Increasing Energy Efficiency in Your Cars and Trucks

The ever-increasing prices for gasoline and diesel fuel should serve as a wake-up call to use our energy resources in a much more efficient manner.
Increasing Energy Efficiency in Your Cars and Trucks - Articles
Increasing Energy Efficiency in Your Cars and Trucks

Many simple measures have the combined effect of substantially increasing our miles per gallon. Not only will we conserve precious energy resources, we will also save dollars at the same time. Let's take a look at some of these simple measures.

Keep Engines Tuned

Cars and trucks are like precision watches: they need to be properly tuned at all times to get best performance.

Cars and trucks today do not need tune-ups as often as was necessary 20 or 30 years ago. The recommended frequency for a tune-up is once every 25,000 miles or as specified in your owner's manual. In some cases, it may be necessary to get a tune-up more frequently depending on the type of driving you do. It is time for a tune-up whenever your engine is "knocking," or not firing on all cylinders.

Choose Proper Octane of Fuel

Use the recommended octane level of gasoline needed for your engine. For most cars, the octane level is 87. You will not increase engine performance or "do your engine a favor" by using a higher octane level of gasoline. The only result is that you will be paying more for gasoline. If, however, your car has a persistent knocking condition, you may need to use a higher octane to avoid the knocking problem.

Monitor Tire Inflation

Keep tires inflated to recommended pressures at all times.

  • If the tire pressure is just a few psi (pounds per square inch) lower than the recommended pressure, the miles per gallon decrease substantially.

    For example, for each 5 psi below the recommended level, the energy required goes up by about 2 percent.
  • Check the inflation pressures of your tires every month. If you are not sure of the recommended inflation level for your tires, refer to the owner's manual.
  • Whenever checking inflation of your tires, do not forget the spare tire. If the spare is one of those small "donut" tires, you need to recognize that the recommended inflation is usually much higher than your regular tires.

You will get more miles per gallon by keeping tires properly inflated; furthermore, the tires with proper inflation are safer and will last longer.

Change Motor Oil

Changing motor oil on a frequent basis is probably the cheapest insurance you could ever buy for the engine of your car or truck.

  • With some of the newer vehicles, the recommended time to change is once every 7,500 miles; however, many mechanics will argue that, to stay on the safe side, you should change every 3,000 to 4,000 miles.
  • Whether you change the oil yourself or take it to quick-lube shop, make sure that you get the proper grade of oil for your particular vehicle as specified in the owner's manual. Don't let anyone convince you that "oil is oil" or to use the oil that is on sale at the time.

Not only will you decrease the miles per gallon by using an improper oil, you will also increase the wear and tear on your engine, which could lead to costly maintenance expenses later.

Replace Air Filters

Your car or truck "breathes" a lot of air whenever the engine is running.

  • In fact, for each gallon of gasoline, your car needs to breathe in more than 1,200 cubic feet of air, which is about 9,000 gallons of air! Your diesel engine needs even more air.
  • Each gallon of diesel fuel requires more than 1,400 cubic feet of air or more than 10,000 gallons of air!
  • If the air filter is just slightly clogged with dirt, it means that your car needs to breathe harder in order to get the air needed for proper combustion of the gasoline. When the filter is dirty, the carburetor does not get enough air and you will get reduced miles per gallon.
  • The recommended frequency for changing air filters is every 10,000 miles. If you're driving in an area where there are high levels of dust and other impurities in the air, you will need to change the air filters more frequently.
  • An added benefit of changing air filters on a frequent basis is a reduction of maintenance expenses because a clean air filter protects the engine from the impurities in the air.

Plan Your Trips

With just a little bit of advance planning, you can combine several errands on one trip and thus reduce the number of miles driven. You can also decrease the number of miles driven by carpooling with others to work or other activities.

When traveling, do not put large loads on top of the vehicle in the luggage racks. Any objects in the luggage rack will increase the drag on the vehicle and you will not get nearly as good performance from the engine.

In other words, we need to keep the cars and trucks as aerodynamic as possible. Do not carry extra weight in the vehicle. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk, for example, will increase the fuel requirements and increase the wear on the tires.

Observe Speed Limits

Driving at speeds much higher than the posted speed limits decreases your fuel efficiency, increases the wear and tear on your car, and increases insurance premiums if you are ticketed for speeding.

Use cruise control and/or overdrive gears when driving on the highway to generally increase the number of miles per gallon.

Modify Driving Habits

Driving tests show that braking absorbs about one-third of the energy produced by the engine.

Modify your driving habits to reduce braking by increasing the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you.

Allowing the extra distance will reduce the need for braking and will increase your miles per gallon. In addition, you will increase your safety because you will have more time to react to a quick stop of the vehicle in front of you. Whatever you do, avoid "jack-rabbit" starts and stops and other forms of aggressive driving.

Avoid Excessive Idling

Whenever your engine is idling, you are getting zero miles per gallon. Under no circumstance should a gasoline or diesel engine be idling for more than 5 minutes. Not only are you wasting energy but you may also damage the engine.

Select a Fuel Efficient Vehicle

When shopping for a new or used vehicle, evaluate the "miles per gallon" efficiency rating for each vehicle that you are considering. A difference of just a few miles per gallon in the fuel efficiency rating can have a significant impact on the fuel expenses for a year.

Let's say you are considering the purchase of an SUV that is rated for 18 miles per gallon compared to a four-door sedan rated at 30 miles per gallon. Assuming that you drive 20,000 miles per year and that the price of gasoline averages $3.00 per gallon during the one-year period, then the annual savings would be $1,330.

We all need to become more energy conscious in all aspects of our daily living. With careful attention to details, we can easily reduce the amount of energy needed by 25 to 35 percent without giving up the comforts and conveniences to which we've grown accustomed over the years.

Adopting energy-efficient measures around our homes and in our vehicles will result in saving dollars. Whenever we reduce energy consumption, we improve the quality of our environmental resources (air, water, and soil) because fewer pollutants are introduced into the environment.

Furthermore, reducing energy consumption means that more energy resources are available for future generations.

Authors

Bioenergy Biomass Energy Systems Thermochemical Conversion Energy Efficiency Controlled Environment Agriculture Solar Energy Resource Evaluation

More by Daniel Ciolkosz, P.E.