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If there is one object that immediately identifies U. S. society it is the automobile. We’re hooked on personal transportation in the form of the private motorcar. Regrettably, automobiles emit large amounts of carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide into our atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and air pollution. It’s unrealistic to think that the auto mobile will be abandoned any time soon, so we need to find ways to use our automobiles more efficiently.
If you have a car or two, you certainly know about the upward spiral in the cost of petroleum products. You may have considered, or are already driving, a more compact vehicle to economize at the gas pump. Or you may be among the growing numbers of people driving a sport utility vehicle or minivan, in which case you’re really feeling the bite out of your budget from higher gasoline prices. Whatever you drive, there are some basic principles to understand when you’re trying to cut down your car’s fuel consumption.
Your car isn’t only toting you from here to there, it’s toting itself. The less weight the engine must haul around, the more efficiently it will perform. Therefore, the smaller and lighter the car you can comfortably drive, the less it will cost to operate. Some auto manufacturers have gotten this message, but we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, shop for the most efficient car with the features you need.
The fewer the horses you have to top there, the less it will cost you. The big twelve-cylinder yachts on wheels that were the luxury cars a generation ago aren’t even available today unless you have one custom-built. They revved up a lot of horsepower that wasn’t needed.
Change Your Driving Habits
Your driving habits are a key to economical operation of your car. The place to begin understanding those habits is with a miles-per-gallon record that will take the guesswork out of driving economy.
The first place apply that mpg record is in the regular trips you make, such as driving to work. You may be following a traffic flow, or going by what you think is the shortest way, but that may not be the cheapest route. If there are alternative ways from home to job, or to any other regular destination, take the trouble to check them out for mileage efficiency. You may wind up going a new way.
The reason an alternative route may be less costly is that your car operates most efficiently at a steady speed. If the shorter route has lots of stops and starts it probably will require more gas than a longer route that lets you keep an even pace.
The other way to get there may have fewer stoplights. Good. With your engine idling you’ll burn a gallon of gas in 50 minutes, going nowhere. Lots of zero mpg waiting at traffic lights and stop signs can be expensive over the course of a year. Have the right change ready at toll booths on your way for minimum waiting time.
For the most economical driving in any car, feed just enough gas to maintain momentum at a steady speed. Build up that momentum in as relaxed a way as you can, consistent with the traffic flow. That means easy starts away from your driveway, away from the traffic lights — every time you are accelerating.
Remember, every time you touch the brakes you are paying to reduce the momentum that cost so much to build up. Watch the traffic signs and ease off gradually instead of heavily using your brakes to get to a slower speed.
Tailgating — driving too close to the guy in front — puts your driving pace at the mercy of another driver’s whims. As a tailgater you’ll be alternately braking and pumping gas as you respond to the forward driver’s perception of the road, which is different from yours. Tailgating is not only hazardous, it’s expensive.
A quick jab at the gas pedal, or pumping the pedal, squirts pure gas — which should be mixed with air by your carburetor — into the engine’s combustion system. Trying to get started, you can flood your engine. A smooth, steady pres sure on the gas pedal is always a money-saver.
When you’re approaching an uphill climb, use this money-saving technique. Build up a little extra momentum as you approach the base, then keep it steady or even ease off a little as you are climbing. Trying to add speed as you are climbing a hill is one of the most expensive maneuvers you can do. If you’re driving a low-horsepower car with standard transmission uphill, be prepared to downshift rather than feed more gas in high gear. It’s cheaper.
If you have a choice when you are traveling, make your stops on a downhill slope. Starting from scratch is much cheaper when you’re going downhill.
Resist the temptation to coast on a long downhill. In many states this practice is illegal, and for good reason: It’s dangerous. When coasting, you don’t have the control of your car that you do with the engine engaged. Your brakes can over heat and fade away, you run the hazard of locking your steering wheel in some cars, and you’ll save very little gas. When going downhill leave the engine engaged, but take your foot off the gas, or touch the pedal oh-so-lightly.
Ease off on the speed. A car that gets 40 mpg at 40 miles an hour might get as little as 25 mpg at 70. A 10-mile trip flat-out at 60 will take 10 minutes. It will only take 2 minutes longer at 50, and that kind of difference might be used up at a stoplight, or looking for a place to park.
When using air conditioning in the summer, or the heater in the winter, the natural flow of air makes the blower fan unnecessary at more than 40 miles per hour. Since the fan itself can subtract as much as 1 mpg when in use, that’s some thing to consider, particularly on a long trip.
In the winter, start off slowly in a cold car. All lubricants are like molasses for a mile or two. They’ll loosen up, and then your engine won’t need to work so hard to keep you moving at highway speed. A short warm-up of the engine before starting can also help reduce engine wear, since the first 10 minutes are the hardest-wearing — especially in cold weather.
How to Stretch a Tank of Gas
You can get 6 to 20 percent higher mpg with a properly tuned engine. Keeping a mileage record will tell you when your gas mileage is slipping, which is a signal for a tune-up.
— You can easily take care of a few items without going to a service station. One of them is the air filter. A clogged air filter leaves your engine gasping for breath and means you’re probably running with a “rich” mixture, that is, more gas and less air. Many department and auto stores carry air filters, and they are simple to change. A clogged air filter can cost you 1 mpg. Replace your air filter regularly.
— Dirty oil cuts back engine efficiency, so make sure your oil is changed according to the car manufacturer’s recommended schedule. You can change your own, and buying your own oil is much cheaper. There’s a drain plug under your engine that will come out readily with a wrench. Have a bucket ready to catch the dirty oil, and remember to dispose of it safely.
— If your fan belt is too tight, your engine is working too hard and wasting gas. The belt should give a little to finger pres sure when the engine is not running. If it doesn’t, you can easily adjust the tension with a wrench.
— Badly worn spark plugs can cost you as much as 2 mpg. You’ll need a special wrench to remove the spark plugs for inspection, and when you get them out you may not know a good one from a bad one. This is probably a job for a trained technician. If you decide to check the plugs yourself, be sure you mark the leads to the distributor cap before taking them off the plugs, so you can get them back on in the proper order.
— The plugs may need just a little elementary cleaning, which you can do by scraping with a jackknife blade. If one of the plugs looks very different from the others — it’s very oily, or blacker, or badly pitted — you should have a trained mechanic evaluate the problem.
— The car has been a way of life for most Americans. There are alternatives. These include mass transit, bike paths, and car pools. As we develop these alternatives, our need for auto mobiles will decline and air quality will improve!
— Heavier cars are more costly to run. A reduction of 200 pounds in automotive weight typically improves fuel economy by nearly 5 percent.
— Use the air conditioner in your car as little as possible. It uses a lot of gas. Roll down the windows and get some fresh air!
— Using cruise control can save gas. If you drive on the open road often, staying at a constant speed will save fuel.
— If you are taking a trip, start early in the day while traffic is light. Plan to stop for meals at times when traffic is heavy.
— Don’t let your car idle for a long time to warm it up. Also, don’t let your car idle for more than a minute after it is warmed up — this idling wastes more gas than restarting your car.
— Do not rev the engine and then quickly shut your car off. This wastes gas. It also pumps raw gasoline into the cylinder walls. This can wash away a film of oil that protects the cylinders and will increase engine wear.
— The good news is that in the United States since the oil crises of the l970s, the average car’s consumption of fuel has fallen by 50 percent. This is due primarily to more fuel- efficient automobiles.
— More good news is that emissions of major urban pollutants have dropped substantially, the result of more complete combustion of fuel and the catalytic conversion of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water.
Buying a New Car
When you’re shopping for a new vehicle, make fuel efficiency a priority. Comparing fuel efficiency is easy because each car has a sticker with estimated city and highway mpg. You should also consider the possibility of purchasing a vehicle that uses both gas and electricity. These hybrid vehicles get a lot more mileage for each gallon of gas and are far less polluting than conventional cars.