Economical driving is as much an art as it is common sense. Here is a quick guide to save fuel to make owning your car as easy on the pocket as possible.
Cut the crap: It is amazing to see how some people turn their cars into a dump site. All manner of bottles, old newspapers, towels, handbags, sports equipment and the like clutter the interior and load area and add a burden to the car, sometimes equal to the weight of another person.
A lot of fuel is wasted by permanently carting around this extra weight when you don’t need it, so chuck out all the crap and give your car a good clean-up!
- Only carry the sports equipment when you need it (you only play golf once a week, don’t you?), and ditch that heavy bag of braai wood you bought weeks ago and never got around to unloading, or the heavy toolbox you never use.
- Don’t permanently drive with roof racks on – only put them on the roof when you need to move the kayak or surfboard. Roof racks break the carefully engineered air flow around and over your car, and can add so much wind resistance that fuel consumption can easily jump by 10 to 15%.
However, there are some items you should never be without. Always carry a basic medical emergency kit, torch, jumper cables and a bottle of water – you never know when you may need it, and besides, the combined weight is so minimal that it will have no impact on fuel consumption.
Close the windows: Like roof racks, open windows at speed affect the aerodynamics of your car, adding resistance and hence adding to consumption. If you have an air conditioner or climate control, don’t be afraid to use it instead of driving with open windows. Modern systems require very little power from the engine and will often offset the fuel required to overcome the drag caused by open windows when it’s hot. Some electrical systems even cut out when the engine is under load to further save fuel.
Free-wheel or speed up: Charging from robot to robot often result in you having to stop at the next light in any event. Anticipate light changes and slack off and free-wheel when a light will turn red by the time you get there, or speed up slightly if it means you will get through the green light instead of being caught and the having the car idling for a minute or so, wasting fuel while you wait for the red to turn green again.
Drive evenly, but aggressively: When you pull away from standstill and move up through the gears, do so with vigour. An engine labouring under load at low engine speeds in a high gear will use more fuel than if you drove off spiritedly to get to a suitable cruising speed in the highest possible gear where the engine runs most efficiently. Never let an engine labour – rather gear one down to get more power for overtaking, going up-hill, or just for speeding up. We can’t emphasise this enough: a car is most economical in its highest gear without labouring the engine.
Pump it up: Maintain tyre pressures at the manufacturer’s recommended setting. Underinflated tyres not only seriously affect the safe handling of your car, but add a lot of mechanical drag requiring more engine power (therefore fuel) to overcome. Under-inflated tyres also run hot, wear quickly and my burst, causing the car to roll. Check the tyres pressure once a month or so.
Service regularly: Your car needs a regular service to keep the engine and other mechanicals running optimally and efficiently. Stick to the recommended service intervals.
Don’t idle: Drive off straight after you’ve cold-started your car, but don’t gun it either. Modern fuel-injected cars don’t need to idle and “warm up” like in the days of carburettor-fed engines. The quicker the engine reaches its optimum working temperature, the quicker it will run at its most efficient level.
Use the cruise: If your car is equipped with cruise control, use it as often as possible, even around town. At any set speed the electronics will select the most efficient amount of fuel to be injected to maintain that speed. Having your foot riding see-saw on the accelerator pedal trying to maintain a steady speed, wastes fuel.
Cool it: If you live in a hot climate, park in the shade or a garage as much as possible. A car baking in the sun will result in the fuel in the tank warming up and evaporating quicker. At the same time, make sure the fuel cap is fitted securely – you lose more fuel by evaporation than you think.
Trust the nav: Many on-board and after-market portable GPS navigation systems come with real-time traffic updates. If there’s congestion on your route, trust it to take you around it. It will save time, most of which the car would have been sitting idling.
Slow down: The higher the speed, the more wind resistance the engine has to overcome. If you’re not in a hurry, drop your average speed by 10 or 20 km/h, and you may gain an equal percentage in fuel consumption.