5 Ways To Burn Less Fuel

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Recently by Eric Peters: Goodbye, Number Five      

Getting a car to burn less fuel is actually pretty simple. It boils down to – make it do less work.

Here are five ways to do do that – no hybrid technology required:

Skip the all-wheel-drive

AWD may be the most oversold feature for the average motorist since 4WD.

Certainly, AWD can deliver better traction under extreme conditions – including high-performance/high-speed cornering. But most people, most of the time, do not drive under extreme conditions – or even in heavy snow – just as relatively few people ever go seriously off-roading.

In normal driving, most of the time, front-wheel-drive (or even rear-wheel-drive) will get you there just as well – and with less weight, and thus, better fuel economy.

AWD typically adds at least 100 pounds to the curb weight of the vehicle, as well as increases the inertial/frictional load – so it takes more engine power to push/pull the car along.

As a result, an AWD version of a given car will almost always be slightly slower – and its mileage will typically be 2-3 mpg lower.

Unless you drive really fast – or drive in heavy snow, often – AWD is probably something you can live without.

You’ll save money up front as well as down the road – because the MSRP of an AWD-equipped car (when AWD is an option) is usually several hundred dollars higher than the MSRP of the same car with FWD – and sometimes, a lot more than that.

Skip the aggressive rolling stock

The wider your tires – or the more “knobby” the tread (for 4×4 trucks and SUVs) the higher the vehicle’s rolling resistance. Higher rolling resistance equals lower fuel economy. People seem to like the looks of huge (wide and tall) wheel/tire packages, but if you want to save some coin, stick with the smaller wheel/tire package when possible.

Also aggressive sport (and off-road) tires tend to wear out faster – and cost more to replace – than standard tires. You pay more to buy specialty-type tires – and they cost you more to drive every time you get behind the wheel. The reality is many (probably most) of the cars equipped with such tires are used for normal everyday-type driving – just getting from “a” to “b.” If you don’t routinely drive faster than 100 mph, or routinely dive into corners at 20 mph over the recommended maximum speed – then you really don’t need (and won’t miss having) high-performance, speed-rated tires.

Or 19, 20 -inch tires, either.

Ditto M/S-rated “off-road” knobby tires for pick-ups and SUVs. If the Manly Look is worth the higher cost – and increased fuel consumption – go for it. If not, stick with standard all-season tires. It’ll put money in your wallet – as well as save you dollars at the pump.

Maybe skip the smaller engine

This one sounds counterintuitive, but bear with me.

When there’s a choice between a four-cylinder and a V-6 (or a V-6 and a V-8) many people assume the larger engine will necessarily be the thirstier one. Usually, that’s true. But maybe not. An overloaded/overtaxed four-cylinder might end up using more gas in real word driving than a six-cylinder engine in the same vehicle subjected to the same type of use.

Consider the example of a compact pick-up truck that offers both a four-cylinder and an optional V-6. On paper, the V-6 uses more gas. But if the four cylinder is chosen – and worked like a Phoenician galley slave – it could be a draw, or even a net loser. Also, over the long term, the life of an overburdened small engine could end up being shorter than the life of a larger engine that isn’t constantly being hammered. If your vehicle lasts a few years longer than it otherwise might have – and hits you with fewer repair/maintenance costs – then you’ve saved potentially thousands of dollars that way. And the bottom line is really all about saving money as much as it is about saving gas.

Don’t necessarily skip the automatic transmission

It was once true that, all else being equal, a car equipped with a manual transmission used less gas than the same car with an automatic – mainly because with the automatic, there was an efficiency loss through the slippage of the torque converter. But today’s automatics all have lock-up torque converters – which establishes a physical link between the engine and transmission when the car is cruising along, mostly eliminating the efficiency losses associated with old-tech automatics. Also, today’s automatics have six or even seven (or eight) forward speeds – unlike the three and four-speed automatics of the recent past – designed to maximize the fuel economy potential of the engines they’re paired with. The top gears are often very steep overdrives that cut engine RPMs at 70 MPH highway speeds to 2,000 RPM or less. Modern manuals do that, too. But the automatics shift smarter – and more consistently smart – than most human drivers can and so return better gas mileage. I recently test drove a new 2011 Camaro V-6 with the six-speed automatic and its rated EPA mileage is higher than the same car with the six-speed stick.

So, before you assume the stick version of any new car you’re looking at is the most efficient, check the EPA ratings. You might be surprised!

Skip the power options – if you can

Air conditioning and power options hurt fuel economy in two ways: They add weight to the vehicle and they create load on the engine, which then burns more fuel than it otherwise would.

Unfortunately going without AC is no easy thing in most parts of the country. When the roads were not so jammed with cars and traffic – and when cars came with good venting systems (and wing vent windows) you could survive without AC. There are still temperate/moderate areas where it is possible to live without AC – and if you can buy a car without it, you’ll save money on the car and on fuel, too. Ditto weight-adding power options, especially power windows. Each power window requires a heavy electric motor, plus wiring and other secondary stuff. The bad news is, it’s getting hard to find any new car that doesn’t already come standard with power windows.

That plus air bags and other safety-related technologies (including the changes made to parts you can’t see that are necessary in order to meet federal impact requirements) have made the typical new car much, much heavier than its equivalent of 20 years ago. New “economy” cars weigh about 500-800 pounds more than the economy compacts of the late ’70s and early ’80s – which is the major reason why modern economy cars still can’t match the fuel efficiency of the cars that were being built a quarter century ago, despite all the technological advances.

But unfortunately, we can’t skip new cars… though it’d be nice if we could lighten them up some.

Reprinted with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.

Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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