Car Stuff

Normal Car, Hybrid Results. Here's How.

BY Andy StonehouseJanuary 15, 2019

Whether you’re into the environment or just keeping your wallet flush with hard-earned gas money, there’s good news: You don’t necessarily need to shell out top-dollar for a fancy hybrid or fully electric vehicle to achieve epic fuel performance.

In fact, your existing gas-powered automobile can be pretty effectively optimized for better mileage with a little coaching and some moderate self control. Here’s how.

Pressure Those Tires

In the now-distant past, a trip to a gas station (think Back to the Future) produced a crew of gas jockeys who would clean your windows, check your oil, and most importantly, check your tire pressure. Nowadays, your neglected Goodyears are your own problem, and low tire pressure can quickly lead to poor fuel economy.

“Tires on low air don’t roll easily, requiring more engine power and more fuel to make them rotate,” Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com, told Wisebread.

According to the Wisebread article, Reina suggests buying an inexpensive tire gauge at any chain store, keeping it in your glove box, and making a habit of checking the tires at every fill-up. If they’re low, just use the filling station air pump to top them off to where they need to be.

In states like California, the station attendant is even legally required to turn on the air pump for free for gas-buying customers. In other states, it may take a few quarters. Either way, Reina suggests a strict interpretation of listed tire pressures using numbers from the vehicle’s tire pressure label, which are often found inside your car’s doorframe or in your owner’s manual.

Keep Your Windows Up

If this seems the exact opposite of the advice your dad told you on every road trip growing up, there’s a good reason for it: we no longer travel in 1980s-era station wagons.

Using the air conditioner in an older automobile did use gasoline, but these days computerized controls only run the A/C when absolutely necessary, optimizing performance. As Reina told Wisebread, automotive aerodynamics have also improved so much that driving with your windows down actually creates drag. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that terrible wind-tunnel, oh-my-god-my-ears-are-going-to-explode effect that happens when you keep the windows down as you speed up on a freeway ramp.

“The net effect is that a vehicle gets better mileage if the windows stay up, and the A/C’s effect on fuel economy is nil,” Reina told Wisebread.

So unless you’re driving with hippie friends who insist on sticking their feet out of the car (just plain gross—not to mention a horrifically bad idea), keep those windows up.

And for even better mileage, only use the A/C when you absolutely have to, as it does contribute to overall fuel usage.

Clean Out Your Car

Is your car loaded down with a pile of rando stuff from a recent move or the leftovers from a Costco run? Any additional and totally unnecessary weight in your vehicle means extra engine effort, so cutting the clutter can also add to overall fuel efficiency.

Nick Corlis, an auto enthusiast and Instagrammer, suggests giving your back seat and trunk a close inspection and getting rid of anything you’re literally dragging around with you as you drive—like partially dismantled Ikea furniture and your vintage LP collection.

Don’t Be a Leadfoot

Corlis says the most tangible way to save gas is learning to avoid braking or accelerating like you’re on a Starsky and Hutch-styled police chase.

“Aggressive driving, excessive braking and high highway speeds all reduce fuel economy,” he says.

Corlis suggests adopting a slightly more Zen attitude to your commute. Do you really need to speed off the line at every green light, or wait until the very last second to stomp on the brakes when you come to a stop? All that heavy acceleration and intense braking burns fuel and adds to vehicular wear and tear in addition to being unsafe and making you look like "that person."

Going a little easier on the brakes can even make your driving a little more enjoyable, he adds.

“Try accelerating a little slower, see if you can brake less, and drive through corners a bit quicker so you lose less speed,” Corlis says. “Keep in mind that your goal is to conserve speed and accelerate as little as possible.”

Practice Practical Hypermiling Techniques

You may have heard of hypermiling—the extreme, occasionally dangerous techniques some hybrid or diesel owners use to achieve the absolute highest mileage possible.

But it turns out that hypermile-styled results can be achieved with just a few tactical adjustments to one’s driving behavior—none of which involve drafting behind 18-wheelers.

The simplest of the bunch is the notion of slipstreaming your car to get better air flow, cutting down on drag and fuel usage, says Lauren Fix, a syndicated automotive journalist and president of the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year Awards.

For example, if you have an empty roof rack or cargo box on your roof—but you aren’t hauling bikes or snowboards—taking it off and storing in the garage would give you a small, but noticeable boost in fuel savings.

Headed out on a long drive? Fix says using your cruise control can also add to your overall mileage gain, as opposed to the fuel drain of constantly accelerating and de-accelerating as you make a long journey.

Many modern cars even feature radar-activated cruise control that will sense vehicles ahead of you and automatically adjust your speed to keep a safe distance.

Nice whip. No loan.

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