June 17, 2008

Six Ways to Maximize Your Car's Gas Mileage

Of course, the best way to maximize your car's gas mileage is to use alternative transportation: subways, trains, buses, bikes, use your feet ... but if you live in some areas of the country (like San Antonio), mass transportation isn't always available as an option and you need to drive your vehicle. Fuel efficiency becomes very important when you have to drive to work or school. Here are some ways to help get the most bang for your gas buck:

1. Keep your tires inflated - a little bit extra helps. It takes more gas to drive a vehicle that does not have its tires inflated to the proper air pressure. What's the right pressure? Check the manual or the little sticker on the inside of your driver's door panel to find the number. Then, buy an air pressure gauge and follow the directions. Don't buy the cheapest model, either: a gauge that cost a bit more will be much more accurate.

There are also those who advocate putting a little extra air into your tires: it's true that a little bit over the manual's reccommended amount will not harm the tire and may help with mileage. It's also true that it means literally a little less rubber meeting the road, which makes for a slippery and more dangerous ride. Careful here.

2. Keep up with your regular car care (esp. oil, air filters, spark plugs). Change that oil every 3000 miles (there are all those quickie drive-thru places around town, this isn't that big a deal); and make sure you keep up with your manual's scheduled tune-ups, too.

Fresh spark plugs and air filters can make a big difference on mileage: change the air filter every 4 months, and if you want to be zealous about it, buy a cloth one instead of paper. They are more expensive, but they work better. (You can purportedly up your fuel efficiency by 10% just by changing out your air filters regularly.) Spark plugs should be replaced regularly as well. Again, don't go for the cheapest option: spark plugs are the gizmos that literally light your car's fire (actually, the air/gas combo in your engine) and those that do an efficient job of this make for better gas mileage.

3. Monitor Your Wheel Alignment. Just driving over a couple of surprising speed bumps in the road can mess with your car's wheel alignment. Potholes, jumping the curb, and just extended, normal driving can compromise wheel alignment - which essentially means that one of tires is wanting to go slightly one way, while the rest are wanting to go another. The result drains your fuel efficiency, as well as wears down the tires and makes the car a bit harder to drive.

How to check? In a careful section of road, point your car straight ahead and start moving forward. If the car turns itself to the right or the left, you've got an alignment problem. Get it fixed. It doesn't cost much.

4. Use Fuel Injection Formula. This stuff is a magic potion that is added to your fuel tank -- at some stations, it's offered as part of the purchase by those annoying automated voices. Cost is minimal, and the gook will go thru the fuel system, cleaning up the fuel injectors.

Why do you care? Fuel injectors should be spraying a mist of gas, not a splat - but that is what happens if they aren't really clean. Over time, they will get gunky. The Fuel Injection Formula cleans out that gunk. Wait though: once you've added it, you're not done. Get out on the road, and gun the engine a few times. Pedal to the metal, in a good way (don't go over the speed limit, of course) to get that potion circulating well. Do this monthly.

5. Drive Smart and Plan Your Routes. The faster you drive, the more gas you use. The more air conditioning you use, ditto. Stopping and starting in traffic just burns up your gas budget, as does rapid acceleration.

What to do? If you can, plan to run errands earlier in the day so you don't have to run the car's air conditioner the whole time. Take routes that keep you out of traffic jams and intersections where you know you'll take awhile to get thru the red light. Drive slower overall, and learn to keep some space between you and the cars ahead: it saves gas to slowly come to a stop when needed, instead of pushing (or slamming) the brakes so you can stay a maximum speed for as long as you can.

6. Get That Junk Out of the Trunk. Your car is a transportation machine, and it will carry whatever is placed within its frame - and the heavier the car, the more gas it will need to do this job. So, don't carry along anything you don't have to take with you. Car trunks and truck beds should not be portable storage facilities. Store just your emergency stuff (flares, first aid kits, spare tire, etc.) and discipline yourself to keeping it lean and mean.
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