2012 Dan Harmon

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