10 simple steps to better fuel economy

No matter what kind of car they choose to drive, every driver wants the same thing: Better fuel economy. Even our Prius-driving friends who regale (taunt?) us with tales of 50-mpg efficiency are all hoping for just a little bit more from their next tankful. Some drivers take it to the extreme and achieve average fuel economy of 70, 80 or more than 100 mpg, but these "hypermilers" employ a variety of techniques that can range from mildly inconvenient to downright unsafe.

Fortunately there are a number of steps the rest of us can take to maximize our own fuel economy without resorting to tailgating the car ahead to reduce aerodynamic drag. Many of these 10 tips you can start using on your very next drive.

1. Keep your vehicle's tires properly inflated

In addition to being a potential safety hazard, under-inflated tires are one of the most common but easily-correctable mileage leeches. Always keep tires set to the factory-recommended pressures, numbers that can be found in your owner's manual or on the driver-side door frame. And remember to check them on a regular basis if your vehicle is not equipped with a tire-pressure monitoring system. When it comes time to replace your tires, consider a move to low-rolling-resistance alternatives.

2. Use the manufacturer-recommended fuel grade for your vehicle

The engine in your car or truck has been designed to deliver its maximum performance on fuel of a specified octane, and in most cases, that's going to be unleaded regular. Spending extra dollars to feed it a higher grade is a waste of money that will deliver no tangible benefits to output or to economy.

3. Properly maintain your engine's oil and coolant

Excessive heat and internal friction are two prime enemies of efficient engine operation and also can contribute to increased wear and higher emissions levels. Keeping tabs on the levels and conditions of both your engine's oil and its coolant will pay mpg dividends, especially if you're driving long distances with heavier-than-normal passenger/cargo loads. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations for specifications and change intervals -- and always use high-quality replacement products.

4. Avoid excessive engine idling time

It may sound trivial, but there's a good reason why more and more manufacturers are equipping their latest vehicles with automatic start-stop systems. The general rule of thumb here is that it pays to switch the engine off whenever your vehicle will be stopped for more than 30 seconds, whether it's at a traffic signal, railroad crossing or even in the drive-through line at your favorite fast-food restaurant. The engine in your car will consume more fuel idling for even 10 seconds that it will use to complete one shut-down/restart cycle.

5. Travel right by traveling light

While basic tools, a first aid kit and the obligatory roll of duct tape deserve permanent-resident status in every vehicle, the selection of assorted junk that frequently accumulates in the trunk taking up space and adding unnecessary weight most assuredly does not. An extra 100 pounds can slice up to two percent off of the mpg numbers of an average-size vehicle and have an even greater impact on the efficiency of smaller, lighter ones.

6. Make maximum use of cruise control

Your engine performs most efficiently when operating in a relatively steady and narrow rpm range. Under most freeway driving conditions, the easiest way to make that happen is simply by clicking on the cruise control.

7. Accelerate and brake smoothly

Sudden and abrupt application of either the gas or brakes is a sure way to wreak havoc with your fuel economy numbers. Pay attention to traffic flow and anticipate then modulate pedal inputs to conserve the momentum of your own vehicle. If your vehicle is equipped with an ECO mode, pay attention to the advice it offers.

8. Avoid excessive speed

Resist the temptation to decrease your travel time by increasing pressure on your car's accelerator pedal and stick to the posted speed limits. Above 60 mph, wind resistance becomes a major factor in hammering mpg numbers. Reducing your freeway cruising speeds by as little as 5 mph can result in up to a 7 percent gain in fuel economy.

9. Plan ahead when setting up your drive route and schedule

Whether you're heading across the country or just out running a day's worth of around-town errands, organize your efforts and minimize the total miles driven. Avoid time- and fuel-wasting rush-hour traffic conditions wherever you travel, and especially in large metropolitan areas. Look for alternative routes whenever possible and make it a point to be aware of major construction projects taking place on key highways or Interstate routes in your area.

10. Streamline your vehicle's profile

Unless you're actually transporting things like bikes or skis, remove all external racks and any other drag-creating elements before setting out on any extended freeway runs. About half of the power turned out by your car's engine is used to counteract wind resistance at typical Interstate speeds, and even a purpose-designed contoured cargo pod will have a negative impact on your mileage numbers. And keep your car's windows rolled up as much as possible when you're traveling at higher speeds, on hot days it's actually more economical to stay cool by using the air conditioning.


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