Three years ago I bought a small SUV, but at the time wasn't too concerned about the mileage because my commute is only 20 minutes each way. Now gas prices are killing me, but I don't want to take the hit on depreciation to trade in my vehicle for something more fuel-efficient. Are there any hints you can give me to help improve my mileage? - Anne in Hull, Que.
Many would agree that you would fare worse in the depreciation hit on a vehicle trade than the continued damage to your wallet caused by high gas prices. Reducing fuel consumption has become a hot topic and something of an art form among the more conscious of drivers these days.
EcoDriving is a component of new-driver training at DriveWise, and also available to veteran motorists in many provinces. According to DriveWise BC owner Seann Wells, there are five simple techniques all motorists can implement to reduce consumption.
First, the majority of fuel is burnt during acceleration. Accelerating slowly not only improves safety, but also fuel economy. "The harder you accelerate, the more fuel you use," says Wells.
Second, maintaining a steady speed will help reduce consumption. "It takes more fuel to constantly adjust your speed. For example, if you're going 80 km/h on the highway, but every 18-20 seconds you're fluctuating between 75 and 85 km/h, you'll use about 20 per cent more fuel. If you're changing that speed every 10-12 seconds, you're probably using about 40 per cent more fuel with all those little adjustments," says Wells.
Third, anticipate traffic. "Look well ahead to prevent stopping and quick startups, such as a bus in your lane that's constantly pulling over to drop off or pick up passengers. A simple lane change may avoid stopping and starting all the time," says Wells.
Fourth, if you see a red light ahead, provided you're not impeding other traffic, coast to decelerate. "For one red light, it's pennies - but if you do that all day, week- and month-long, it adds up," says Wells.
Smooth drivers are rewarded with good economy; charging up to the red light and slamming on the brakes, or pounding on the gas pedal when the light turns green, is counterproductive. Further, if you've got an automatic transmission, shift into neutral at the light. If you're driving a manual, remember there are times - such as when you're accelerating down a hill - when you can shift up to keep your rpms down.
Finally, don't speed. Remember that drag increases with speed, so the faster a car goes the harder it has to work. According to Natural Resources Canada, driving at 120 km/h instead of 100 km/h will cost you 20 per cent more fuel. On a 25-km trip, you'll only save two minutes of time.
The DriveWise EcoDriving course provides a chance to test your efficiency mettle on a simulator. "The program we use gives real-time data on your fuel consumption. It covers lots of different scenarios: highway, city, rural - and monitors your driving and graphs your fuel consumption, and compares it to a baseline study," says Wells.
"It shows how much more fuel you're spending, and provides a dollar amount based over a year. It can be done as a group, and compared to the best driver in the group. Those heavier on the gas and brakes, and who race up to red lights, etc., spend 25-30 per cent more fuel than others. Tallied over a year, that's $500$600 based on 25,000 km."
In addition to the driving techniques above, there are a few things to consider when it comes to fuel consumption. Proper car maintenance is important. For example, if you're not changing your air filter or spark plugs as required, your mileage will suffer accordingly. Keep your tires at the recommended inflation pressure, and check them at least monthly. When it comes time for new wheels, research the availability of tires with low rolling resistance.
Remove any unnecessary weight from your car. The heavier your load, the worse your fuel mileage. Rather than use air conditioning on hot days, open the windows. Just bear in mind that if you're travelling at freeway speeds, an open window may increase drag, which will in turn increase your fuel consumption.
Finally, a bit of planning will also help reduce consumption. Find a way to combine your trips. If possible, adjust your work schedule to coincide with low-traffic times. Have you considered car-pooling? Perhaps one or two of your workmates would like to share the commute.
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