It’s summer! For many families, that means making the yearly pilgrimage to the beach or hot vacation spot. However, record high gas prices are putting a damper on many people’s vacation plans. But, don’t throw in the beach towel just yet. Here are ten ways you can improve fuel efficiency and save valuable vacation money at the pump.
1. Don’t Skimp on the Octane – Some people try to save money by putting regular gas into a vehicle that actually requires premium fuel. This skimping may save you a few bucks today, but it will cost you much more in the long run. High-performance vehicles need higher-octane fuel because the combustion chamber environment is much hotter in a performance engine. Using a lower octane fuel reduces fuel efficiency and can damage valves and pistons, which can cost you thousands of dollars in repair costs down the road.
2. Take Care of Your Ride – Proper maintenance is crucial to your vehicle’s fuel economy. Be sure to adhere to the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual. Dirty air and fuel filters, old spark plugs and low fluid levels can affect engine performance and significantly reduce fuel efficiency. Have these items checked by your mechanic before you go on vacation. Not only will you get better gas mileage, but you will reduce the chance of a breakdown on the way to the beach.
3. Keep Those Tires Inflated – Under-inflated tires increase the amount of friction between your car and the pavement. This makes it harder for your car to move down the road, which means your engine uses more fuel to maintain speed. In fact, just one under-inflated tire can increase fuel consumption by one percent or more. Check your owner’s manual for correct inflation levels, and ensure all four tires are properly inflated before setting off on your trip.
4. Leave the Kitchen Sink at Home – We all like to pack everything we own when we go to the beach. We load up our with pillows, beach chairs, toys, charcoal grills, coolers, and enough food for the Chinese army until every square millimeter of trunk and cabin space is filled. However, this pack rat behavior weighs down your vehicle, and heavier vehicles use more fuel. Roof racks (which I have affectionately termed “hamburger boxes”) on the top of the car make it even worse. So, put some careful thought into your packing, and only take what you absolutely need for the trip. Remember – they probably have stores where you are going, and it may be cheaper to buy some items (especially food) once you get to your destination.
5. Fuel Up in Advance – Statistics have shown that gas prices cheapest on Wednesdays because most people fuel up on the weekends for trips or Monday mornings before work. So, plan ahead and fuel up for that vacation on Wednesday instead of waiting until Saturday before you leave. Even if you have to “top off” on Saturday, you will still save a buck or two.
6. Slow Down – As your speed increases, the aerodynamic drag on your vehicle increases exponentially. This means that your engine has to work harder, and use more fuel, to maintain your speed. Adhering to a speed of 55 mph (the most common highway speed limit) will yield 21% better mileage than driving 65 mph. Driving 62 mph instead of 75 mph can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 15%. Furthermore, maintaining a consistent speed over long distances saves gas, so use the cruise control as much as possible. It might also save you from a speeding ticket!
7. Accelerate and Decelerate Gently – A car uses more fuel under hard acceleration (another bad habit of mine). Resist the urge to floor it “off the line”, just because you can. Don’t race up to red lights or stop signs and then slam on the breaks. Instead, anticipate the need to stop and lift your foot off of the accelerator early, allowing the engine to slow the vehicle before gently applying the break. This requires patience, but it also saves on gas.
8. Avoid Idling – Unless you are fortunate enough to own a hybrid, idling wastes fuel. If you anticipate being stopped for more than one minute, turn off the ignition. Restarting the car actually uses less fuel than letting it idle. Go into restaurants to purchase food instead of using the drive through when it’s time to refuel the family. If possible, plan your route to minimize traffic lights and left hand turns, which increase idling time. Don’t’ laugh – making only right hand turns saves UPS nearly $600 million per year!
9. Don’t Blast the A/C – The air conditioner puts extra load on a vehicle’s engine, requiring an average of 20% more fuel to be used. Since cruisin’ without A/C is not really an option in the South, try to keep it set at around 75 degrees. Don’t blast the air when you first get into your car, even if it is stifling hot. Instead, open the windows initially to release the stale, hot air. Once you get moving, close the windows and set the A/C at 75 degrees. Your car will cool down quickly.
10. Keep the Windows Up – Wide-open windows, especially at highway speeds, significantly increase the aerodynamic drag on your vehicle. This drag can decrease your fuel economy by as much as 10%. Run the fan on “outside air” instead, and just crack the window or sunroof for additional ventilation.
The reality is that high gas prices will negatively impact vacation plans for many people this summer. However, by following these suggestions, you may be able to save enough to pay for that all-you-can-eat seafood buffet! Have a safe and fun summer vacation!