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What is the best way to reduce my fuel costs for winter driving?

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Fuel efficient driving is a challenge not easily achieved during winter months when weekly gasoline bills can increase by as much as 50 percent. Of course the best way to reduce fuel consumption is to drive fewer miles, but not everyone has the freedom of this option.

Those who commute to and from work, or take children to and from school, quickly master the techniques of combining trips, planning stops for efficient travel and carpooling. Many of us schedule our departures and arrivals, and plan travel routes to minimize the delays caused by traffic congestion. These fuel saving strategies are very good and when combined with the following suggestions can help reduce your weekly fuel bills:

  • Tune up the engine. A regularly maintained engine runs more efficiently and is more dependable. Improperly serviced engines waste fuel and can leave you stranded at the coldest, most inconvenient times.
  • Purchase gasoline with the appropriate octane rating. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations when selecting fuel. If your car does not require a high octane fuel, hundreds of dollars can be saved each year by purchasing the lowest grade (octane) of gasoline. If your engine does not knock or ping when a lower octane fuel is used, changing your buying habits will save money.
  • Inflate tires to the correct pressure. Cold temperatures decrease the air pressure in tires which in turn increases tire rolling resistance and tire wear. Tires should be inflated to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. Regular tire balancing, alignment and rotation are important and when selecting new tires, keep in mind that radial designs provide better fuel efficiency.
  • Remove unnecessary weight from the vehicle. Limit the excess weight to necessary equipment. Gas mileage decreases a mile or more per gallon for each 300 pounds of additional weight. The spare tire, equipment to change a tire, a few important car repair tools, a shovel and basic cold weather emergency supplies (including a cellular telephone) are important, but removing that 400 pound toolbox from the trunk will lower your fuel costs. Also, snow and ice add both weight and wind resistance to vehicles and should be removed for improved fuel economy.
  • Speed increases fuel consumption. Most of us remember the extensive propaganda that accompanied the nationally imposed 55 miles per hour speed limit a few years ago. Well, the part about fuel savings is still true. At speeds greater than 40 mph, your car's engine must overcome significant wind resistance. Traveling at 55 mph rather than 70 mph can result in fuel savings approximating 20 percent. Slow down and reduce your fuel consumption.
  • Drive with fuel economy in mind. Those who embrace a "zero-to-sixty attitude" are first in line at the next stoplight, but pay for this in higher fuel costs and more repair bills. When you accelerate slowly and avoid unnecessary braking you are rewarded with fuel savings and less frequent tire and brake replacements. Fuel economy is directly related to conservative driving techniques.
  • Remove the roof rack when it is not in use. Roof mounted skis and racks reduce a vehicle's aerodynamics. Weekend skiers who use their cars for commuting during the week will improve fuel economy by removing skis and racks when the equipment is not being used.
  • Pay cash if credit costs more. Some service stations sell fuel at a lower price when customers pay cash, so pay cash and save money on gasoline purchases.
  • Engine warm-ups require one minute. Waiting more than one minute to warm up your engine on cold mornings is not necessary and wastes fuel. One minute of idling for passenger cars burns as much fuel as starting the engine. An engine block heater is recommended if cold temperatures reach the negative teens, but a timer should be used so the engine is only heated for a couple of hours prior to operation.
  • Melting ice and snow is expensive. A sure way to increase winter fuel costs is to allow the car engine to melt snow and ice from the car windows. If your car cannot be parked in a garage or shelter, use a combination of sweeping, scrapping and defrost heat. Allowing the car's engine to do all the work may be convenient, but it is expensive. Also, police caution vehicle owners that an unattended, unlocked, idling automobile is both attractive and convenient for joy riders or car thieves, not to mention the danger it presents to the general public.
  • Resist the convenience of the drive through. For those who regularly use a drive through, the best choice is to park the car and go into the restaurant or business rather than sit in the car and allow the engine to idle. Five to twenty minutes of fuel is consumed each time the drive through is used and for those who use a drive through often, this is an unnecessary waste of fuel.
  • The simplest way to reduce winter fuel costs is to drive fewer miles. Replace that regular weekend outing or out of town shopping excursion with an activity close to home. If rising gasoline prices present a problem, consider purchasing an energy efficient car for long term fuel savings and overall economy on a per mile basis.

Posted on 19 Jul 2006

Richard Beard
Agricultural Systems Technology and Education Specialist

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