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How to drive for fuel efficiency

How to drive for fuel efficiency

Instructors often teach learners to drive as if the Queen were sitting in the back seat.  … smoothly and gently.

It takes a few years and thousands of kilometres in driving experience to realise that avoiding sudden, hard braking and fast acceleration is the best way to drive economically – saving both your hip pocket and the planet.

In one episode of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson and Co were driving cars with a fishbowl on the passenger seat and the one who arrived at the destination with the most water was the winner.  This was a perfect demonstration that a lot of drivers don’t realise how ‘unevenly’ they drive and how much fuel they must waste.

The Australian Government has a fuel consumption labelling standard, which requires a vehicle’s fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions to be displayed on a label on the windscreen. These numbers are based on a standard test. That way it’s easy to compare fuel efficiency figures among cars.

At a high level, diesel engines are more fuel efficient than petrol engines because of the way they burn fuel. This is often why diesel vehicles are more expensive to purchase (how diesel engines work vs combustion engines is a discussion for another article). LPG engines are not fuel efficient, but the fuel is cheaper than petrol and diesel.

Most modern cars with digital gauges will have the option to check what your fuel efficiency is, either in ‘real time’ or, say, over the past 100 kilometres. If you have a ‘real time’ setting, select it and see how the consumption figures change depending on how you drive – fast vs slow acceleration, smooth braking as opposed to hard braking, etc.

If you drive ‘hard’ all the time, you’ll be filling up a lot more often than someone who drives more sedately.

Over a year, that could save you a few tanks of petrol and on current prices that could be anywhere in the vicinity of a few hundred dollars.

Apart from the fuel savings, smooth driving also reduces wear and tear on your vehicle especially items like tyres and brake pads, which you’ll discover if you don’t already know, are not cheap to replace. They’ll also keep your car off the road for a day, too, while they’re being replaced.

Quick tips on improving fuel consumption.

1. Inflate your tyres

One of the most common causes of excessive fuel consumption is underinflated tyres. If you've ever had to push a wheelbarrow with a flat pneumatic tyre you know how much harder it is to push one with the fully inflated tyre. You use a lot more energy getting from point A to B. It's the same for your car. It's also dangerous to drive, especially when braking and cornering, and in the wet.

2. Don’t carry around things you don’t need

Avoid carrying items in in your vehicle that you don’t need. This can be anything from bric-a-brac you loaded to take to the op shop that you haven't got around to dropping off yet, camping gear left over from Easter, kids’ stuff, or that bag of cement you picked up from bunnings last weekend. Remember weight = fuel.

3. Tank half-full

Also, if this is for you, try only filling your tank two-thirds full with petrol (a litre of fuel weighs around a kilo). Of course, you’ll have to fill up more often, so if you value your time, this might not be worth considering. Note: Running your car on near-empty either is not good for your fuel pump, especially if you’re doing it constantly.

4. Chill out

An air conditioner is powered by your car’s engine. Older models, in particular, have inefficient air conditioners. So, if you can live without the air conditioner while you drive (not on very hot days), then try it. To see how the air conditioner affects the performance of your car, turn it midway through accelerating away from standing still. If you notice a quick performance drop, that’s your engine adjusting for the extra load (and burning more fuel).

5. The long way home

Stop-and-go driving can increase your fuel consumption, so think about whether the long way home – with fewer traffic lights or speed humps and roundabouts and a higher speed zone will actually save you money – it might be quicker, too.

6. Look up!

Accessories attached to your roof will increase wind drag, making your vehicle work harder to push through the air. Some cars’ roof racks are quite aerodynamic but having crossmembers or baskets or ‘roof boots’ permanently attached can increase your fuel consumption because of this extra wind resistance.

7. Shop around

If you're diligent, take advantage of fuel specials by downloading one of the many fuel apps that indicate where the cheapest fuel is in your area at that time. Of course, this only really works if you're in the neighbourhood and need to fill up.

8. 2 wheels are better than 4

If you have a 4WD car with the option to drive in 2WD, select 2WD unless you’re going off-road or the traffic conditions warrant 4WD.

9. Idle hands …

Don’t leave your car idling for long times. You may have seen (or heard) people sitting in their cars while they talk hands-free on their phones for 10 minutes or more with the engine running (wasting fuel). Don’t be one of them.

10. What’s that noise?

Get your car tuned or at least checked by a mechanic annually so that it’s performing at its best. Make sure they clean the air filter.

11. Don’t take me higher

Don’t use higher octane fuel unless your vehicle stipulates it. If your engine is not tuned for higher octane, you won’t achieve any real benefits that outweigh the extra cost per litre.

12. Relax

When driving on the open road, deploy your vehicle’s cruise control to keep a constant speed, which will improve fuel consumption (and avoid speeding tickets).

13. Buy right

Finally, buy a fuel-efficient vehicle to begin with.