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How to Maximize Your Vehicle’s Fuel Economy

How you drive and take care of your vehicle can have a big effect on how much fuel you use. Follow these simple tips to save money and reduce pollution.

Before You Hit the Road>  Behind the Wheel>  Cleaner Cars>

Before You Hit the Road

Cars run their best and consume less fuel when they are well maintained. Below are a few ways to keep your car in peak condition and keep money in your wallet:

Keep your vehicle well tuned. Simple maintenance—such as regular oil changes, air-filter changes, and spark plug replacements—will lengthen the life of your vehicle as well as improve fuel economy and minimize emissions. Just follow the schedule in your owner’s manual.

Check your tires. Keeping your tires properly inflated and aligned saves fuel by reducing the amount of drag your engine must overcome. Make sure to get a set of low rolling resistance (LRR) tires. Tires that reduce rolling resistance by 10 percent can improve gas mileage by one to two percent for most passenger vehicles.¹ They are now more common on new vehicles, so in some cases it is just a question of buying a new set of the same thing.

Be weight-conscious. Don’t carry around items you don’t need. For every 100 pounds of weight in your vehicle, fuel economy decreases by one to two percent. Also, reduce drag by putting bulky items inside the vehicle or trunk instead of on a roof rack.

Keep track of your fuel economy. A drop in your vehicle's fuel economy can be a sign of engine trouble. Keep track of your fuel economy by noting the odometer reading and the number of gallons purchased each time you fill up. To calculate your gas mileage, divide the number of miles traveled between fill-ups by the number of gallons purchased. Most hybrid cars and even some conventional gas vehicles have special gauges that make it even easier to keep track of your fuel economy in real-time, so you can see how your driving habits are impacting your fuel efficiency.

Behind the Wheel

The way you drive can have a big impact on your mileage and your wallet. Consider the following when cruising down the road:

Drive moderately. A green light does not signal the start of a NASCAR race. High-speed driving and jack-rabbit starts increase both fuel use and emissions. Going 65 mph on the highway instead of 75 can cut your fuel use up to 20 percent, and making more gradual stops and starts will bring even more savings.

Don't let your vehicle idle for more than a minute. During start-up, your engine burns a little extra gasoline. However, letting your engine idle for more than a minute burns more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. You can make it easy on yourself by purchasing a vehicle with “stop-start” technology that will automatically shut off the engine and restart it when you take your foot off the brake pedal. This technology, once only found on hybrid vehicles, is beginning to enter the marketplace on conventional gas-powered cars and can cut fuel consumption by around 5 percent.

Park in the shade. Minimize evaporation of fuel and keep your vehicle cooler in the summer by parking in the shade.

Driving a Clean Car Revolution

Although the tips above will help reduce your fuel costs and emissions, the best way to cut your expenses at the pump and reduce your oil consumption is to use—and advocate for—better transportation options that end our dependence on oil.

Keep moving, but drive less.  Driving less is the best way to reduce the environmental impact of your transportation needs and spend less at the pump. Link errands, carpool, walk, bike, or use mass transit whenever possible. Choose a place to live that reduces your need to drive. If your family already has one vehicle, consider trying to meet your travel needs without buying a second one. In all these cases you can check off everything on your to-do list while putting fewer miles on your car.

Buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle. If you are in the market for a new vehicle, choose the most fuel-efficient one that meets your needs. Thanks to strong new fuel economy standards, there are more efficient options in dealer showrooms than ever before, including steadily-increasing numbers of conventional gas powered cars that achieve greater than 40 mpg. Hybrids and plug-in vehicles achieve even greater fuel savings, and are especially good choices for those who drive in stop and start city traffic. UCS has developed several resources for consumers in the market for hybrids and electric vehicles, including the EV timeline, which illustrates and compares current, past, and upcoming electric vehicles, and our Model E electric car blueprints, which demonstrate electric vehicle technology.

Advocate for better transportation policies. Americans must demand a change to the transportation system that works for us—one that’s much more efficient, provides better transportation options, and begins to tap into clean, reliable, oil-free sources like electric cars and advanced biofuels. Through a combination of smart federal policy and private sector innovation we can expand consumer transportation choices and cut projected U.S. oil use in half in 20 years. To be a citizen advocate for better transportation solutions, visit the UCS action center.


Notes:
1. Transportation Research Board (TRB). 2006. Tires and Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy: Informing Consumers, Improving Performance, TRB Special Report 286. Washington, DC: National Academies. Online at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/sr/sr286.pdf

Images (Top; Middle): Flickr, Ryan Stone; Flickr, Oran Viriyincy
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