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Gasoline drips off a nozzle during refuelling at a gas station in Altadena, Calif., in this March 24, 2012 file photo. (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
Gasoline drips off a nozzle during refuelling at a gas station in Altadena, Calif., in this March 24, 2012 file photo. (MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

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Making the most of your gas mileage Add to ...

Fuel has gone up so much that I’m wondering how, apart from trading in my car for a more eco-friendly vehicle, I can really improve my gas mileage? – Ailsa in Hull, Que.

Short of switching to a hyper fuel-efficient model or curtailing your driving, there are a few things you can do to optimize economy in your current ride.

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Looking after your car is important. To keep an engine running efficiently, air filters and oil require routine attention. Ensuring your tires are inflated to the optimum pressure may seem obvious, but a recent survey found a quarter of vehicles on Quebec roads have under-inflated tires. If this were rectified, 50 million litres of fuel could be conserved annually. You can find the manufacturer’s recommendation inside the driver’s door, or in your owner’s manual. Make sure to use a gauge when measuring pressure; eyeballing alone can leave a tire 20 per cent under-inflated.

Altering your driving style may have the most significant impact on your fuel bill.

“Natural Resources Canada did a study and noted techniques you can use which will help save fuel. They found the speed at which you drive will save the most,” says Rose Bergeron, former co-ordinator of the Ontario EcoDriver program.

“Usually a car is most efficient between 80 and 100 km/h; if you drive 110 km/h you’ll use 10 per cent more gas, and if you drive 120 km/h, you’ll use 20 percent more. After speed, acceleration and deceleration are big factors. If you drive what we call jack-rabbit style – braking suddenly and accelerating quickly – you’ll consume the most fuel.”

Due to the many starts and stops, acceleration force is responsible for about half of fuel used when driving in the city. Anticipation is key to the smooth style that helps reduce consumption. When it’s safe to do so, brake early, and gently. When accelerating, ease the pedal gradually and, if your transmission is manual, change gears sooner. Eco-driving experts recommend a visualization exercise to help achieve a more fuel-efficient touch: imagine a cup of coffee on the dash, an egg under the accelerator pedal, and drive as though you’re trying to avoid breaking the egg or spilling the coffee.

Idling is another drain on efficiency. In 10 minutes, the average three-litre engine uses 300 millilitres of fuel. “People are still under the false impression that when it’s cold outside they need to idle their car for 10 minutes or more, but it’s been calculated that in winter you only need to warm your car for a minute or two,” says Bergeron. “Then warm it up as you go, driving slowly for the first few kilometres.

“They also believe if they quickly go into a store and come back, it saves fuel to keep the engine on instead of turning it off – but this is also false. If you idle for more than 10 seconds, you might as well turn off the engine because you’ll use more fuel than restarting.”

Travelling light is another obvious but often overlooked measure. Remove the junk from your trunk, and from the roof. How many barren ski and bicycle racks barrel down the road each day? A 100-kilogram weight reduction, for example, can yield a 2 to 3 per cent increase in fuel economy.

Using a GPS can help you plan journeys, including familiar trips, in a more efficient manner.

According to Bergeron, the average motorist employing fuel-efficient techniques will see a 10 per cent decrease in consumption, and those who previously practiced the worst habits can reap up to 25 per cent savings. There’s a catch, though – you must be diligent.

“In Quebec, they did a pilot where eco-training was given to 100 drivers. They reduced their fuel use significantly, but what the study noticed is six months after training they fell back into bad habits. If you start enthusiastically, you’ll save fuel, but in the long run you really have to remind yourself to drive fuel-efficiently.”

If your car has a feature that indicates fuel consumption, use this to help gauge your progress or adjust your driving style to achieve the best mileage.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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