18 ways to save fuel

Illustration by Fuzzco
Date:27 September 2012 Tags:, ,

By Michael Frank

For every few cents that fuel prices go up, South Africans spend zillions more each year at the pump. No one wants to waste that kind of money. So unless you’re (a) in the habit of carting the whole school rugby team to their next practice, or (b) living on a generous trust fund, [1] it may be time to unload that old gas-guzzler. Yes, we know you enjoy the feeling of power that comes with an elevated driving position, but when you weigh it up against penury, does that level of superiority really matter? Rhetoric aside, you might benefit from these practical fuel-saving tips…

If you’re driving something that gets reasonable fuel economy, drive it reasonably. When entering a highway, [2] accelerate to 120 km/h at about double your car’s top 0-to-100 time (if you don’t know this, consult your copy of CAR magazine). As Popular Mechanics proved in a battery of tests, this puts your vehicle in its more efficient top gear quicker than the smug hybrid crawling up to speed… in the left lane (snort!).

[3] Coast – in gear. The same tests showed that rolling in neutral requires a trickle of petrol to keep the engine running, whereas in-gear coasting does not – and that if you anticipate traffic lights and [4] don’t come to a complete stop, you can improve fuel efficiency by as much as 50 per cent.

A warm engine is more efficient, so string errands together by [5] driving to the furthest destination first, which will get the block heated up, then work your way home.

When it’s warm out, keep cool by opening the windows, enjoying the breeze, and [6] turning off the fuel-hungry air-con. At highway speeds, however, our tests showed that windows-down driving creates drag. So at 120 km/h (or faster!), roll up the windows and [7] put on the air-con.

Notice to hoarders: You don’t need to lug around a case of oil, a bag of sand or that box of antique tools you got at the
garage sale, right? So [8] empty the boot – less weight, equals better mileage. Bakkie drivers, [9] remove that 150 kg toolbox from the load bed, and while you’re at it, [10] close the tailgate to create a drag-reducing air bubble. The MythBusters managed to increase the overall range of a full tank by nearly 50 km using this technique.

Interestingly, the show also proved that [11] a right-turn-only route (why on earth they don’t introduce a left-turn version in South Africa is beyond us) boosts fuel economy by 3 per cent, because idling (at traffic lights, for instance) wastes fuel. For that same reason, [12] avoid traffic pinch points. Driving at speed is more fuel-efficient than creeping along in low gear. And if you’re not regularly carrying a bike or a kayak on that roof rack, reduce drag by [13] sliding off the crossbars or at least [14] sliding the crossbars all the way back (making a single wing).

At the service station, [15] inflate your tyres properly and check them for uneven wear, which works against you. Stickier, wider performance tyres also increase road friction and sap mileage. So [16] steer clear of tyres meant for race cars yes, you know who you are). Also, [17] get a tune-up; a smooth-running engine is more efficient.

Finally, don’t overlook the obvious: nothing saves fuel like not driving at all. [18] Ride your bicycle to fetch that litre of milk, especially if the store is just a kilometre or so away.

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