The three most important aspects of affecting your fuel economy are:
- Rolling Resistance
- Efficiency of the Engine
- Additives and Booster
Tire Pressure - a low tire flattens out and causes increased rolling resistance. An increase in rolling resistance makes it harder for the engine to push the vehicle and therefore wastes gas. In addition, the constant bending of the tire sidewall because it is flat causes the tire to wear out prematurely. If the cost of gas doesn’t scare you, try the cost of new tires.
Tire Styles – Those 22 inch rims might look appealing but if the diameter of the tire increases you are increasing the gear ratio. Just like choosing a high gear on your bicycle makes it harder to push at slower speeds. There are also many manufacturers that make fuel efficient tires now. The rubber is a different compound designed specifically to lower the rolling resistance and increase fuel economy.
Junk in the Trunk – the more weight the engine has to push the more gas it takes. It is not very hard to get upwards of 200 pounds in the trunk. That is whole other person. You might be surprised at how much happier your engine is not pushing around junk.
Lubrication – The wrong viscosity of oil can increase resistance in your motor and waste fuel. If your car requires 5W20 and you use 5w30 instead it won’t blow your motor up but the oil is too thick. It will break down faster shortening the life of the oil and be harder to push around the engine causing fuel wasting resistance.
Efficiency of the Engine
Air Filter – An Olympic running athlete will not run very far or fast with a clothes pin on his/her nose. A restricted or dirty air filter will do the same thing to your engine.
Spark Plugs - It takes 10k volts to jump electricity just one inch at 98% humidity. Your ignition system is probably closer to 40k volts. If the plug is worn out the spark is weak and therefore the fuel does not combust correctly.
Intake Deposits - Deposits that form on the inside of the air intake ducts choke them off making it hard for the vehicle to breathe. No breath – no power – wastes gas.
Intake Valves - Intake valve deposits are hard, crusty, coching deposits that change the state of the fuel before it enters the combustion chamber. Droplets do not burn as well a fine clean mist.
Piston Crown Deposits – The space between the top of the piston and the bottom of the head when the piston is all the way up is about as thick as a human hair. The slightest deposit on the piston crown reduces that space, increases pressure and causes pre-ignition or knocking. Modern cars have a knock sensor which retards the timing robbing you of power and forcing you to press harder on the gas pedal for the same performance. Again…robbing you of gasoline.
O2 Sensor - O2 sensors sense oxygen in the exhaust stream telling the computer that the fuel has not fully burnt. The computer responds by increasing the amount of fuel to burn the extra oxygen. If these sensors or faulty or full of deposits then the computer gets the wrong signal and again…wastes gas.
Additives and Boosters
So what can you do about all the efficiency stuff up above?
- Make sure your air filter is clean. If you do not know how to check it, drop on by and we will either show you how to check it yourself or do it for you. Free.
- Always buy the best fuel you can. The LOWEST Octane but best fuel. Chevron, Shell, Conoco, these are the best bet.
- Use a proven additive. Hint … if you can buy it on the shelf it is junk. We recommend either BG Products or Greenfoot Global’s eTabs. We carry them both and have proven on hundreds of cars that they work.
This is a topic that is in the media and all around us. Even though gas prices are currently dropping, which is great, we are still a far cry away from where we were just a few short years ago. Anybody remember paying less than $2.00 per gallon? I can remember prices as low as $.50 but that dates me a bit.
If you do not have a computer on board your vehicle, how do you know what mileage your vehicle is giving you? Do you really know how to calculate your fuel economy? Even better, any idea how to use this calculation to your benefit?
calculate miles per gallon
Well simply put, fuel economy, in this country, is measured in Miles Per Gallon or MPG. So if you have a 10 gallon fuel tank and you drive 300 miles then you divide the 300 miles by the 10 gallons to get 30 MPG. Easy enough. The math gets a little more complicated in the real world but the formula is always the same. Here is what I mean.
If you have that same 10 gallon tank you probably do not empty it and cough your way into the gas station. In reality you probably purchase 8.3 gallons or some odd number like that. Then the odometer reading at your last fill up was … say … 120,000 miles and now it reads 120,287. So that leave 287 miles driven for 8.3 gallons of gas or (lemme get my calculator out) …um … 34.578 MPG.
I mean, you gotta buy gas. The tank is on empty. You gotta get to work. Who cares about the mileage? Right?
There is no better performance meter of how your vehicle is running than MPG.
So much affects it. Like:
- How you drive
- Hiway or intown
- Leadfoot or little old lady
- Towing a trailer?
- Tire condition
- Engine tune
- Spark plugs/wires
- Air filter condition
- Fuel filter condition
- Grade and age of oil
- Intake deposits
- A/C on or off
- Extra weight
- Trunk denizens
There is a lot that can affect your vehicles performance and monitoring fuel economy will tell you when the changes and trends are small and can be dealt with inexpensively. You do not need to be an expert mechanic to tell that the performance is waning. You just have to be able to track a simple little number.
For those of you with Smart Phones it gets even easier. I have an Apple iPhone and I use a program called Road Trip. It does all the calculations for me and then graphs the result. Takes seconds and is even kind of fun. This program even tracks what it is costing me to operate the vehicle per mile/week/tank fill up/ or year. Great for taxes and tracking repairs and maintenance. Check out your Smart Phone’s app store. There might be a solution there for you.
The money you save at the pump can easily pay for the maintenance costs associated with getting the best fuel economy. And a well maintained car rarely needs repair. It is all an awareness thing. You can only control that which you are aware of. Want to fight gremlins out of your pocket book. Pay attention to your fuel economy.
This saying got started in the 70’s, near as I can tell, and has really gotten traction lately. It also feeds right into the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) wishes which are for you to buy a car every 3-5 years.
Now my rants always slant more toward finding a vehicle you like and keeping it forever. I do not like buying cars every few years because I loathe payments. Sure I like the latest widgets and styles but paying $40k for a car or more is abhorrent to me. If this is not you, and you really enjoy trading out every few years then stop reading this.
If, however, you would like to see your money go for other things than to banks to pay for your ride, read on.
Modern cars are designed two fold
First, to hide or mask problems so they do not bother you. This gives the illusion of quality. Second, to be disposable. 80 to 100k miles is all the manufacturer really wants you to be able to get. Think about this. If the average person in New Mexico drives 15 to 18k miles per year then in 5 years you will have 80 to 90k miles. Just about when the media is saying you need a new car.
It has been my experience, with several personal vehicles, that 300-500k miles is really achievable. And relatively easily as well.
Now, let’s talk about not fixing what ain’t broke.
Remember earlier I said that modern cars are designed to mask problems so they do not bother you. They achieve this with sensors and computers. If one part is weak four other parts pick up the slack. That way you are kept unaware of any issues until they are so expensive to repair that buying another car becomes a real option.
Here are some examples of how manufacturers are building non maintainable cars
- Cars with nonserviceable fuel filters. You never have to change the $50 to $75 filter but rather the $800 – $1000 fuel pump.
- Cars with 90k mile rated spark plugs instead of 30k miles. Only gig is they bury the spark plugs under the intake manifold so the tune up is more expensive than ever before. Of course if you ignore this service the car gets increasingly less fuel economy, less horsepower and the catalytic converter gets stressed, the coils get stressed, the interior of the motor gets gunked up and if you own an engine like the Ford 5.4 liter the plugs actually weld themselves into the head. Good luck getting that to run right ever again.
- Some brakes being manufactured no longer come with squeakers so you cannot tell when they are low and you end up grinding the rotors thereby doubling the cost of the brake job.
- What about lifetime fill transmissions? What a joke. Whose lifetime. Certainly not the car’s. Some cars are now being built without transmission dipsticks or any way to check or service the transmission at all. Again, when (not if) the transmission fails it is perceived cheaper to just buy another car.
- Maintenance free batteries. Again what a joke. This is what the whole automotive industry is going to though. These batteries are maintenance free not because they are better but because the manufacturer sealed the battery. Now you have to replace it instead of service it.
I just find the whole concept of scamming somebody abhorrent but I hear the stories every day. This story recently came up and I thought I would share this lady’s solution to it.
Any reputable shop will perform a basic inspection of the vehicle when doing an oil change. Unfortunately some of our Quicker service brethren have figured out how to bilk cash out of customers by the following method.
They check your air filter. If it is not too bad they grab a filthy one off the shelf that they have kept for just this reason. They show it to you and get you to buy a new one. Then … you guessed it … they re-install your old filter!
If someone confronted me with a nasty, dirty, oily filter I would be inclined to “take care of my car” too and let them install a new one. And how would I ever know whether the service I am paying for was ever performed or not?
Well here is how she beat them.
Ready? She simply took a permanent marker like a Sharpie and wrote her name on the filter when it was installed. When the service manager showed her the nasty filter, she took one look and proclaimed,”That is not my filter”. Clearly, she could see her name was not on the filter presented and therefore she could not be scammed. Furthermore she had great fun exposing the scam in front of all the other customers.
Trusting her mechanic was no problem for this lady because of this simple technique.
Since then she has expanded this technique to include many other simple services. She draws an “X” on her fuel filter and she writes the date on her oil filter. She even takes nail polish and marks her belts and PCV valve. When the quickie places try to sell her this stuff she simply and innocently requests the old parts. If her marks are not there she knows they are trying to scam her.
She has admitted that she has only ever caught one shop here in town trying to cheat her like this but I respect her inventive and simple solution to it.
This has definitely been the summer from hell based on the amount of overheating damage we have witnessed in our shops. In just this past month we have seen no less than six, multi thousand dollar head gasket failures directly caused by overheating the engine.
The sad truth is that every one of these was preventable. Poor folks driving these cars just did not understand enough about how their vehicle functioned or what exactly was happening to prevent further damage.
In most cases it was some minor cooling system failure like a hose or water pump that failed but the customer continued driving and then the head gasket blew.
So what is a head gasket?
Glad you asked…
This gasket separates the top of the engine where the valves are from the bottom of the engine where the pistons are. When the head gets too hot it warps and sometimes cracks.
As you can see here this is a major repair taking multiple days and thousands of dollars.
Here is how to prevent this…
Have your cooling system flushed every 30k miles. If your coolant is asked to go farther than this it turns acidic and literally eats holes in not just the gasket but every other part of the cooling system jacket.
- While driving pay attention to what your car is telling you. If you have a temperature gauge watch it and know how to interpret what it is telling you. Anything over 230 degrees Fahrenheit is TOO HOT.
- Finally, abnormal behavior for your car. Most commonly the Air Conditioner suddenly starts blowing hot air. If this happens immediately pull over and start looking for why. Your AC system is designed to take itself off line in the event that the temperature of the engine gets too high. This is a damage protection system is in most cars built in the last quarter century.
- Other abnormal behavior may be strange noises or possibly steam from the engine compartment. Also some cars just have a light. Normally red in color and looks like a thermometer. If it is blowing thick white smoke out the tail pipe it is already too late in most cases.
Following these suggestions can save you and your car a lot of headaches.
While we are in the business of repairing and maintaining your car, I just like your doctor, am trying to give you the longest trouble free life I can. Understanding how it all works and when you are in trouble is the first step.
I have been getting questions about nitrogen in car tires a lot lately so I’ll talk about it here.
First the pros:
Nitrogen has been used for years on aircraft and race car tires. Nitrogen is a larger molecule than just plain old air and therefore it does not pass through the rubber as easily. This allows for much more stabile air pressure and less fluctuation in air pressure due to ambient air temperature or local air pressure. What this means to you is you will not have to worry about the air pressure in your tires nearly as much (if you do) and you can finally shut that TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) up.
Nitrogen is also what they call dry. There can be a bunch of moisture in ambient air and when that is in the tire it tends to rot the rubber from the inside out. Nitrogen will not do that.
In short, what they claim is true. Installing nitrogen in your tires will cause the tires to require less maintenance and hassle.
Now the cons:
Often folks want money to install nitrogen in your tires.
Also it makes it hard to adjust the tire pressures because you can only do it with more nitrogen.
Do the pros outweigh the cons?
In my humble opinion, only if you get the nitrogen installed and maintenanced for free. The benefits you get from having it do not, again in my opinion, justify the cost. Since we at The Car Care Place check and adjust your tire pressures for free every time we see your vehicle I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would actually pay for nitrogen.
On aircraft tires that deal with severe temperature and pressure variables it is critical. On a passenger vehicle, I believe, it is way, way overkill. The folks that created the machines for the race track and aircraft are simply following the old rule in marketing. Create a market and fill it.
If your supplier will fill your tires and maintain the pressures with nitrogen for free by all means go for it. Some will just want to have you continue to visit their store so they can sell you other stuff. That machine costs between $9000 and $14000 depending on the quality. Imagine what they have to sell in order to pay for that.
If your supplier wants to charge you for this wonderful stuff, walk away.
Your hard earned cash can be much better spent on you.
Just my $.02
Well they are if you are like most people and have a bunch of keys, key tags and other stuff hanging off of your vehicle’s ignition key. Yes, having anything other than just the ignition key in the key slot on your dash or steering column can and will cost you big time, later.
Take that big wad of keys for just a moment and hold them by the ignition key. Feel the weight. That weight is causing your key to wear out the ignition lock cylinder in the dash or steering column.
Think of a teeter totter or any lever and you can quickly see how all that weight could easily place extra force where it is not welcome.
Yes, the ignition key can be re coded to fit the original key. Only problem is that the key itself is usually worn out and can cause other issues. I usually recommend the new key option. Cheaper for the customer and better for your car.
Next time you see a big wad of keys, help the person out and tell them about what you read here. You could be a real hero.
There are a surprising number of small, inexpensive parts that can lead to expensive engine damage when they fail. It doesn’t seem right.
Fortunately a lot of those things can be taken care of in routine maintenance. They may not be easy to remember, because it is a long list, but your service center can help you know what’s scheduled to be taken care of.
Some of us in Albuquerque New Mexico really don’t look forward to going in for an oil change and then getting a list of the other things the manufacturer recommends or get noticed during the inspection.
But automotive maintenance is all about prevention, and addressing small problems before they get big.
Let’s take the fuel filter for example.
You may not know this but the median age for private vehicles on our Albuquerque New Mexico roads is over nine years. When cars get older, five years or so, they’ve accumulated a lot of dirt and rust in their gas tanks. If that dirt gets into the engine it can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage. So somewhere between that dirty gas tank and the price of a great vacation – is the lowly fuel filter: a very inexpensive part that doesn’t cost too much to replace. And your car will just run better too.
A clogged fuel filter can’t let enough fuel through. You might notice at first that your car is running fine around town, but struggles or sputters on the freeway or when you accelerate. Enough fuel can’t get through to meet the demands of higher speeds. If it gets bad enough your engine might just shut off or not start at all, which could be dangerous.
Some fuel filters have a bypass. When they get clogged, they allow dirty fuel to move around the filter element so dirt ends up in the engine. We’ve already talked about how expensive that can be. Fuel filters without the bypass slow the rate of fuel delivery to the engine so the car’s computer is always calling for more gas. This makes your fuel pump work harder, wearing it out faster. On some vehicles, a new fuel pump can be as much as $1000.
The fuel filter is even very important for newer cars. The fuel is still dirty even if there isn’t rust in the tank. It’s just that the fuel filter will need to be changed more frequently as the vehicle gets older.
How often should you change your fuel filter? Check your owner’s manual. Your service advisor can tell you as well. It’s usually around thirty thousand miles or so. Ask if it’s time for a full fuel system cleaning as well. They often go hand in hand.
It’s good to know that your service center has your back. When you’re motivated to maintain your vehicle’s performance and to reduce operating costs, you’ll think of service center as your ally.
We all have whipped into a parking lot, late for something or other, let the front tires hit the barrier and hop out. Of course, later when we return and back up, we hear the grinding of the parking stop on the bottom of the car. I am seeing more and more damage these days from something as simple as parking.
Cars are getting lower all the time for aerodynamic reasons. The lower the car is the less chance of air creating a cushion underneath and causing a floating sensation when driving. Anybody remember the boats we used to drive in the 70s? Get them above 50 or 60 mph and the front wheels would not even touch the road.
Another reason for controlling the passage of air around, over and under the car is for engine and transmission cooling purposes. You may be surprised just how much science has gone into that little piece of plastic or rubber under the engine. Air flow is a critical component with today’s lighter, more fuel efficient vehicles.
Today we have front air dams, front spoilers, and other body parts that almost scrape the road. And recently, I have been seeing damage to the bottoms of radiators, air conditioning lines, electrical components and sensors, oil pans, transmission cooler lines, just a whole raft of ruined components, from these wheel stop barriers and other items that we used to be able to ignore.
Here are a couple of tips to avoid costly repairs:
- Always back into a parking space. There is very little chance of damaging anything back there and there is a very real safety benefit to parking backwards. According to the NTSB (National Traffic and Safety Board) 92.7% of all low speed accidents happen in parking lots when folks are backing up. The numbers of injured children every month from cars backing over them are nothing short of staggering. All of this could be avoided if you park such that you all always go forward when leaving.
- Then driving along, always go around instead of over debris in the road. I know, it sometimes is unavoidable, but if you can go around something it is better. It may look like an empty box or bag but more and more this debris really fouls things up. Or worse, it isn’t empty at all. A brick or some other hard something can really tear things up when travelling at highway speeds.
Now of course, if you drive a truck or SUV, this whole article may seem a little silly (except the part about backing over kids). Still, these are good habits to get into. A great deal of driving and parking is done on auto pilot these days. What with cell phones, meetings, deadlines, stereos, kids and God knows what other distractions these days, should you find yourself in a rental car or someone else’s car, that autopilot SUV driving might really cost you.