Wouldn't you love to wake up tomorrow and find a new car with great gas mileage sitting in your driveway? We all would, but if the Hybrid Fairy forgets to leave you a new Prius, here are some tips for making your current vehicle a greener ride. With good auto maintenance and smarter driving, you can save gas in your car today.
1. Keep Your Existing Car
If you’re tempted to trade in the old jalopy for a shiny new car with a better MPG rating, remember that not buying new products is one of the most environmentally sound choices you can make. This holds true even for green products like hybrid vehicles. When you think in terms of a car’s entire product cycle -- including the impact of manufacturing and shipping a hybrid vehicle -- it makes more sense to extend the life of your existing car than to junk it for a new one.
2. Slow Down to Improve Gas Mileage
Hey leadfoot, what’s the hurry? Blasting off from green lights and squealing around corners are great strategies in the Indy 500, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they also lower your fuel economy by 30 to 40 percent. Aggressive driving also adds wear and tear to your tires, brakes and engine, presents a serious safety hazard – and it’s only a matter of time before you get a speeding ticket. Try to maintain a steady rate of speed, anticipate stops, and accelerate gradually, and you’ll be surprised how much longer your gas needle stays near the “full” mark.
3. Tires and Gas Mileage
A car is really only as good as its tires. When’s the last time you looked at yours? A tire pressure gauge is one of the cheapest tools you can own, and not only can it save you from a flat, it can also save you money on gas expenses. Inside the driver’s door is a plaque that lists the recommended size and air pressure of your tires. Tires always seem to choose the worst time to go flat, so while your checking the air pressure also take a look at your tires' tread pattern, and consider a replacement if any are looking bald. Tire manufacturers are always finding new gas-saving tire designs; find tire reviews and gas mileage information at TireRack.com and 1010tires.com
4. Stay in Tune and Save Gas
Because a well-tuned motor runs more efficiently, getting a regular tune-up is like saving seven to 10 cents a gallon at the gas pump. Some problems, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can reduce your gas mileage by up to 40 percent. And consider splurging on a high-quality synthetic motor oil with energy-conserving compounds -- they’ll have an "Energy Conserving" label on them, courtesy of the American Petroleum Institute. Most states allow mechanics to charge an oil-disposal fee, which helps to ensure that your used motor oil gets recycled.
5. Junk in Your Trunk
After a few years, some car trunks can start to look like an archeological dig. Are ancient artifacts from past civilizations weighing down your car -- and blocking access to your spare tire? All that extra weight makes your engine work harder and reduces your gas mileage. And who knows -- maybe you’ll find some buried treasure under all the hockey sticks, sleeping bags and beach chairs.
6. Control Your Cruise for Improved Gas Mileage
Cruise control, a standard feature on many cars, is one of the little-known ways to increase your gas mileage, especially on longer trips. By smoothing out smaller increases and decreases in engine speed, cruise control adds significantly to your car’s MPG. One exception is in hilly areas, where the engine will “surge” to power up hills; if you’re hitting the Rockies, turn your cruise control off.
7. Idle Distractions and Gas Mileage
Idling your car’s engine, whether you’re waiting for the kids or sitting in a burger joint’s drive-thru, wastes a surprising amount of gas and adds lots of tailpipe emissions to the air. Some cities and states have regulations against excessive idling, and a few experts even recommend turning off your engine if you’re stuck at a red light for more than 10 seconds. That may seem extreme, but the fact remains: idle hands and engines are the devil’s workshop.
8. Combine Trips
Your car runs inefficiently on short jaunts around town, when stop-and-go traffic lowers your gas mileage and increases wear and tear on your engine, transmission and brakes. Whenever possible, combine errands into one trip, which can save you time as well as gas. (Just remember to hit the grocery store last, so your chocolate ice cream doesn’t turn into a puddle of chocolate goop in your backseat.)
Air-conditioning doesn't get a free ride -- scientists have found that 5 to 30% of fuel usage is from AC, especially in stop-and-go urban traffic. (They also found that many people run the AC even when the temperatures are in the 60s and below.) You can improve your MPG by rolling down the windows on a nice day -- especially in city driving -- and save the AC for when it's really scorching or you're on a long, high-speed freeway drive.
10. Keep Your Car Clean and Green
Washing your car the old-fashioned way -- a hose, a bucket and a big old rag -- uses a tremendous amount of water, and is usually the first thing regulators clamp down on in the event of a water shortage. There are now several manufacturers who have developed "waterless" car cleaning sprays and polishes, as well as carpet, upholstery and dashboard cleaners that don’t use petroleum compounds. And if your biggest car-cleaning problem is plain old dust and grime, try a car duster that quickly and effectively removes that build-up without water.
11. Bonus Tip: Beware Gas Mileage Scams
Every time gas prices climb -- as they inevitably will -- scam artists come out of the woodwork with amazing miracle cures for raising your car’s MPG. Everything from fuel additives to light bulbs and electronic chips have been touted as gas-savers. But don’t get sucked in by ads, fads or hucksters; instead, try the simple tips listed above for real-world gas savings.