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The everyday driver’s guide to better fuel economy

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By George Kuruvilla

Published: Thu 28 Oct 2021, 3:46 PM

The concern that the monthly fuel expense may exceed the allotted budget and the many news stories of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and climate change, are just some of the reminders of the need for better fuel economy. And since driving an econo-box or a hybrid just isn’t enough, we explore the many habits that we can assimilate into our driving lives to eke out the most kilometres from one tank of gasoline.

Travel light!

The mantra followed by the vacationing influencer and the frequent flyer also applies to the daily driver. The mass of the vehicle is fixed and so is the number of people, so what exactly are we talking about? Like with a house, we all tend to hoard stuff in our vehicles with mostly old and unnecessary stuff that is excused for being useful or sentimental. The usual suspects are clothes, shoes, sporting goods and other stuff that we were supposed to drop off at a friend’s place. A reduced mass equates to lesser energy being burnt which translates into better fuel economy. In addition to this, a lower weight also adds to the handling quotient, even if only by a bit.

Upshift early

If you are “driving a stick” i.e., driving a car with a manual transmission, try upshifting as soon as possible. This helps keep the engine revs low which contributes to a more economical and less noisy ride. As for vehicles equipped with automatic transmissions, this can be easily achieved by accelerating smoothly and not exceeding the speed limit.

Maintain optimal tyre pressure

Keep to the manufacturer recommended pressure ratings. This helps achieve better economy numbers by minimising the rolling resistance. The recommended pressure ratings (PSI or kPa) are usually mentioned on a sticker on the driver’s side door sill or frame. Also ensure that the wheel alignment is optimal for the vehicle. If you notice your car or SUV pulling to one side or the steering wheel is off-center, take this as definitive sign for setting up an appointment with your mechanic soon. For a small premium, you can fill up the tyres with nitrogen which is less susceptible to temperature changes and, therefore, pressure changes.

Don’t keep the engine running or rev unnecessarily

Driving often involves short periods of idling time that can burn a lot of fuel. In modern vehicles, those that are equipped with auto stop/start function, the engine switches off automatically when at rest, but in regular vehicles you have to do this yourself. While it is not advisable to do this at a traffic light, you surely can switch it off in parking lots and pickup/drop-off bays, while you wait for your friend or family to arrive. And try not to rev your engine every morning with the intention of warming it up. While modern engines with their magnetic engine oils are less susceptible to microscopic abrasions and don’t need warming up, if you do plan on getting some heat into the engine, letting it idle is a far safer way to ensure longevity and save those precious drops of fuel as well.

Engage cruise control

Whenever possible, especially on those long highway journeys, hit the cruise control button. Regardless of how good a driver you are, you will find it difficult to maintain one speed consistently, but with cruise control this becomes easy-peasy. Try this and see the economy rates climb in real time.

Driving routes

Between highways and routes with frequent traffic lights and turns, choose the highway if the distance is comparable. This will also give you an opportunity to use cruise control. On the other hand, if you choose the latter you may end up burning more fuel by constant braking and accelerating. Similarly avoid rush hour traffic whenever possible; after all, start-stop traffic is the chief adversary of fuel economy. Anticipating traffic conditions, tuning in to the traffic updates on the radio and checking for the despicable red highlight on Google Maps is a good way to analyse and re-route your journey. This may also help save you some time which you can divert to other activities.

The switch to 2WD

For vehicles that have switchable 4-wheel drive systems, try to switch from 4-wheel drive to two-wheel drive for all everyday driving. By doing so, one pair of tyres either front or rear gets disengaged from the transmission, thereby reducing transmission loss and improving fuel efficiency. In most vehicles, the front wheels are the primary pair while in more sportier vehicles, it is the rear.

Engine health

Ensure that the engine and the powertrain, in general, are well-maintained. At the very minimum ensure that the air filter is clean and replaced when necessary and the same goes for the engine oil levels and quality too. During the summer months you can use an oil with a higher viscosity and in the winter months, the opposite. And we suggest that you reset the fuel economy indicator every now and then, just so you get a clearer idea of your more recent fuel economy — an indicator of engine health.

The main objective of these suggestions is to discourage you from running on fumes and avoid the risk of running out of fuel, which in worst-case scenario can lead to being stranded in remote area, causing traffic congestion, and getting a traffic fine. Plus, we suggest that you save the phone-a-friend option for when you really need assistance and not for just delivering you a jug of fuel.


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