Ways to Improve Car Fuel Efficiency

For most of us, our cars are our second biggest investment and expense. It is important to properly manage these investments to get the maximum return on our money. This is an area that I have honestly struggled with several times. Lacking the time or energy was really no excuse for not maintaining my vehicles properly, but they have been the culprit several times. For those who have their vehicle serviced, this may sound crazy, but I enjoy doing the work and knowing that the job was done right. There is not a service station that I know that will let the oil drain for an hour or longer to get all the sediment out. Now, I will get off my soap box and get to the post. Here are some of the ways that I have found that make a drastic difference in the miles per gallon in our vehicles.

  1. Have the oil changed every 3000 miles. This is the big one. Not only will old oil cause your engine to work harder, it can actually damage the piston walls if it gets too dirty. Having clean oil lets your engine run smoothly, thus providing more power (and more miles) for the same amount of gas.
  2. Tire pressure. This is probably the easiest problem to correct, yet often the most overlooked. It is estimated that every 1 lb. of psi that your tires are low cost you up to 0.4% in fuel economy. This can add up to 3% of fuel cost. For the rest of this post I am going to use our figure of $80 per week. Total annual loss: $124.80.
  3. Keep your car in tune. This may mean getting new plugs and wires, having your car timed, or changing an oxygen sensor. These items can average up to 4% of fuel cost. Total annual loss: $166.40.
  4. Replace the air filter. An important part of combustion is getting the proper amount of air. The air filter serves the function of keeping impurities out of your engine. If you place a pillow over your face and try to breath, you will get the idea of how a clogged filter will effect your gas mileage. Just as you have to work harder to get the right amount of air, so does your engine. A dirty air filter can cost you up to 10% of fuel cost! Total annual loss: $416.00.

Just these four simple items if not maintained properly have the potential to cost me an extra $707.20 per year (@ $3/gal). The tune up is something that I have to take to the service station, but after paying for the parts and labor (as well as all the material needed for my “shade tree” work that I perform) I will still save up to $450.00 a year. The air pressure is something that I try to check weekly, and although they are few and far between, there are still some service stations that offer free air to customers. The oil change I try to complete every 3000 miles, or every three months (whichever comes first). The tune up is something that just depends on your vehicle, driving conditions, and so forth. The air filter will also be effected by your locale, but we average one every six months.

I found it difficult to keep up with all this for three vehicles for the longest time. The best way that I have found is to keep a small ($0.33) notebook in each vehicle and list what service was performed, the date the service was performed, mileage, and the cost of the service. For time-specific services I enter the required information into Google calendar and set a reminder.

What ways have you found to improve your gas mileage?

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2 Responses to “Ways to Improve Car Fuel Efficiency”

  1. Foxie Says:

    I would hope you don’t pay someone else to change your own spark plugs and wires! The things you listed under “tune up” are all very easy to do, you just need to learn how to do them. =] I recommend having a Haynes Manual for each car you have, I bought mine from AutoZone and keep it in the trunk of my car. It gives you step by step instructions, with pictures, on how to do just about anything and everything mechanical to your car, as well as troubleshooting. (The book is based on the complete tear down and rebuilding of the engine in the car.)

    Of course, there’s a small cost involved in some of it. If you don’t have a spark plug socket, you’d need to get one. Timing lights can be expensive, and you have to be sure you know what you are doing, otherwise you can cause serious damage to your engine. However, it can save you some time and money to learn to do it yourself. It also helps to have a mechanic you trust and who you know won’t charge you more for the big repairs than is necessary.

    My husband’s new brake pads for his car are due to come in soon, and he announced that we’ll be doing it ourselves with the help of another guy who said it’s very easy to do. I’m sure this will save us a pretty penny in labor costs. And although we also change our own oil, we usually don’t save by doing it. We actually spend about the same, sometimes more, to do it ourselves because we buy better oil and better filters, which I know is better for the engines in the long run. Just my two cents, take it or leave it! =]

  2. perfectlyimperfectmusing Says:

    Thanks for the advice. I own a Chilton manual, similar to the Haynes manual, that you mentioned. Since I only tune my vehicles every 30,000 miles (which amounts to around every 18 months for one vehicle, and 36 months for another), I decided to pay the twenty dollars to have this service done rather than buying all the tools. As you stated, great damage can occur if not done properly.

    Brakes are something that we tackle ourselves as well. Have plenty of hand cleaner!

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