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Tips for improving fuel economy

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Oil prices are climbing and motorists are hurting. Although there seems to be little likelihood that those prices will drop anytime soon, motorists can take a variety of steps to improve the mileage of their vehicles and save themselves money.

They can start by simply slowing down. “In our tests we’ve found that driving faster on the highway can really take a bite out of a car’s fuel efficiency,” Consumer Reports, an American nonprofit organization that reviews and rates products, says in an article published on its Web site.

The organization calculated gas mileage while driving at three different speeds — 55, 65 and 75 miles per hour (mph) — in five vehicles. It observed that fuel economy dropped by four to eight miles per gallon (mpg) while speeding up from 55 to 65 mph. When the speed was increased to 75 mph, fuel efficiency was reduced by an additional five to seven mpg.

“Overall, speeding up from 55 mph to 75 is like moving from a compact car to a large SUV. Beyond fuel concerns, speeding is, of course, a safety risk as well,” Consumer Reports says.

It will also help to avoid hard acceleration and braking. The organization found that frequent bursts of acceleration and braking cut an old mid-size car’s mileage by two to three mpg.

It recommends maintaining a steady pace once up to speed on a highway. “Smooth acceleration and braking also extend the life of the engine, transmission, brakes, and tires,” it adds.




Car owners should know better than to leave their vehicles idling for prolonged periods. Not only does it waste fuel, it’s also harmful to the environment.

“Did you know that running your engine at idle actually consumes roughly half a gallon to about a gallon of fuel every hour, not to mention the carbon dioxide that your engine pumps into the atmosphere?… This means you’re burning about 1.067 to 2.13 ounces of fuel every minute that you are idle. This easily translates to about 10.67 ounces to 21.33 ounces for every 10 minutes of idling,” CarBibles.com, an automotive site, says.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a USA-based nonprofit science organization, suggests not letting a 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,” it says.

Try not to put so much stuff on a vehicle’s roof. “Securing things on the roof increases aerodynamic drag, making the engine work harder and hurting fuel economy,” Consumer Reports says. When the organization tested a 2013 sedan at a steady 65 mph, the vehicle got 42 mpg without anything on its roof.

“Adding an empty bike rack dropped the mileage by 5 mpg. A wind deflector reduced the wind noise but cut gas mileage to 35 mpg. And with two bikes on the rack, gas mileage dropped to 27 mpg, a whopping 15-mpg difference overall,” the organization says.

Whenever possible, turn off the air-conditioning and roll down the windows instead. Consumer Reports says that the harder the air-conditioning system has to work, the worse the impact on a vehicle’s fuel economy.

“In general, expect a drop from 1 to 4 mpg with the air-conditioning running. The effect of opening the windows at 65 mph was not measurable,” it adds.

Maintaining one’s vehicle can help a lot in increasing its fuel economy. According to HowStuffWorks, a commercial education Web site, making sure that a vehicle’s tires are set to recommended pressure can increase fuel economy by as much as 3.3%.

CarBibles.com explains that running on low tire pressure increases the rolling resistance of the tires on the ground surface. “This robs you of very precious fuel.” It advises vehicle owners to inflate the tires to their correct pressure even before rolling them out of the garage.

Switching to low-rolling resistance tires might be a good option. But Consumer Reports warns about replacing tires too early in an effort to chase the pennies those tires may save in fuel.

“It’s better to look first for a tire that provides good all-around performance in important safety areas such as braking, handling, and hydroplaning resistance. Then use its rolling resistance level as the tiebreaker,” it says.

HowStuffWorks also recommends replacing dirty air filter (which can save up to 10% on fuel costs), following a car manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule (up to 4.1% increase in fuel economy can be realized by doing this), and using the manufacturer’s specified motor oil and changing it per factory recommendations.

Switching from gasoline-guzzling cars to the more fuel-efficient ones should be a no-brainer, especially if one has the wherewithal to do so.

“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,” UCS says.