(first published June 2006, updated December 2009)
Petrol/gas prices have dropped globally due to the oil “crisis” lessening and the global financial crisis is somewhat in our rear vision mirrors. Unfortunately, this has seen many people turn their attention back to buying gas guzzling vehicles again – to the further detriment of our oil reserves and environment.
How soon we forget.
Regardless of the world’s geopolitical situation, we need to bear in mind that oil is not an infinite resource, in fact it appears we’ve already hit peak oil. Aside from the bloodshed that our love of black gold wreaks upon our species, our addiction to oil has also seen massive amounts of damage being inflicted on our environment. This includes greenhouse gas emissions from burning fuel, oil pollution in our seas and lands and all the other nasty chemicals produced and released as a result of vehicle manufacturing.
Additionally, we are finding even more destructive methods of extracting oil, such as the case of Canada’s tar sands.
Instead of waiting for the next oil shock, consider learning to wean yourself off oil dependency somewhat now; it will benefit your pocket and the planet. Every gallon of petrol/gasoline you use results in approximately 20 pounds of carbon dioxide plus other greenhouse gases being produced.
Huh? Those figures don’t add up? How can one gallon create 20 pounds? That’s because most of the weight of the CO2 doesn’t come from the gasoline itself, but the oxygen in the air that is burned as part of the combustion process. The chemical reaction between elements of gasoline and oxygen create carbon dioxide, amongst other things..
The following are some gas saving tips that can help lessen your fuel consumption and impact on the environment, not to mention save you some serious money!
Erratic and irresponsible driving chews through gas at a phenomenal rate. Poor driving practices can lower your mileage by up to a third. Aggressive practices include speeding, heavy braking, rapid acceleration and “jackrabbiting”.
Our cars tend to become storage lockers over time :). Every pound your vehicle carries goes against your fuel economy. It’s not unusual for people to carry excess baggage and equipment that adds up to the weight of a passenger. Make it a habit to clear out non essential items from your vehicle weekly – every bit counts.
Avoid extended idling.
In some countries, when you hit a red traffic light, you must stop your engine – and there’s good logic behind this requirement. Millions of gallons of gas is burned annually waiting for traffic lights. If you have a reliable vehicle, don’t let your car idle for more than 30 seconds – switch it off. Around town this can save you a substantial amount of fuel over the year and not to mention a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
By the same token, starting and stopping your engine excessively can also chew through a lot of fuel and cause extra wear on ignition systems and your engine, so be discerning.
Proper engine tuning
Like a piano, a car’s engine becomes out of tune over a period of time and this seriously impacts on fuel economy. Tuning is a separate process to basic servicing and usually consists of adjustment to idling speed, fuel/air mixture, carburettor balance or injector maintenance, spark plug and distributor gap setting and ignition timing. While having your car tuned can cost a little, you can recoup those costs and then some by having an more efficient running engine.
A clean air filter can save you up to 15% in gas usage. Old or worn filters allow dirt into the engine which not only impacts on the amount of fuel you use, but can also cause other engine faults that are expensive to repair.
Keep Tires Properly Inflated
Poorly inflated tires cause drag that negatively impacts on fuel economy, safety and also wear of on the tire itself. I’ve seen all sorts of varying figures as to how much you can save through proper inflation, but the point is that tires should be inflated to at *least* the manufacturers specifications. Often, over-inflating tires can provide even better economy, but check with your mechanic or tire dealer before doing so as this can present some safety and tire wear issues if too much air is added.
Quality motor oil
Oil in an engine is all about reducing friction – less friction also means less gas being used. Using the wrong grade of motor oil in your engine can cause overheating and wear problems, plus knock a couple of percent off your fuel economy.
Avoid excessive short trips
Try to plan out your day so that you’ll need to use the car as little as possible. Making lists before you head out on shopping expeditions can save you added trips throughout the week. Engines use more fuel when they are cold and most short trips you make will be run purely in “cold” mode. Fuel tends not to be burned efficiently which also results in more toxic/greenhouse emissions that are harmful to our environment. Short trips also create more wear and tear on your engine.
Fuel octane levels
The octane rating of gasoline is the measure of how much fuel can be compressed before it ignites, rather than it being ignited by spark. Using the incorrect octane level fuel in your vehicle can negatively affect fuel economy and the engine itself. Check with your car manufacturer or mechanic as to what is the best octane level for your car.
Warming up engines
I was always taught that older vehicles must be warmed up for a couple of minutes before driving off; but it appears this is a myth. 30 – 45 seconds maximum warm up time is the figure I’ve seen recommended. Again, check with your mechanic.
Automatic choke sticking
Automatic chokes have a terrible habit of sticking after an engine has warmed up; causing poor burning of fuel. You’ll usually be able to tell if your choke is still on as the car will be idling faster after it has reached the usual running temperature or you can smell exhaust in the car. Usually a tap on the gas pedal will unstick it, but it’s a point that should be raised with your mechanic on the next servicing.
Use the right gear
Staying in the upper rev range in each gear for extended periods can consume massive amounts of gasoline.
Open windows and external items
When travelling on the highway, open windows can cause a substantial amount of drag. The car has to work harder to sustain the same speed. The same applies in situations where you are pulling a trailer or have items on a roof rack.
If you’re coming to a hill, it’s best to accelerate before it, rather than while on it.
Gravel and unsealed roads play havoc with fuel economy and are also far less safe than tarred roads. Avoid them where you can.
If it’s powered by electricity, it will impact on your gas usage – this includes air conditioners, heaters, stereos, headlights, power seats etc.
Hypermiling includes some of the more “extreme” ways to squeeze more miles per gallon.
A hypermiling method I learned from from a fellow named Hans in rural Australia. He was originally from Germany and during the war years, petrol (gasoline) was scarce; so they had to make each drop count.
This is not a strategy I’d suggest for city driving or one for unreliable cars, but basically what Hans used to do was to take advantage of every downhill run. He would knock the car out of gear and simply roll; when the speed dropped to a certain level after the hill, he would engage the gear again. I can’t remember exactly how much gas he saved in this way, but we compared fuel economy of our two similar vehicles for the same trip and I used twice the fuel he did!
All these tips are well and good while there’s still oil in the ground; but one day it will certainly run out or become so horribly expensive that only the rich will be able to afford it. Don’t count on government providing the answers in time; get used to the fact that it’s a dwindling resource and one that is killing our natural environment.
Reacquaint yourself with your feet :).
Have other earth friendly gas saving tips you’d like to share? Please add them below.