According to AAA, the daily average price for a gallon of gasoline in the United States is $4.31 as of March 10. The average diesel price is even higher at $5.05 per gallon. Both figures are all-time highs, and for our friends across the pond, prices are even higher – considerably higher in some cases. We can't help you with fuel costs, but perhaps we can help you go a little further on a tank.
You've likely heard all kinds of fuel-saving tips, but we didn't want to just pass along empty information without some authoritative context. Motor1.com reached out to Mia Bevacqua, a veteran ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician who's also the Chief Mechanic and Technical Writer at CarParts.com. She very much knows her way around a vehicle, and she graciously shared some simple steps that can deliver results at the pump.
Keep Up On Vehicle Maintenance
This is arguably the tip heard most often, but it's most often ignored. It's also the tip Bevacqua emphases above all others. "Don't ignore the check engine light," she says. "Modern engines run on advanced computer systems; even if the car is running okay, a fault with a sensor could hurt your economy." Beyond that, basic things such as clogged fuel filters and air filters can ding you at the pump, and don't forget about other aspects of the car. Sticky brakes and misaligned steering increases rolling resistance, and with it, fuel usage.
Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated
This could slide into vehicle maintenance, but it's worth a separate shout-out because it's a very easy fix that's often overlooked. "Fuel mileage can drop 0.4 percent from tires being underinflated by just one psi," explained Bevacqua. "Tires that are down more than that, the loss can add up quick." Recommended pressures obviously vary by vehicle, but it's important to follow automaker recommendations as opposed to the maximum pressures printed on the tires.
Get Rid Of Extra Weight
Yanking out all the passenger seats before a quarter-mile pass at the drag strip is a rite-of-passage for performance connoisseurs, but Bevacqua reminds us that lighter weight also uses less fuel. "If you're storing stuff in the car, get it out. Take it somewhere, donate it. The more you carry around, the more fuel you'll use."
Turn Off The Air Conditioner
This could be a tough one for those who live in warm climates, but drastic times call for drastic measures. "The air conditioning compressor runs off the engine; it creates a parasitic load that can draw down fuel economy," said Bevacqua. There's a double whammy here, however, because lowering windows also hurts mileage due to aerodynamics. Some solutions include using sunshades to keep the car cooler through the day, and most climate control systems have a basic vent that draws in outside air without using the air conditioner. It won't be cold, but it's still a breeze.
Aerodynamics Matter – Lose The Roof Rails And Storage Boxes
Speaking of aerodynamics, there's a reason why automakers are keen to talk about drag coefficients on their latest electric models. Better aero means less power needed to push through the air, using less fuel. On SUVs or vehicles with roof rails, Bevacqua suggests taking them off when not using them, especially if there are bulky cargo boxes involved.
Go Easy On The Throttle
This is a common-sense item for sure, but it's one worth repeating. If you ever needed an extra reason to not give in to road rage, now is the time. "Nice and smooth is the way to go," explained Bevacqua. "Gentle inputs on the throttle, and for every 5 mph you go under 50 mph, your mileage increases. You can't really go 50 mph on the highway in most places, but staying at the speed limit or a little bit below is the best way to go."
This isn't really a driving tip as much as a life hack, but there's a reason delivery companies spend so much money on logistics. If you can plan out a route for Saturday errands that cuts a mile from your journey, that's a mile saved for something else. Hitting key areas outside of rush hour certainly helps too, and if your COVID rules allow, don't wait in the drive-thru line with the engine idling. Bevacqua reminds us that parking and going inside will save a bit of fuel.
Don't Shut Off For Short Stops
Nixing the drive-thru for a five-minute food run is fine, but in the realm of what not to do, Bevacqua doesn't recommend shutting down while sitting at traffic lights or other traffic situations. It's fine on cars equipped with start/stop tech, but any potential gains in fuel usage are offset by wear and tear on systems not designed for such things.
Don't Use Fuel Lower Than Your Recommended Octane
Fuel prices are at record highs, and high-octane premium grades are the most expensive of all. It might be tempting to go for the lower-grade fuel, but Bevacqua says to always use the grade recommended by the manufacturer. "Going up in octane generally won't get you better miles per gallon, but going lower might hurt because the engine computer will adjust ignition timing to match the fuel, and that could result in lower fuel economy."
Don't Lug The Engine At Extremely Low Revs
Here's one for the manual transmission crowd, and if you row your own, you're probably guilty of this. Don't lug the engine along at extremely low RPM in high gear. Running the engine too low can do more harm than good; Bevacqua reminds us that "smooth and steady" while driving is the key to getting the best mileage. That holds true for an old Ford Mustang, or the newest Toyota Prius hybrid.