Thursday, May 29, 2008

Unconventional Gas Saving Tips

You already know that, to improve your gas mileage, you should drive gently, keep your tires inflated and drive at highway speeds closer to 60 than 80. Here are a few tips that you may not have heard before. They may not work for everyone. But based on my experience, they could help you reduce your gas expenses.

Hold onto your car longer. A Ford Explorer I once owned got its best mileage after 70,000 miles. The mileage at 70K was about 10-12% better than when the Explorer was new, and about 5% better than when it had 30,000 to 40,000 miles. In fact, I got 21 mpg on the highway after the 70K mark, which was higher than the EPA estimate of 20 mpg highway mileage. Why? I think it was because the engine, transmission, ball bearings and other parts were well broken-in after 70,000 miles. A broken-in car runs with less friction, and therefore should provide better mileage. If you’re the type to trade in a new car after two or three years, think again. You may be missing out on some of the best years of the car’s life.

Try mid-grade. Once I found a gas station with a marketing gimmick of selling regular and mid-grade gas for the same low price (the level at which neighboring stations sold regular). I couldn’t pass up a bargain and filled up with mid-grade, even though my car is designed to run on regular. My mileage was about 10% better with mid-grade. I don’t know exactly why this happened. But I’d guess that because mid-grade has higher octane, it delivers a little more energy per gallon and therefore moves the car a little more efficiently. If you can find mid-grade for a price only a few cents higher than regular, you might try filling with mid-grade just to see how things go. (For those budget-minded drivers who are wondering where they can find the station that sells mid-grade for the same price as regular, I don’t have its name or exact address, but it’s in Burnsville, MN on or near Nicollet Ave.)

Avoid ethanol. Although this notion is heretical in farm states, try using gas that doesn’t contain ethanol. Ethanol reduces mileage slightly. The times I’ve used regular without ethanol, I seem to get about a 5% improvement in mileage. If you can find plain old regular for more or less the same price as regular with ethanol, give it a try and see what happens.

Clean up your car. If you clean up your car, you’ll almost surely lighten it. Weight is a critical factor in mileage. There could easily be 50 or 100 pounds of excess weight in your car (you know, the golf clubs you haven't used in months, the old home furnishings you still haven't donated to charity, etc.). Lighten your car and see an uptick in mileage.

Don’t idle the engine. Modern cars have fuel injection systems that use very little fuel to start the engine after it’s warmed up (which would be after the first half-mile or mile following a cold start). That’s why hybrid engines save on gas. In a hybrid, the gas engine shuts down when the car is traveling at low speed or is stopped, and then starts up when more power is needed. Sometimes, European drivers turn off their engines at long stop lights. America’s go-go culture might make that inadvisable here. But, otherwise, if you’re likely to wait more than about 30 seconds, turn off the engine.

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