Save Money By Saving Gas!July 7, 2010 | in Defensive Driving Online
I’m running out of excuses: I’m tired. I have work to do. I have to get up early. I don’t like driving in the rain. Our electric gate is broken. The electrician’s truck is blocking my driveway. Finally, I have to be honest:
“I have a hole in my gas tank,” I tell my boyfriend. “That’s why I can’t visit today.” My car is old and devours gas like a grizzly bear just out of hibernation. As gas prices rise, the 45-minute drive to my boyfriend’s place is becoming prohibitively expensive.
However, I miss him, and, as a result, I’ve become obsessed with conserving gas as I drive. I think about it constantly–from starting my car to parking it. To help others in similar situations, I’ve compiled a list of basic steps that can be taken to improve everyday gas mileage.
In a follow-up entry, I’ll discuss hypermiling techniques, which are “advanced” methods for achieving an abnormal number of miles per gallon.
1. CHANGE THE WAY YOU DRIVE
The good news is that many of the safe driving techniques I’ve already discussed in this blog will also help to save on gas! Keep in mind that driving slowly and safely is also the most efficient way to drive, and you’ll be well on your way to driving more efficiently!
First, avoid aggressive driving habits. Rapid acceleration uses more power–and hence more gas–than more gradual changes in speed. Accelerate slowly and then try to drive at a constant speed. If you’re on a highway, pick a lane and stay with the flow of traffic in that lane, rather than “weaving” through lanes or regularly accelerating to pass other cars. Constant slowing down and speeding up wastes fuel, as you are losing kinetic energy and then burning more fuel to regain that kinetic energy.
If you’re driving in the city, start slowing down some distance before you reach the stoplight. Not only is this gradual slow-down safer and easier on your brakes, but it may help you avoid having to come to a full stop altogether. If you do stop, pull away from the light slowly. Sudden acceleration will burn a whole lot more gas. If you’re travelling in heavy traffic on the highway, try to maintain enough distance between you and the car you are following so that, if the other car slows down or stops, the other driver will (hopefully) have had enough time to get started again before you reach him or her.
Second, stay at or under the speed limit. In general, most cars experience a rapid decrease in gas mileage at speeds over 60 mph. Each car has its own “optimal” speed, at which the engine is most efficient in its operation. This is because air resistance increases at higher speeds; driving at 65 mph instead of 55 mph may decrease your gas mileage by 20%. Note, though, that many more recent cars are designed to reach maximum efficiency around 65 mph. Taking note of speed limits in your area, you may want to test which speed is actually the most efficient for your car. If you are driving a manual car or an automatic with an overdrive gear, keep in mind that overdrive (fifth gear on a standard transmission) is the most efficient gear to drive in.
Also, remember that your car burns gas even when you aren’t moving. Idling can waste a lot of gas, so try to avoid too much of this! If you’re stopped in traffic or at a light with a long line and think you will be sitting for five minutes or longer, consider turning off your car (but don’t stop and start for shorter intervals, as this will end up putting way too much strain on your starting motor.) Also avoid drive-through windows with long lines. Instead, park your car and go inside. If you frequently get stuck trying to make a left hand turn at a busy intersection, consider making three rights instead (if this is possible.) You can generally make right hand turns much faster, which could end up saving you gas.
As much as possible, avoid using the air-conditioner, as this places extra strain on the engine. Open the windows or use the air vents instead. Also avoid driving with a roof rack or crate as much as possible–these items create additional wind resistance, which cuts down on efficiency. Finally, remove excess weight from your car. Dragging around additional pounds will eat up more fuel!
2. CHANGE THE WAY YOU PLAN
Using your car less is also a great way to save gas! First, try to plan your days so as to use your car most efficiently. If possible, avoid driving at rush hour, as sitting in traffic will burn a lot of extra gas. Go in early or leave late to miss the worst congestion. If your job allows, consider telecommuting and working from home. Also consider biking to work, which is a great way to save time and gas by combining your commute and your daily exercise. If you live in an area with good public transportation, this is also an option. Even if you only bike or take the bus one or two days a week, you’ll still be saving a lot of gas. Carpooling is also a great way to make your commute less expensive (and more environmentally friendly.)
Next, try to combine all of your errands into a single trip. If possible, run errands within walking distance of your workplace–during your lunch hour or just after work (perhaps instead of driving home during rush hour.) Pick a day and reserve that day for running all of your major errands. Do as many of these tasks as possible in a centralized location, so that you can walk between shops and offices; then, devise a route that will allow you to reach all locations efficiently, without backtracking.
3. CHANGE THE WAY YOU PARK
Circling around a parking lot trying to find a space close to the entrance is a very inefficient use of gas (all those stops and starts!) Instead of doing this, park in the first spot you find and then walk to the entrance. This way, you’ll be closer to the exit when it’s time to leave, and you’ll get some added exercise in.
If possible, park your car on an uphill incline, so that you can roll out when you start your car. Your engine uses gas much less efficiently when it is still warming up, so using less power when you first start the engine will help to save gas.
4. CHANGE THE WAY YOU BUY GAS
Wait until your gas tank is around a quarter full before buying gas. Doing this will increase efficiency by lightening the gas load that you’re lugging around. However, don’t run the tank down to empty consistently, as this will place considerable strain on the electric fuel pump; running on empty will actually destroy this pump.
While it may be tempting to buy gas in bits and pieces (somehow spending $10 today and $20 tomorrow seems better than spending $30 today, to me at least), try to fill your tank on each visit to the station. This will cut down on the gas spent driving there and waiting at the pumps.
Check the octane rating that your car’s manufacturer suggests, and then use the lowest possible octane when you fill your tank. Buying a higher octane rating than necessary won’t improve your car’s performance and will cost you a lot more. Also bear in mind that different brands of gas are all essentially the same; suppliers fill their tanks at the same refinery and only then add in their signature additives, which don’t make much of a difference in terms of performance.
Finally, check the web to find good deals on gas in your area. However, don’t drive out of your way for cheaper gasoline, as you’ll just waste your savings on the extra driving. Keep in mind that (statistically speaking) gas tends to be cheapest on Wednesdays and is most expensive during holidays, so plan accordingly!
5. CHANGE THE WAY YOU MAINTAIN YOUR CAR
Keeping your car in good working order will help to ensure that your car is operating as efficiently as possible. First, make sure that your tires are inflated to the correct pressure, which should be marked on your car, usually on a panel inside the door frame. If you’re not using radial tires, you may want to ask your mechanic about switching to these. Making sure that your tires are properly aligned will also help to save on gas.
Next, have your car serviced regularly, as recommended. Make sure that you are changing your oil at manufacturer-specified intervals, and that you are using the type of oil specified for your car. While you don’t necessarily have to use the exact brand indicated by your car’s manufacturer, you should make sure that the oil you use does have the same specifications.
When your car is serviced, make sure that the technician checks your spark plugs. If these are worn or incorrectly spaced, then your engine may not be burning all of the gas injected into the cylinders. Replacing your air filters regularly will also help to maintain engine efficiency.
6. CHANGE YOUR CAR
If you’re considering buying a new car, you should look into fuel efficiency. You may want to include hybrids, diesel engines, and biodiesel engines in your search; I’ll write more about this in a later entry. For now, you can check out this site if you want to compare the efficiency of different cars:
Beware, however, of modifying your current car. A number of “gas saving” devices are on the market, many of which are not actually effective (some may even damage your engine.) For a list of EPA tested products, click here:
To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!
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