5 ways to spend less on gas

filling up the gas tank at the gas station Photo by Syda Productions / Shutterstock

With fuel prices escalating of late, now is the ideal time to revisit fuel efficiency with a few helpful tips on how drivers can spend less on gas by making fewer trips to the pump.

Tip #1: Do your maintenance

A properly maintained vehicle will consistently outperform a neglected unit, and therefore use less fuel. Regular service is essential but there are several do-it-yourself tasks which owners can, and should, perform on a weekly or, at a bare minimum, monthly basis. If possible, set a regular scheduled day for this, perhaps the 1st weekend of every month.

First, check the fluid levels under the hood (oil, coolant etc.). Also, this is the perfect time to top off that windshield washer fluid.

Second, monitor your tire pressure—underinflated tires are one of the leading causes of poor fuel economy. In fact, a drop of just a few pounds (lbs) of air pressure could reduce your fuel economy by as much as 10-15 per cent, depending on what kind of car you drive. It is also a serious safety issue which can lead to accidents. Typically, recommended pressures are to be found on the decal inside the driver’s door or on the driver’s door pillar. Failing that, they can be found in the owner’s handbook.

This task should be performed when the tires are cold and, if possible, refrain from using gas station gauges as they are notoriously inaccurate. Personally, I use a quality dial style pressure gauge (available at any good automotive store) and my advice is don’t cheap out.  A quality brand product might cost a little more but it will supply years of service. I also carry a small portable compressor in my vehicle, just in case. Again, I would recommend purchasing quality (I carry a cordless battery-pack DEWALT unit). Should you go this route, a rather accurate pressure gauge is already built into the unit.

Tip # 2: Learn to drive smoothly & efficiently

Drivers tend to believe that it’s their accelerator pedal which burns all the fuel, yet unnecessary use of the braking system can certainly waste fuel. Why use up all that forward energy by hitting the brakes unnecessarily?

So keep your eyes up and read the road ahead—if that traffic light has been green for a while now, there’s a very good chance that it will soon turn red. Be prepared for this. In fact, a quick glance at the pedestrian countdown numbers used on many intersections today is a great indicator of when that change might happen. Coasting smoothly to a stop will not only save on your fuel bill, but also the wear and tear costs of your braking system.

When pulling away, try to roll gently onto the accelerator pedal rather than stab at it. Smoothness truly is the key to greater fuel economy. In fact, master the art of smooth driving and you could realize savings of as much as 20 per cent or more, depending on the size and type of your vehicle.

Many years ago, I was trained as a chauffeur and this is what I was taught during that training; visualize your grandmother sitting in your back seat sipping on a glass of sherry and drive accordingly. Try it, it works!

Tip # 3: Declutter your vehicle

We all do it! Throw items in the trunk and forget about them. I had a friend once who carried a full set of golf clubs, just in case! That’s like constantly carrying an extra person in your vehicle! So it’s a good idea to go through your vehicle every now and then with the mindset of decluttering and discarding unnecessary weight.

This particularly applies to racks and roof-mounted storage boxes. While useful when you need them, if you’re using them less than once a month, I‘d suggest that the few minutes required to remove them is well worth it. The wind resistance/drag alone from these can easily cause a drop of between 5-10 per cent in fuel economy, again depending your car’s size and type.

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Tip # 4: Don’t be idle

Sitting in an idling vehicle gets you nowhere, but it does burn fuel. So whenever possible, the golden rule is, 60 seconds or more, switch off your engine. I’m particularly mindful of this when it comes to drive-through restaurants. My own rule is, more than 3-4 vehicles in the lineup, I simply park up and go inside.

Idling a vehicle is possibly the greatest waste of fuel. When you truly think about it, it is 100 per cent inefficient in fuel terms, so there are considerable savings to be had by reducing this.

Tip # 5: Use the tools you’ve got

Most modern vehicles have a host of features designed to assist drivers (eco mode etc.) and one of my favourites is the instant fuel economy display. Drive utilizing this feature and you’ll soon learn how to save fuel.

In town, it will teach you the foolishness of being heavy footed and, on the highway, you will learn precisely where your vehicle’s sweet spot is (all vehicles have a “cruising sweet spot”). The difference of a few kph can produce a huge change to fuel economy, especially over a long distance trip.

Make use of this display and watch those numbers for just a few weeks and you will most certainly become a far more fuel efficient driver.

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