Everywhere you turn, you hear about the pain at the pump, and who to blame for your troubles. What is missing from most news reports is how you personally can help to save gas and keep a little of that green in your wallet. Today I would like to focus on the mechanical aspects of your car and making sure it’s in tip-top shape.
Your engine is just like a big air pump, it’s job is to pump air. In the process 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 special oil provided with the filter.
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 get a can of throttle body cleaner and clean it. 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. 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. Inspect your spark plug wires for signs of cracking or arcing and replace if you see any damage. Your engine’s 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 is 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.
In the next article I will discuss how your driving style can increase your gas mileage and save you even more money.
Kevin Schappell runs www.AutoEducation.com where he gives advice on auto repair, maintenance and car care. If you would like to comment or ask a question you can email him at Kevin@AutoEducation.com