Make The Most Fuel Economy During Winter Gas Price Blues
Winter driving can be stressful at the best of times, and higher than usual fuel bills don’t help. If you’ve noticed your bank account draining quicker than it used to when you pull up to the pump between December and March, you’re not alone.
No matter if you live in a warm climate or a frigid one, you can improve your fuel economy by following some simple guidelines—up to 10 miles per gallon, according to estimates by the fleet management department at University of Nebraska.
This is especially important for drivers who live with extreme weather. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, average fuel economy is 15 percent lower at 20ºF (-6ºC) than at 77ºF (25ºC).
Read the following suggestions on how you can improve fuel mileage and visit the gas station less often.
Fuel Saving Tips For Cold Weather Regions
How you maintain your vehicle during winter months has a lot to do with how well it performs, including fuel economy.
To keep fuel costs as low as possible when driving in the cold, follow these winter driving tips if you live or travel to areas with freezing temperatures:
- Use the correct oil grade for your climate/vehicle. Call your service advisor and check your vehicle owner’s manual for manufacturer recommendations of which grade of oil is best during winter. Using the wrong grade could decrease vehicle efficiency considerably and cause premature wear and tear.
- Parking your vehicle in a garage if you have one will save you money in a few ways. You won’t need to warm the vehicle up like you would if it were sitting in the frozen driveway, burning fuel unnecessarily, and the oil won’t thicken like it would in the cold, either.
- For drivers who live or vacation in areas with extreme cold, invest in a vehicle block heater. Depending on electricity costs in your area, one of these units will cost about $0.10 to $0.20 an hour to run, and will warm the inner workings of your vehicle in two hours or less, eliminating the need to leave it idling for even 30 seconds.
- Remove all unnecessary cargo from the vehicle, both in the trunk and on the roof rack. Extra weight decreases your fuel mileage significantly, so if there’s anything you can afford to leave at home, do it.
- Monitor your tire pressure as the temperature drops. Cold weather causes tire pressure to drop slowly, which according to the U.S. Department of Energy leads to greater resistance and more fuel burned. Invest in a tire pressure gauge and make sure all four tires are topped up to manufacturer specs.
Fuel Saving Tips for Mild Regions
- Choose the right tire type. All-season tires are designed for mileage and for the kind of weather found in Mediterranean climates. Mud and snow tires–or any tire wider than standard tires–provide extra grip and may reduce your miles per gallon. Also, you may notice a temporary reduction in fuel efficiency on any new tire purchase. They tend to have more resistance when they are first installed.
- Replace the air filter on older vehicles with carbureted engines. The upgrade can increase fuel economy and acceleration by a few percent.
- Schedule a tune-up. An out-of-tune vehicle, or one that has failed an emissions test, can reduce gas mileage by as much as 4%. Vehicle spark plugs ignite up to 105 million times every 35,000 miles, creating heat and erosion. Every time it misfires, a worn-out spark plug burns fuel.
- Beware of Covid-style driving. It may affect your vehicle performance, too. Has your driving been primarily infrequent, short trips like just to the market versus longer daily trips such as commuting to work? You may need to replace those spark plugs more often than factory recommendations.
- Use Cruise Control. Activating cruise control on the highway helps the vehicle maintain a constant speed that typically improves fuel economy.
- Get a winter vehicle inspection. For instance, a defective oxygen sensor can cause your vehicle to run inefficiently and reduce efficiency by up to 3.0 miles per gallon.
- Change oil regularly. Using cheap engine oil or not getting an oil change increases engine friction that may reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 0.4 mpg.
Easy Gas-Saving Behaviors
The US Department of Energy and Nebraska Fleet Management also offer simple ways to extend your fuel dollar throughout this winter:
- Don’t leave your vehicle idling in the driveway. Despite the long-standing winter tradition of giving vehicles several minutes to “warm up,” most vehicle manufacturers agree that 30 seconds of idling is sufficient.
- Drive cautiously and avoid frequent speeding up and slowing down. Erratic, aggressive driving burns up to 30 percent more fuel than slower, smoother acceleration.
- Combine vehicle-dependent trips whenever possible. As tempting as it can be to make a quick run to the grocery store, do your best to let a few errands build up before hopping in your vehicle. The most surefire way to burn less fuel is to do less driving.
- Replace vehicle gas cap. An estimated 17 percent of vehicles use gas damaged or ill-fitting caps–or none at all. The result: About 147 million gallons of gas is vaporized each year. Also, a loose-fitting gas cap can reduce fuel efficiency by an estimated 2.0 MPG.
- Fill with gas slowly. Set the fill nozzle to the lowest setting to help prevent splashes and overfilling.
- Don’t top off the fuel tank. Stop filling the tank as soon as the fuel nozzle clicks off–your vehicle tank is full. Avoid the temptation to add more fuel or round up the dollar amount. Topping also can soak your vehicle’s emissions system with fuel and cause a wasteful spill.
- Check air pressure at least once a month during winter. Underinflated tires can cost drivers a mile or two per gallon in fuel economy.
The myth busters at University of Nebraska offer the following fun facts about fuel savings:
Myth 1. Filling your car up in the morning if the temperature is hot provides additional fuel. For underground tanks, fuel temperature remains constant. It does not expand or contract as air temperature changes.
Myth 2. Using a higher octane fuel improves better fuel mileage. Octane ratings are not related to fuel energy. Higher octanes help prevent engine knock, or ping. Most modern vehicles can handle lower octane levels. Check your vehicle user manual for details.
Myth 3. Gas from all fuel stations is the same. While most gasoline is similar, a few discount fuel stations sell “slop” fuel. All fuel is transported through the same refinery lines–such as gasoline and diesel. A bit of fluid from one grade to the next occurs during changeover of fuel types, and it is collected in a “slop” tank. Slop may range between higher or lower grade fuel.
Myth 4. Fuel additives such as octane boosters and fuel line antifreeze can improve your fuel economy. Although they may help vehicle performance, fuel additives do not improve fuel economy. The advantage of the added power from octane boosters generally reduces miles per gallon.