With fuel prices continuing their seemingly relentless upward spiral, it is worth considering a few ways to save on fuel and keep some of that hard-earned cash in your pocket.
I have collated a handful of ways in which you can save some of that weekly budget you spend on fuel:
• Buy a Prius,
• Modify your car to run on the cooking oil discarded from the local takeaway,
• Remove unused seats, upholstery, spare tyre, tool kit, radio, unwanted passengers and run on a near empty tank to reduce vehicle weight,
• Make friends with someone who owns an oil company,
• Catch public transport, or
• Ride a push bike.
Ok, so perhaps some of these are really bad ideas and others are just simply impractical.
If you are still reading this article, having not rushed to your nearest Toyota dealer to buy yourself a brand new Prius after reading the first dot point, you can achieve limited savings at the pump by monitoring the weekly or monthly fuel price cycle and using supermarket discount vouchers. But it is important to remember that there are two sides to the fuel cost equation; how much you pay for it and how much you use. So, here are eight tips to help you save on the use side of the equation.
1. Driving technique. If your drive to the gym feels like more of a workout than what you do at the gym, there’s a good chance that some refinement of technique could net you some savings. The pedals on the floor of your car are not meant for developing your calf muscles. Smooth driving with fluid movements, gentle braking and acceleration will not only save you at the bowser, but it will also reduce overall maintenance costs. Try to anticipate road conditions and traffic movements and be ready in advance. If you’ve seen the way taxis drive, well, not like that.
2. Vehicle selection. It might be the American dream to have a Ford F250 pickup in the garage, but unless it stays in the garage, it can become a nightmare for fuel costs. When in the market for a car, it is worthwhile giving some consideration to the fuel costs over the life of ownership and buying the smallest car that meets your needs (which, as it turns out, may still be the F250 pickup). The ADR fuel economy sticker on the windscreen of all those shiny new cars in the showroom is a representative fuel economy figure based on laboratory testing. It is pretty well meaningless in the real world as a figure, but it does provide a useful means of comparison between prospective vehicles.
3. Time your trip. We’re not talking about lap times here. As much as we all love to crawl along in slow moving peak hour traffic, it is not the best for your car or your fuel bill. Where possible, it is worth avoiding peak times and known traffic snarls on your regular journeys; not only will you arrive happier, but your hip pocket will thank you for it. It might even open opportunities for further savings through car pooling. There’s no point everyone taking their own car to the same place, and it is often easy to co-ordinate transport to school functions or sports events. You’ll save on time and parking too.
4. Tyres. If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle with underinflated tyres, you’ll appreciate just how much extra drag they produce. The same is true of your car, except that it has four of them. So keep them inflated to the recommended pressures and you’ll not only save on fuel but also on tyre wear. As an added bonus at no extra cost, there’s also a tangible improvement in safety.
5. Lighten up. You know how that Ford F250 uses more fuel than the Prius? (Sorry to mention that infernal Prius again.) Well it is largely due to vehicle weight. The more stuff you are carting around, the more fuel it uses to accelerate that mass up to speed. So don’t use your car as a storage shed and cart heaps of stuff around; remove those things you don’t need. Items external to the car, like trailers, bike racks and roof racks also impact your vehicle’s aerodynamics and cause additional drag, so these are best removed when they are not in use.
6. Accessories. A modern car has a plethora of electrical accessories. These all add drag to the engine through the alternator, so turn off the accessories you’re not using. Individually, it doesn’t make a lot of difference, but collectively these accessories start to add up. The use of air-conditioning is a little more complex due to our old friend aerodynamic drag. Using the air-conditioning sensibly (running constantly at a modest temperature) typically uses less fuel than driving with the sunroof open, or windows down, especially at highway speeds. The best idea is to open the roof and windows to allow the hot air to escape (unless you have a politician in the car, in which case you’ll have more hot air generation capacity than can escape), then close them as you move off to allow the air-conditioning to work its wonders. Better still, park in the shade
7. Switch off. Excessive idling not only wastes fuel, but it is not good for the engine. A number of modern cars reduce fuel consumption through an auto shut-down/restart feature. This requires a ruggedised starter and battery system, so it is not generally recommended to turn off your car at the lights. However, if you are waiting at a level crossing for a 300 car slow moving freight train to pass, it might be worth switching off to save fuel and wear.
8. Premium fuel. Many people think that because of its name and cost, ‘premium’ fuel is a better grade, more highly refined or better for their car. This is not necessarily the case. It refers to the Research Octane Number (RON). The majority of cars are quite happy with the cheaper 91 RON, while higher performance cars require the more expensive 95 or 98 RON to prevent pre-ignition or ‘knocking’. Unless your car specifically requires the higher octane fuel, then you are unlikely to realise any benefit for the extra expense. Filling up your Prius with 98 RON is a waste of money. If you’ve got money to burn, I’ll see you lateRON.