With fuel prices at an all-time high, getting from A to B has never been more expensive. For this reason, educating yourself on car fuel efficiency and practicing what you learn is a great way to save money at the pump.
Not only does full efficiency mean fewer petrol station stops, and a fatter wallet but it also reduces your carbon footprint, which is a huge bonus. Whether planning a road trip or cutting down on commuting costs, optimising fuel efficiency is a win-win.
Now, let's be clear ... I'm no expert, just an everyday driver like you who wants to combat high fuel costs. So, I'll share practical, jargon-free tips in a casual, relatable manner.
Buckle up because I've got the ultimate guide to maximising your car's fuel efficiency and saving money, without even popping your bonnet.
Check and inflate your tires
Remember when we were learning how to drive, we were being taught repeatedly to check our tires, gas, motor oil, water etc... Well yeah, I don't believe any of us are actually doing that, not even the instructor who told us to. But it doesn't mean we should keep neglecting to check these things.
For example, having deflated or overinflated tires can cause you to drag on the road, or to wear out your tires more easily, causing you to lose traction. Either way, you will either step on your gas more or exert more effort on maneuvering.
Check your tires as often as you can at the petrol station, and make sure they meet their recommended tire pressure by checking and re-inflating.
Remove excess weight from the car
Just like a horse carrying a rider and cargo, your car works more and burns more fuel when it's carrying heavier weight.
For every extra 45 kgs your car is carrying, your fuel expenditure goes up by 2%. The smaller your car, the lighter it can optimally carry. So try to limit the weight of your car as much as you can.
Besides the spare tire, your weight, and your kids' combined weight, check if you're treating your car boot as a perpetual storage room for some of your things. It's okay, I'm also guilty of that, so I'm not going to judge if you still have the luggage that you brought on your last vacation in the boot. But, yes, 'right now' is the right time for you to unload that.
If life gets too busy for you to maintain your car mess-free every day, try to do a weekly declutter of your car. It's important that from time to time, make sure that you are not keeping on unnecessary weight for your car as this will help in staying fuel-efficient.
Get your car serviced regularly
Follow your prescribed and planned schedule of having your car serviced. When in doubt, take a look at your owner’s manual for the manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule of your car. With the kids' birthdays, school events, and your doctor's appointments, I understand how easy it is to forget when the next service date is.
Regular servicing ensures that your vehicle is running efficiently and will save you time and money in the long run. Being able to tune a neglected vehicle just in time, or providing repairs to any damage that may cause your car to fail an emissions test can increase fuel efficiency by 5-40%, depending on the extensiveness of the damage and repair.
Use recommended grade motor oil
Using the recommended grade motor oil for your car engine can improve fuel efficiency 1%–2% and save you some coins.
Always make sure that you refer to your car manual for the manufacturer's recommended grade motor oil if you are not sure of what to put in. You may also have the opportunity to select recommended grade motor oil that contains friction-reducing additives that improve fuel efficiency. Note that lower viscosity oils improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Plan the shortest route
This is pretty obvious. The shorter your route is, the less time you need to be on the road and burning up fuel. Use navigation apps to help you identify routes that would help you maintain fair fuel efficiency.
If you want to save money, it's time to give up those long drives around your neighbourhood that you used to enjoy in order to clear your head, eat junk food away from your kids, or listen to your guilty pleasure podcast and nasty songs. Or is that just me?
The way you drive hugely influences your car's fuel efficiency. For example, slamming often on your brakes will increase fuel consumption as you need to accelerate soon again, later. Avoid following too closely behind the vehicle in front of you since this will result into you stepping on the brakes harder than usual, repeatedly. Besides, tailgating is dangerous, bad practice, and to be totally avoided.
Anticipate and be a predictive and defensive driver. Needless to say, keep observing the road ahead and plan your next move.
To be more fuel efficient, avoid slamming on the brakes to a complete stop (you really don't need to stop and yell at the jerk who overtook you). Instead, try slowing down as you approach the red light. When reaching the foot of a descent, start accelerating as you edge closer to it, not when you approach the next ascent. Hard and sudden accelerations when moving your car from a complete stop or climbing uphill will consume more fuel than you would if you drive smarter.
Optimise your driving speed
When you rev your accelerator to a high revolutions per minute (RPM), you burn up more fuel than ideal. It’s better for fuel efficiency when it is revolving slower, or when your engine is working at a lower RPM.
Also, for smaller or light-duty vehicles, every 8 kph you drive over 80 mph is like paying $0.15 more per litre of gas. Reducing your speed by 8 to 13 kph can improve your fuel efficiency by 7%–14%.
Minimise use of air-conditioning
This is more nuanced than you may think.
Did you know that turning up the air-conditioning can reduce a car’s fuel economy by more than 25%, especially on those short errand trips?
BUT driving with your windows open is not great for fuel efficiency when you are driving at higher speeds because it causes wind resistance and makes your vehicle consume more fuel to move forward at high speed. Lowering your windows and turning off your air-conditioning at low speeds won’t have too much effect on your fuel efficiency, but if you’re on the freeway— it could cost you.
So roll the windows down on neighbourhood and errand trips and turn on the air-conditioning when driving on the highway. Don’t use the air-conditioning at a fan level that is more than needed or at a temperature lower than you need to stay comfortable. Park in a nice shade so that you don't have to blast the AC to counter the heat inside the cabin when you get in the car.
Don’t idle with the air-conditioner running to cool your car before driving. Keep the windows open as you initially drive for a short time before turning on the air-conditioning to allow the hot air to leave the cabin first. This will put less demand on the air-conditioning unit and help your vehicle cool faster when you decide to turn the air-conditioning on.
Use cruise control for fuel efficiency
Your speed and gears directly affect fuel efficiency.
If you’re driving an automatic or manual car, you should make use of the car's cruise control to maintain your speed efficiently. If you’re using a manual car, maintain a higher gear when appropriate. Stepping on your gas pedal in first gear demands much higher energy than if you drive at your desired speed at second or third gear, whichever is appropriate.
Again, in order to reduce your fuel consumption, check if you are using your gears or cruise control in order to help your engines go through fewer revolutions per minute (RPM) as possible.
Remove the roof rack (if you don't use it)
In case you didn't know, roof racks are a literal drag on your fuel efficiency, especially when you are driving at higher speeds. The faster your car moves, the smaller front area it needs to be able to maintain fuel efficiently.
Roof racks can increase fuel consumption because of the additional aerodynamic drag they create. Unless heavy cargo is loaded onto the rack making it at least useful, drag is the only thing your roof rack is contributing to your car and your fuel economy.
I understand how easy it is to leave the roof rack there, I mean why install it if not to keep it available right? But try to remove empty roof racks for better fuel efficiency especially when you are travelling for long distances and at higher speeds, like on highways or freeways.
Use apps to find the cheapest fuel near you
Before, we just crossed our fingers and prayed as we drove to the petrol station nearest our place of work hoping they don't have painful rates.
Now, with the inflation, it is much better to know what prices are being set close to us before we decide where to drive to have our tanks refilled. Depending on where you are, there are different apps that can be helpful for you in finding the cheapest fuel near you.
PetrolSpy Australia, Fuel Map Australia, Simples: Compare & Save, MotorMouth, and state-based apps like Fair Fuel (RACQ) and FuelCheck (NSW) are some of these most downloaded price-monitoring apps that can inform you of the best servo to go to for better fuel prices.
Further reading: 7 Apps to find the cheapest fuel near you.
Take advantage of fuel coupons
Look out for petrol station-related promotions at the shopping centres you frequent and don't miss the fuel discounts and coupons they offer at supermarket chains near you. If you're vigilant enough, you might be able to get low-priced petrol year-round or up to 10% discounts.
Also, when at the petrol station, chat with the cashier or attendant up and ask them if there are any ongoing promotions they have with other businesses around your neighbourhood and which coupons they are currently accepting.