Before you start the engine

Before you start the engine

Vehicle Maintenance

Before you even start your engine, you can do a lot to improve your fuel economy. The time of day that you drive can make a huge difference in cities and suburbs. Even people with kids and tight schedules may be able to find some wiggle room in their trip departure times now and then. For instance, leaving for work half an hour earlier can make a huge difference for some commuters. Obviously, avoid driving during rush hour if you can, or at other times when idling, stopping, and starting your car may be more frequent.

Mobile apps like Waze can be incredibly helpful in choosing routes and travel times that reduce fuel use. For instance, you can see that traffic is tied up on one route because of a crash, and it will reroute you to a quicker route or suggest delaying your start time. As you’ll learn shortly, idling eats up an amazing amount of fuel while getting you nowhere.

Extra weight in your car means extra fuel used. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle reduces your MPG by up to 2%. Don’t use your trunk as an extra closet! Get those golf clubs and bowling balls out of your car when you’re not using them.

Aerodynamics also impact a vehicle’s fuel consumption. That’s why auto manufactures spend millions of dollars putting new vehicle designs through wind tunnels. If you’re not using your roof or your bicycle rack, take them off. This can save a bundle, especially at higher speeds

Plan your trips and do several errands during the same trip rather than doing them one at a time from your home base. This is called “trip chaining.” The fewer miles you drive, the more money you save on fuel and the better for the environment. Trip chaining also helps because your car is more efficient when running warm. So rather than doing one errand each day for five days, you can reduce miles travelled by doing five errands in one or two days.

Take Action!

  • Try to drive when there's less traffic
  • Use routing and travel time apps, such as Waze
  • Plan trips to avoid cold engines and reduce miles travelled
  • Remove roof and bike racks when not in use
  • Remove extra weight from your vehicle

Take Care of Your Engine

Take Care of Your Engine

Have your oil and oil filter changed regularly, at the intervals recommended for your car and for the kind of oil you use. See your owner’s manual.

Beware—New cars can go 7,500 to 10,000 miles without an oil change, far different from the old recommendation of every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

Your oil gets dirtier and thicker as it comes to the end of its recommended life. Your engine can’t run as well. Your gas mileage decreases. Even worse, your entire engine can be ruined.

In addition---Check your car’s oil level periodically between oil changes. It is normal for many cars to use a small amount of oil in normal operation. If your car holds 4 quarts of oil and it is a quart low, it needs more—it’s only ¾ full, right?

“When an engine runs low on oil, it lacks the lubrication necessary for helping the metal parts move quickly against each other. When the shortage of engine oil reaches a critical point, the parts of the engine start to grind. The vehicle is likely to come to a screaming, clattering, shuddering stop. Fixing the engine will be a big job, and usually, these engines will need to be replaced, as they have been practically ruined”.

It’s hard to imagine somebody letting it get to that point, but MANY people will run 1-2 quarts low, in a car that only holds 4 quarts. That’s not good.

Finally, get a tune-up at the intervals specified in your owner’s manual. You may need a tune-up at other times if your car is older or running “rough,” if your gas mileage decreases for no apparent reason, or if your check engine light comes on.

Why Does a Tune-up Matter?

We’ll keep this simple and use a gasoline-powered car as the example. Your car makes power by mixing gas and air in each cylinder, then setting the mixture on fire with a spark. Your spark plugs and plug wires deliver the spark to each cylinder. Plugs and plug wires have a limited life. A bad plug or plug wire can make the cylinder it serves very inefficient. Fuel still goes in, but it isn’t burned, or is only partially burned.

If one of your four cylinders isn’t working, you’re wasting 25% of your fuel—it is going out the exhaust pipe, unburned. Your MPG will drop.

Similarly, your fuel injectors put gas into each cylinder, and if one is clogged or bad, you waste gas. An oxygen sensor decides how much air will be mixed with the gasoline for efficient combustion. When it goes bad, you waste gas.Finally, your air filter ensures that the air going into your engine is clean. When it is clogged with dirt, your engine doesn’t get enough air for good combustion and you waste gas.

It’s tempting to think that on something as expensive as a car, parts should last forever. Most parts do last, but the ones mentioned above have a limited life and need to be replaced at regular intervals. Ignoring them can easily reduce your gas mileage by 20-25% and shorten the life of your engine.

Find the chart of recommended maintenance in your owner’s manual, stay on schedule, and pay attention to your check engine light. Look over and save your receipts from the repair shop, to keep up with what’s been done. It is always good to “drive green,” but if your car is wasting 25% of its fuel due to neglected routine maintenance, you’re not in the green zone. Neglecting an inexpensive component or maintenance could cost you and the environment big time.



Have you ever ridden a bicycle without enough air in the tires?

You probably noticed the difference, but it’s much more subtle when driving a car. Modern tires can be significantly under-inflated without appearing flat. Tires lose air pressure over time, and they will lose it more quickly if there is an unseen leak.

Tires that are under-inflated waste fuel, wear out quicker, and can decrease steering responsiveness. They can make it take longer to stop and decrease responsiveness. Even worse, due to extreme heat buildup, they can have catastrophic failures such as blow-outs.

Where can you find the recommended tire pressures? NOT on the tires, those are the maximum pressures! On newer cars, the recommended pressures are required by law to be on the driver's door jam. In older cars, try the door jam, the fuel filler cap, and the owner's manual.

The recommended tire pressure for your car is “cold pressure,” which means pressure readings you get after the car has been parked for a while. Pressures are higher right after the car has been driven, due to the heat from friction between the tire and the road. Checking your “hot pressure” may falsely reassure you that all is well, when in fact your tires are under-inflated. Checking your tire pressures when half the car is in the hot summer sun and the other half is in shade can also be misleading.

Why do you want your tires to last longer? The obvious answer is to save money, but the other reason is to keep them out of the landfill. About ¾ of tires in the US are reused or recycled, but there are environmental costs to recycling, and the ¼ of tires that are not recycled amount to 27 million tires going to landfills every year.

Rotating your tires will make them last longer. Ask your tire seller how often your new tires should be rotated, and whether this service is free for the lifespan of tires you’re about to purchase. Then follow through.

For example, on modern front-wheel-drive cars, the front tires usually wear more quickly than the rear tires. Proper tire rotation helps the set of four tires last longer.

Another maintenance item that prolongs tire life is your car’s alignment. If your car “pulls” to one side when you are driving straight down the road, or if you have to hold the steering wheel at an angle just to go straight, you can imagine what this is doing to your tire wear. It’s time for an alignment check.

Take Action!

  • Check tire pressure about once a month and, yes, you do need to check all four tires.
  • Tire pressure is always lower in colder seasons, so be especially vigilant in the fall and winter.
  • Here’s how to check your pressure and you can order a tire pressure gauge at Amazon.
  • Check tire pressure in cars driven by friends and family. Maybe you can give them a little eco-education.