How to get the most from a tank of gas

Huge strides have been made in developing vehicles that are more fuel efficient and spew out fewer emissions than models from even a few years ago. The problem for many of us, however, is that although we’d love to be driving one of these wonderful high-tech products, the reality is we can’t afford to dump the family bus for something new.

Don’t despair, though — here are some tips and tricks that will enable you to squeeze a few more kilometres out of a tank of fuel. These ideas will not only help keep more money in your pocket, they’ll also lessen the impact your vehicle makes on the environment by helping it run cleaner.

Clear out the trunk

For starters, clear out the trunk. Racers know extra weight sucks power, and that theory holds true in your vehicle, too. Lugging around unnecessary stuff in the cargo area, back seat or wherever adds to the overall load your engine must move, so lighten the load and save at the pump.

Plan ahead

When you’re setting out to run a series of errands, plan ahead. Try to consolidate the stops and plot a route that minimizes the distances between those stops, thereby reducing the amount of fuel you’ll be burning during the trip.

Adjust driving style

When you’re behind the wheel, adjust your driving style. A smooth technique not only reduces wear and tear on your vehicle, it improves fuel mileage. Hard, jerky starts and stops, rather than steady acceleration and deceleration, can increase fuel consumption by up to 37 per cent, so look well ahead and anticipate signal light changes and stop signs, allowing you to lift off the gas and gently reduce speed. When it’s time to go, ease into the throttle for a smooth getaway.

Former stock car driver Kelly Williams isn’t shy about putting the pedal to the metal on a race track, but she knows a lighter touch on the highway will be rewarded with better fuel economy — and less worries about speeding tickets.

“When you’re driving on the highway, stick to the speed limit,” says Williams, a vehicle maintenance and driving expert for Car Care Canada. “For every seven kilometres an hour you drive over the 100-km/h limit, you decrease your car’s fuel efficiency by eight per cent.” You’re also pumping out more unnecessary CO2 emissions, she adds.

Cruise control

If your vehicle is equipped with cruise control, use it. On the highway, this system will have a positive impact of fuel consumption by keeping your vehicle’s engine running at a constant speed, rather than revving up and down as your foot pressure on the accelerator fluctuates. (Don’t engage cruise control on wet or icy road surfaces, however, or use it in heavy traffic.)

Temperature control

Be judicious when reaching for the air conditioning controls — cranking it up also cranks up fuel consumption, so remember you’ll be paying a price to be cool. On warm days, try to find a spot in the shade to park your vehicle — and stick one of those reflective shades in the windshield. These steps will keep your vehicle cooler, making it easier for the A/C to chill the interior when you slide back onboard.

Let’s dispel a myth about turning off the air conditioning and rolling down the windows to save fuel while highway cruising. In fact, letting the breezes blow increases drag, which makes your vehicle’s engine work harder — and as you know by now, that sucks more gas. However, in slow-moving traffic, open windows can be a fuel-conserving move, rather than consuming fuel to power the air conditioner.

Don’t idle

Here’s another fuel-saving tip: If you’re stuck in a situation where your vehicle will be idling for more than a minute, such as the lineup at a drive-thru or sitting at a railway crossing, shut off the engine — you’ll be burning up more fuel than it will take to restart the engine. In fact, a typical 3.0-litre engine, for example, will waste a quarter of a litre of gas for every 10 minutes it’s idling. You’ll also be helping save the planet by reducing the greenhouse gases an idling engine generates.

Check tire pressure

Another way to help the environment — and save money — is to check your vehicle’s tire pressures at least once a month. Improperly inflated tires increase rolling resistance and the amount of energy the engine must produce to keep the vehicle moving. Car Care Canada says Canadian light-duty vehicle owners waste about 643 million litres of fuel a year due to improper tire maintenance. At a buck a litre, that’s lots of millions in wasted dollars, too. In addition, those improper tire pressures are causing 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 to be pumped into the atmosphere – not a good deal for our planet.

“Operating a vehicle with tires under-inflated by 20 per cent [eight psi] can reduce their life by 15,000 kilometres and can increase fuel consumption by up to four per cent,” Williams says.

Regular maintenance

Williams also urges owners to ensure the engine of their vehicle receives maintenance and tuning on a regular basis. “Something as basic as replacing a dirty air filter can have an immediate impact on reducing fuel consumption and emissions,” she says.

Spark plugs are another component that can have an adverse effect on fuel efficiency and emissions if they’re not performing effectively. Although plugs last longer in today’s modern engines, they’re still requited to fire up to two million times every 1,000 km. So, if they’re dirty, corroded or the electrode gap isn’t correct, they could be misfiring, resulting in wasted fuel and increased emissions. Have them checked regularly and replaced when necessary.

A proper maintenance checkup can also turn up other fuel-robbing issues. A faulty oxygen sensor, for example, can increase fuel consumption by as much as 40 per cent.

Overall, a well-tuned engine will run about four per cent more efficiently, reducing fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Combined with improved driving techniques and the other tips mentioned, you can keep driving the family hauler and still give your wallet — and the planet — a break.

Photograph by: Herald Archive, AFP-Getty Images