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On The Road

Drive like there is an egg under your pedal!

Apply braking and throttle gently, smooth is the key. Slamming on the brakes or hammering the gas wastes energy and will reduce your miles per gallon efficiency.

Do you buy the cheapest gas?

No-name gasoline can be sub-standard, stick with a name brand gasoline and be consistent when possible. Higher octane is not always better, follow your owners manual and go with the recommended octane rating.

More About Fuel

  • The Automotive Fuel System
  • Gas Saving Tips

    How To save money on gas by improving your MPG.

    In today’s age of high gasoline prices, everyone who drives needs to learn how to get better gas mileage. There is no magic pill, but by using the tips I provide on this page can make a huge difference in your gas mileage and your wallet.

    First Things First - Maintenance

    You would not think about running a marathon, if your body was not in shape, so why expect to get the best gas mileage from your vehicle if it’s not running at it’s best.

    Your engine is just like a big air pump, it’s job is to move air in and out. In between your engine adds in some gasoline and lights it on fire. You need to make sure that the air is moving in and out of the engine with little to no restriction, and you need to make sure that all the gas that goes in gets burned. If you can do this, your engine will be as efficient as possible.

    Air enters your engine through an air filter. The filter is designed to keep dirt and other contaminants out of your engine, which prevents premature wear. Most stock air filters are a compromise between their ability to filter and a longer service interval. New cotton filters from companies like K&N perform much better than your stock filter and can last the lifetime of your vehicle. There is one trade- off, you have to clean and oil the filter at a set interval. It’s best to do this at every oil change to keep your filter operating at peak efficiency. This process can be done with a hose and the supplies supplied with the filter, and is well worth the trouble.

    Once the air has entered your engine, it travels through the throttle body and into the intake. Overtime your throttle body accumulates carbon buildup and needs to be cleaned. If your engine has over 50,000 miles, I would ask your mechanic to clean the throttle body. This can help how your engine idles and keep your engine operating at peak efficiency.

    Your engine cannot run on air alone, and this is where the gas comes in. Just before entering the cylinder, the air gets a shot of gas from the fuel injectors. If your fuel injectors are clogged or stuck, too much or too little fuel will be injected. Regular use of a fuel injector cleaner added to a tank of fuel, can keep your injectors operating like new. If you have over 100,000 miles and have not used a fuel injector cleaner in the past, your mechanic can clean the injectors and most likely get them back to as-new condition.

    Now that the air and gas is in your cylinder, the engine fires a spark plug to light the volatile mixture. This happens many times per second and in order for it to happen properly, your ignition system needs to be in good condition. Most modern cars have some form of distributorless ignition, which uses coil pack to fire each, or a group, of spark plugs. The parts you are concerned about are the spark plug wires, and spark plugs.

    If your spark plug wires are cracked or damaged, they can leak voltage to the engine block and prevent the spark plug from firing completely, or not at all. This can allow unburned gas to exit the engine and reduce the efficiency of your engine. Have your mechanic inspect your spark plug wires for signs of cracking or arcing.

    Your engines spark plugs lead a tough life. They have to endure super high temperatures and very high voltages. The spark plug has an electrode and ground strap which are separated by a specific distance. This distance is called the plug gap, and can widen with time as the two parts wear. As with air filters, auto manufactures compromise on spark plugs and make them last a long time but lose some efficiency. Most newer spark plug electrodes are made from Platinum, which wears like iron, but does not conduct electricity as well as copper. Older style copper plugs work better, but do not last as long since copper is soft compared to Platinum. I do not suggest you switch to copper plugs, but I would suggest changing plugs sooner than the recommended interval just to be safe. If your service manual suggests changing spark plugs at 75,000 miles, I would change them at 60,000 miles just to be safe.

    Now that the air and fuel has been burned in the cylinder, it has to exit the engine through the exhaust system. Remember our goal is to get the air in and out of the engine as easily as possible. The exhaust system can be restrictive and makes your engine work harder to pump that air.

    The first roadblock is the catalytic converter, which is designed to reduce emissions. Overtime the converter can become clogged and will restrict the exhaust flow. By keeping your engine emissions systems running right, you can extend the life of your catalytic converter. If you have a Check Engine Light glowing red or yellow, get your car to a mechanic and have it checked immediately. If left go too long, damage to your catalytic converter or engine can occur. If you car has over 75,000 miles and you are experiencing poor performance from your engine, it’s possible that your catalytic converter is slowly becoming clogged.

    The last roadblock in the exhaust system is the muffler. Stock mufflers are restrictive and again the aftermarket can help here. I do not suggest you replace a good stock muffler just for better gas mileage, but if your old muffler is failing, I would consider a performance muffler from Dynomax or Flowmaster. If you do not care for the increased sound, look for mufflers labeled “Turbo Muffler” which should have a quieter tone than an all out performance muffler. My personal favorite is the Flowmaster series of mufflers; their sound is music to my ears.

    By making sure your engine is running at peak performance, you can rest assured that you will be getting the best gas mileage possible.

    Aerodynamics

    At highway speeds, the shape of your vehicle has a lot to do with how much gas it takes to move you along. While you don’t have to be an aeronautical engineer, a few basics can help you to save a little gas.

    If you are planning a family vacation, think twice about throwing that luggage box on top of your car…. You know the one, with the turtle logo on it ! It does offer some convenience, but it kills your gas mileage. I have seen fuel economy go from 20mpg to 18mpg just by throwing one of these plastic boxes to the roof. On a long trip, this difference could make a big difference. I would consider packing lighter, or trying to squeeze those bags into the vehicle.

    Believe it or not, a clean car can make a difference to fuel mileage. Keeping your car waxed and clean will help it slip through the air and will save you gas. I recommend using a quality name brand wax and car wash. For more tips on car cleaning, check out www.AutoEducation.com/carcare

    To help your car slip through the air better, a front air dam may help depending on your vehicle. I would stay away from flashy body kits, instead look for a front air dam that is tested to reduce drag.

    When at highway speeds, keep your windows up. On most vehicles, having the windows open at highway speeds will create extra drag and cost you gas. If it’s a hot day, running the A/C is a necessary evil, and will cost you gas mileage, but the loss is about equal to keeping the windows down on most cars. When driving under 45mph, keeping the windows open and A/C off will be more economical because drag from having the windows is not in effect at the lower speeds.

    Snake Oils and Other Gadgets

    You know the saying… “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” The FTC has investigated many of the snake oils out there and found they offer little to no benefits. You can find links to these reports at www.AutoEducation.com/bettermpg If you have any questions about a product you would like to try, check the FTC links before you waste your money.

    I would stay away from any product claiming to offer better fuel economy with the exception of fuel system cleaners. As mentioned before, using a good fuel system cleaner like Techtron or 44-K from BG products is essential to keeping your fuel injectors working properly.

    There has been a rash of new products, which fit into your air intake and claim to spin the air entering your engine and giving you better gas mileage. They claim better fuel atomization and more power for a few dollars. Stay far away from these products, as they are not based on real science. Even if they do spin the air, by the time the air meets the fuel and enters the cylinder, it’s stopped spinning and will enter however it feels like ! Again, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    The last piece of junk science to enter the market is magnets. Since magnets can cure cancer, make you feel energized and whatever else they claim, why not give you better fuel economy? These magnetic clamps, which go over your fuel line, have been tested and found to offer no improvements. It’s amazing what people will buy, and try since they saw it on TV. Just ask yourself this, if the product worked as advertised, why would the inventor be peddling it on TV. Why would they not license the technology to the automakers, and help them solve their ever-constant battle with meeting tough EPA standards?

    Common Gas Savings Myths

    Myth #1: Buy gas in the morning when the gas is cooler, thus denser.

    Gasoline is stored in underground tanks, which remain at a fairly constant temperature. I have personally reviewed the tank readings at my local gas station to confirm this fact. It’s like a cave, which stays at a constant temperature all year long due to it’s distance from the surface of the earth. The only factor that comes into play, is when the gasoline is delivered to the tank. When gasoline is transported in trucks, it will expand with heat. If you buy your gas right after the tank is filled, you will receive warmer gas, but I would not stake out your local gas station to find out when the gas truck delivers.

    Myth #2: Driving with the windows down at highway speeds without A/C is better than windows up with the A/C on.

    As mentioned in my section on aerodynamics, at highway speeds, it’s better to have the windows up and the A/C on.

    Myth #3: Keep your engine running if you are making a quick stop at the store, it takes more gas to start your engine than to leave it running for a few minutes.

    This myth is not true, starting an engine takes very little extra fuel, and it is always better to turn the engine off.

    Where do you buy your gas?

    Like anything in life, cheaper is not always better. When it comes to gas there are a few things to remember.

    Name brand gas generally has more detergents, which help your engine run cleaner and more efficiently. I personally use Texaco due to some personal experiences and the fact that I used to work at a Texaco station in high school and college. At the time, the regular gasoline did not have the same additives as the plus and supreme grade. I switched from regular to plus grade, and got better gas mileage. I was driving a 1979 Mustang at the time with a 4 cyl. engine and went from 18 to 20 mpg just by switching grades of gas.

    To find the lowest prices, there are websites online, which post almost real-time gas prices across the country. Check out www.autoeducation.com/bettermpg for links to these sites. I would also shop at gas stations, which have competition, which will drive prices down. So the more gas stations in the area, the better the price.

    When you are at the gas pump, start the pump and then take a walk around your vehicle. You should check all 4 tires for any signs of low air pressure. In all but the higher performance tires, you can see the sidewall of the tire bulge when air pressure drops. Once per month I would check the tires with a quality tire gauge to be safe. Low tire pressure can create more rolling resistance and will hurt your gas mileage. If you are not a good judge of tire pressure by looking at the tires, consider a cool new product on the market that replaces your valve stem cap. It shows green when your tires are at the proper pressure, and red when they are low on air. You can check out www.autoeducation.com/bettermpg for links to online shopping sites where you can purchase products like this.

    Change your driving habits

    If you could only read one section of this page, this is the one! Nothing can affect your gas mileage more than your driving style. Depending on how you drive now, you can save up to 25% on gas by altering your driving style.

    Before we get into how you should drive for the best gas mileage, let’s talk about what you should do before you leave the driveway. The first thing you should do, if it’s hot outside, is turn off you’re A/C and roll down the windows. This will reduce the load on your engine, and clear out the super heated air that has built up in your vehicle. Once you are above 45 mph, roll up the windows and turn on the A/C.

    Now your ready to start your car, and the most common question I get is... “ How long should I warm up my car ” My answer is always… Just long enough to get the oil flowing around the engine, which is 30 – 60 seconds. If it’s the dead of winter and you are freezing your tail off, by all means let your vehicle warm up until you are comfortable enough to drive.

    We can now start our discussion on driving style and discover how you can save up to 25% on gas. The first thing to think about when driving is conservation of momentum. Consider the following two scenarios…

    • Scenario #1: You are driving along at 45 mph and see a red light ahead. You wait until the last second and slam on the brakes, then accelerate away when the light turns green.
    • Scenario #2: You are driving along at 45 mph and see a red light ahead. You let off the gas pedal, and coast into the light, while anticipating when it will turn green. If you time it right, you never stop and continue on your way, ahead of where you would have been in scenario #1.

    This type of thinking in scenario #2 will put money back into your pocket. Your brake pedal is your enemy when trying to get better gas mileage. If you can anticipate traffic ahead of you, and avoid having to push on the gas pedal hard, you will save gas. Any time you use the brakes, you are losing momentum and wasting energy.

    I had a friend in high school, whose dad put a vacuum gauge in all of his vehicles. A vacuum gauge in simple terms, measures the load on an engine. It served to remind my friend’s dad how he was driving, and forced him to go easy on the gas pedal to save gas. Consider having your mechanic install one of these gauges, the cost is minimal, and you may learn a little about how you are driving. If you have a newer car with an advance engine computer, it may tell you your instant and average mileage. Use the instant gas mileage readout instead of a vacuum gauge, it’s just as good.

    You want to accelerate as mildly and evenly as possible to get to your desired speed. If you have a tachometer in your car, you can watch engine RPM and try to keep it under 3,000. You should be able to get to your destination in a safe and speedy manner, using these techniques and save some gas in the process.

    There has been a lot of debate about what is the best speed to drive on the highway. Politics and safety issues have clouded the issue even further. The fact is that every car has it’s own speed where peak efficiency occurs. I had a Corvette that got the best gas mileage at 70 mph. It’s not practical to drive this fast everywhere, so I compromised and kept it legal as often as possible. Depending on your engine, transmission and gear ratio in the axle of your car, you ideal speed will be higher or lower than my car. The most important fact to remember is to keep your speed steady and avoid abrupt stops and starts.

    I have heard various automotive journalist report better gas mileage by not using the cruise control. There reasoning was that they were focused on driving for efficiency and could make better decisions that the cars cruise control computer. This theory is valid, if you are on a highway with a lot of elevation changes. If you are not using cruise control, you can allow your vehicle to coast down long hills and build up some extra speed, which will help you climb the next hill. Of course you need to use some common sense here and not allow your car to go too fast to avoid speeding tickets or dangerous driving conditions.

    The last tip I can offer on driving, is make your vehicle as light as possible. The lighter your vehicle, the less you engine has to work to move you around. Remove any unnecessary items from the trunk and car to help keep your car as light as possible.

    Synthetic oils

    Synthetic oils have been around for year, but have recently become more popular as some automakers have started using them in their high performance cars. They use synthetic for a reason, and you should too. Synthetic oil does not breakdown like regular oil, and protects your engine for a longer time. The cost of synthetic oil is a little higher, but you do not have to change your oil as often. Synthetic oil also lubricates better than regular oil, which reduced friction in your engine, and will save you gas.

    The benefits of synthetics extend beyond your engine’s crankcase. Transmission fluid and gear oil in your car can be changed to synthetic also. Switching to synthetic will reduce friction loss and heat in your transmission and rear axle. If you have a front wheel drive car, you will only be switching the transaxle fluid, since there is no rear axle.

    Your next car

    If you are in the market for a new car, you can make a big difference in your driving costs by selecting a more efficient vehicle. I wanted to end this page of the site by touching on the future, and the new technologies that are coming into the marketplace.

    In general, for maximum fuel economy, you want the lightest vehicle possible. A Ford Focus will get better gas mileage that a Ford Explorer, just due to weight. You will also want to keep aerodynamics in mind, as an SUV is basically a brick when it comes to aerodynamics.

    The Future, Where is Gas Mileage headed?

    The first technology or tactic I have seen in the recent past is the use of turbochargers. Saab has been turbocharging their vehicles for years, and the thinking is this… Make the engine as small as possible, and use the turbocharger to boost horsepower when needed. Turbochargers compress the incoming air and in essence make the engine perform like an engine of bigger displacement. If you take a 2-liter engine and cram twice as much air into it, it is operating just like a 4-liter engine. Although an over simplification, this is the basic reasoning for turbocharging for fuel economy. Turbochargers do very little good below a certain RPM so if you can keep your engine below this RPM you will be using less fuel and saving money in the long run.

    The next technology that is available right now is Hybrid Vehicles. Most use some form of gas or diesel engine to charge batteries or provide extra power when maximum acceleration is needed. A lot of the gains in efficiency are due to regenerative braking which turns the wasted energy of slowing the car down, into electricity to charge the batteries. Hybrids also tend to be built lighter, and this also helps your gas mileage. Hybrids were once thought to be not cost effective, but the recent $3 per gallon gas prices, and some tax incentives given my the IRS, it may be worth your time to look into a hybrid.

    The last technology that is on the horizon is the Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Hydrogen is pumped through a fuel cell where electricity is generated. The electricity that is generated is then used to drive an electric motor, which drives the vehicles wheels. The added benefit to this form of energy is that the only by- product is water, which helps to keep our air cleaner.

    The major hurdle to this new technology is the production and distribution of hydrogen. Hydrogen can be produced using electricity (electrolysis) or from natural gas. Most hydrogen in the U.S. is being produced from natural gas, which is a finite natural resource. To make hydrogen fuel cells a reality, we need to have a process, which does not rely on fossil fuels, and can be scaled up to a level, which will support our demand. Distribution of the hydrogen poses less of an issue in my mind. We can develop the storage facilities and/or pipelines needed to keep the entire country supplied with hydrogen. It will take some time, 15 – 20 years probably, before we are a hydrogen society. There may be some new technologies, which pop up and take hydrogen’s place, but as of now, the future seems to be Hydrogen.

    Where to next?