What’s the easiest way to save gas that you can think of?
You might say “Drive a smaller car” but that’s not exactly an easy change to make, especially if you’ve got kids and gear and groceries and just plain ol’ stuff to haul around everywhere.
You might say “Maintenance, like checking the tire pressure or changing your oil”. Kudos to you – those are definitely good things to look for if you’re trying to shave off some MPGs, but those involve taking the car in for service, or at the very least, going to a gas station that’s got an air pump.
I’m thinking something that you can do right now, for free. Any guesses?
Adjust your driving habits. It’s quick, it’s easy to do, and best of all, it’s free. Here are three things that you can look out for:
Tip #1 – Accelerate Slowly
You’ve probably heard this one before, but its the easiest change to make:
Don’t have a lead foot.
If you just ease off a little bit on the gas pedal when you’re accelerating, whether you’re trying to pass someone on the highway or starting from a dead stop, you can save a huge amount of gas. The Department of Energy did a study that found that aggresive driving can lower your gas mileage by up to 33% on the highway and 5% in the city! For example, in a car that could get up to 30 MPG on the highway, aggressive driving would lower your mileage all the way down to 20 MPG!
Even when you aren’t accelerating, your speed has an impact on your fuel economy. Back in the 1970’s, speed limits nationwide were reduced to 55 miles per hour. This wasn’t because the Department of Transportation really felt like making people crazy – it’s because there was an oil shortage, and at 55 MPH, most vehicles are getting their best fuel economy.
When you start going faster than 55 MPH, the added air resistance, in addition to the way that most cars are geared, you start losing fuel economy – bigtime. Increasing your speed from 55 MPH to 65 MPH increases fuel consumption by up to 15%, and going from 55 MPH up to 70 MPH increases consumption by up to 25%! To put that in perspective for you, a car that gets 30 MPG at 55 miles per hour would get as low as 23 MPG at 70 miles per hour.
Of course, this depends somewhat on the car, and in particular, how aerodynamically it is designed, but the principle still holds true. So the next time someone blows by you on the interstate, just keep in mind that his wallet is probably hurting for it.
Tip #2 – Brake Slowly
This is the other side of the coin – the longer you take to brake, the better fuel economy you will get. Ideally, if you can coast to a stop, letting inertia do the work for you, you will get the best fuel economy.
The reason for this is pretty simple. Your car’s engine burns gas, and uses that energy to turn the wheels of your car and propel you forward. When you slam on the brakes, you’re using friction from the brake pads rubbing up against the wheel’s disc/drum to slow you down, and that energy that originally came from the gas is getting converted into heat. By coasting slowly to a stop, you aren’t converting any of that energy into heat; instead, you’re using as much of it as possible to keep propelling the car forward.
This effect is somewhat amplified on hybrid cars, like the Ford C-Max, a Fusion hybrid, or the all-electric version of the Focus. Through something called Regenerative Braking, the inertial energy from braking gets partially converted into electricity – basically, it turns the electric motor into an electric generator, and refills the battery. To help you maximize your ability to regenerate power during braking, these cars include something called a Brake Coach, which will tell you how well you were able to reclaim power when you come to a stop, as well as tips on how to do better in the future. It’s a useful tool, but basically what it boils down to is – just slow down a little slower.
Tip #3 – Minimize Idling Time
This is another one that seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really easy to forget about in your day to day life.
Imagine this scenario: Mom, Dad and a sleeping toddler in the backseat, on your way home. Mom remembers that they need eggs, so she swings into the grocery store and Dad jumps out to go grab them really quickly. He shouldn’t be more than five minutes. Mom leaves the car running, AC blasting, windows up. Dad gets back a couple minutes later, they go home.
This happens to me about every week (I’m really bad about remembering to get eggs). Here’s the thing, though: while Dad was in the store, your car was getting Zero MPGs. It doesn’t get any worse than that. You may as well be pumping gas out straight on the ground. Unless its 100 degrees outside, a couple minutes in the car with the windows down isn’t gonna hurt anyone, and if you can make a habit of it, you can save a lot of money at the pump.
There’s not much you can do as far as idling in traffic, unless your car is equipped with something like Ford’s Auto Start-Stop. What it does is turn off your engine when you come to a stop (like at a red light or a stop sign), and then, as soon as you take your foot off the gas, start the engine back up again. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you add up a couple of ounces of gas here, a couple ounces there, you can end up saving a decent bit of fuel, and a decent chunk of change.
Every little bit helps.
Individually, none of these things are going to solve all of your gas price woes, but each of them will help to shave off a couple of miles per gallon off of your overall fuel consumption. Every little bit helps!
Be sure to check out the other posts in the new Fuel Saver Tips monthly series:
Also, check out this video on the Ford Focus Electric, presented by our own Frank Towson.