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5 Factors That Impact the Fuel Economy of Your Car

Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.

We are living in a golden age of automotive technology. Cars are getting lighter, more powerful, and perhaps most vitally, more fuel-efficient. Cars like the Mazda 3, Honda Fit, VW Golf TDI and Ford Focus all reach over 40 MPG highway, and are still sporty and fun to drive. In fact, studies show that fuel economy may be the most important factor in vehicle purchases. But even the most fuel-efficient cars on the market can be held back by a number of different factors. Most drivers know regular maintenance will help keep their vehicle’s efficiency numbers high, but there are many more surprising things that can have a significant effect on your fuel economy.

1. The Weather

Did you know that your vehicle uses different amounts of fuel in summer or winter? There are a wide variety of reasons behind these fluctuations, and keeping them in mind might just save you a few dollars on your next fill up.

Cold Weather

Pexels.com / CC0 1.0.
Pexels.com / CC0 1.0.

Cold weather can have a fairly drastic effect on fuel economy because of both mechanical limitations and our own habitual behaviors. Cold air is denser, increasing drag and decreasing tire pressure. Increased drag makes your car work harder to go the same speed, and decreased tire pressure leads to increased rolling resistance, meaning it takes more gas to get your wheels rolling. Additionally, your engine will take longer to reach an optimal operating temperature. Many drivers believe they need to warm their car up before driving in the cold; no one wants to jump into a cold car, and people believe it to be unsafe.

In reality, idling your car in the cold is the most wasteful thing you can do from a fuel economy standpoint, and the engine will actually warm up faster while being driven. If you can, park your car in a warm place; there will be less warming up to do before the interior is nice and toasty.

Hot Weather

Pexels.com / CC0 1.0.
Pexels.com / CC0 1.0.

Hot weather is not without its own share of factors affecting fuel economy. Cars tend to like warmer weather:

  • the oil is closer to optimal temperatures, which means that it lubricates better
  • the tires stay properly inflated
  • the engines warm up quicker

Still, many cars still suffer from poor fuel economy in the hotter months. The universal culprit? Your air conditioning. Using the AC decreases your car’s mileage by up to 10% — a pretty significant amount in the face of rising gas prices.

2. Vehicle Shape and Styling

Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.
Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.

Have you ever wondered why sports cars look so sleek and cool, and hybrids like the Toyota Prius usually have smooth contours and space-age styling? It’s not just for show. In this case, form follows function.

Aerodynamics are responsible for the styling in both cases. How your car cuts through the air can have a drastic effect on fuel economy numbers. Big, boxy vehicles like SUVs and trucks pile up more air resistance in front of them, increasing drag, decreasing efficiency, and requiring more power and therefore more fuel.

But just because you drive a sleek hybrid doesn’t mean you can expect to be a speed racer and a fuel sipper at the same time; air resistance increases exponentially with increasing speed, using 15% more fuel for every 10 miles per hour, so driving at overly high speeds makes your car quite thirsty.

3. Driving Style

Pexels.com / CC0 1.0.
Pexels.com / CC0 1.0.

Humans are creatures of habit, and habits can be hard to change. Many of us become accustomed to driving styles that have a serious impact on fuel economy. High speeds and quick acceleration can reduce fuel efficiency by up to 33%.

Maintaining higher speeds and accelerating quickly from a stop requires the engine to work harder to overcome the car’s inertia, reaching higher engine revs and using up more fuel.

Cars reach their peak fuel efficiency at around 60 miles per hour.

The gearing in your transmission is set up to run at as low revs as possible at this common highway speed. Any higher, and efficiency drops as revs climb.

4. Your In-Car Gadgets

Photo by Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to automotive gadgets these days. Bluetooth, navigation and touchscreens are increasingly becoming standard features, and vehicles can even be optioned to include their own Wi-Fi hot spots.

Phones and music players can be connected to the car’s audio systems, and various other gadgets can be recharged using car charger adapters. Infotainment systems are starting to step their game up and include processors from industry heavyweights like NVIDIA.

These systems are often overlooked as the causes behind energy losses in the car. They put a higher strain on your car’s battery, and you may end up having to replace it sooner than you would on a less tech-infused vehicle.

5. Hidden Weight

An unnecessarily full trunk adds extra weight to your car. Photo by Tyler Tate / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
An unnecessarily full trunk adds extra weight to your car. Photo by Tyler Tate / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

A heavier car means more power is required to move it, and therefore more fuel. This is why big trucks and SUVs so often come equipped with large, thirsty engines. But many drivers neglect their own contributions to the problem.

You don’t have to fill your car with concrete for the weights weight to make a difference; letting your trunk and car fill with stuff (laundry, sports equipment, bags, etc.) will add weight, hurting your mileage on the open road. This is one case where keeping up with your chores is definitely good for you. In the long run, keeping a tidy car will save you money.

If you keep all these factors in mind in your day-to-day driving, there is a lot you can do to boost the fuel economy of your car. These factors, in addition to regular maintenance of your vehicle, can have a serious impact on your efficiency.

What do you do to keep your fuel economy up?

Are you concerned with getting the most miles out of every tank, or do you prefer to drive fast and hit the pump more often? Let us know in the comments below.

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