A road trip and Dad’s fuel efficiency (or lack thereof)

Advance Auto PartsWith summer almost over, it’s time to reflect. When you’re a kid, those long, hot lazy days are seemingly endless, full of promise, adventure, fun and freedom. Until one hot June day, just as summer break is getting cranked up, your dad comes home from work all excited and drops a bomb.

“Kids, this summer, we’re spending three weeks on the road, driving from New Jersey to the Grand Canyon, towing the camper behind us! The six of us will spend a lot of time together! It’ll be great!”

Uh, no it won’t. For a 13-year-old just starting to plan his summer, have there ever been more terrifying words? I think not. My plan was to spend the summer riding my bike and hanging with friends, not being trapped in a Dodge Ram conversion van with my three siblings and parents on an epic cross-country journey, living in a pop-up camper for three weeks.

This was not going to be good, or so I thought. For one thing, the old man was obsessed with fuel mileage. Always tracking the miles driven and gallons pumped at each fill up, and having a conniption whenever he forgot to record either. As obsessive as he was about the fuel efficiency, however, he didn’t give a hoot about vehicle maintenance. Tire pressure? Air filter? Oil change? A/C tune up? Nah, who needs them. We just hit the road, letting the pieces (hopefully not from our vehicle) fall where they may.

I’m pretty sure that if he had realized the impact a few simple maintenance items have on fuel mileage, not to mention vehicle reliability before a long road trip, he would have been sure to address them before our road trip.

According to fueleconomy.gov, the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information, you can take three steps right now to improve your fuel economy.

  • Keep your vehicle properly tuned and increase mileage by as much as four percent. Fixing a seriously out-of-tune engine, like one with a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage up to 40 percent.
  • Keep your tires at the inflation pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer and improve fuel mileage by more than three percent.
  • Use the recommended grade of oil for a one to two percent increase.
  • And here’s a statistic that just might surprise you, as well as your friends. On newer cars with fuel injection and computer-controlled engines, the air filter does impact acceleration but it has no impact on fuel mileage. The air filter does impact fuel mileage on older vehicles without that technology. Either way, check your air filter to see if it’s time for a change.

Somewhere between South Dakota’s legendary Corn Palace and the Grand Canyon, I came to the somewhat surprising, albeit gradual, realization that maybe this trip wasn’t such a bad idea after all. We were seeing some really cool things. Don’t get me wrong, this surly teenager found plenty of reasons to complain, like getting in trouble for “sleeping through all the scenery” or nursing frequent bloody noses thanks to the West’s incredibly low humidity levels. But all in all, it was a truly memorable vacation, even if my dad didn’t get the gas mileage he wanted and we all scattered like jackrabbits, including my parents, the second we returned home.

Editor’s note: If you’re planning an epic, end-of-summer road trip, either with your family or to get away from them, make your first stop  Advance Auto Parts for preventive maintenance items and a roadside emergency kit.  



Maximize Your MPG

Maximize mileageWhen I think of the word “hypermiling,” a lot of negative stuff comes to mind. I think of folks going 55 mph and holding up traffic on the Interstate, or putting cardboard over their radiators (I’m not kidding!) because it supposedly improves fuel economy.

But hypermiling doesn’t have to be like that. At heart, it’s just about squeezing every possible mile out of each gallon of gas or diesel, and with fuel prices as high as they are these days, that’s a goal that every driver can appreciate. So I went ahead and made a list of reasonable hypermiling techniques; you know, things that regular folk like you and me can pull off without too much trouble. Follow these tips and I promise you, you’re going to spend less on fuel without expending much effort.

1. Keep your tires properly inflated.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to do some work on my wife’s car, or my kids’ cars, and found that the tire pressures were way too low. It’s easy to let this slide, because the way modern tires are designed, they always look a little flat — and they keep looking only a little flat even when they’re quite low on air. It gets worse with run-flat tires, which basically always look the same.

But here’s the thing: tires need their full allotment of air to roll efficiently. If they’re not inflated to the manufacturer’s specifications, you’ll need more energy to make them spin, and that means more fuel out of your tank.

So listen, do your wallet a favor and pick up a simple tire pressure gauge like this one from Autocraft. You don’t have to check the pressures every day or anything, but I’d say you want to check them every other time you stop to refuel. If they’re low, most filling stations have an air machine right there on the premises. You can honestly save a few miles per gallon or more just by incorporating regular tire-checks into your routine.

2. Take the route with the fewest full stops.
You’ve got the internet, right? Probably a few times over, what with your computer, your phone, your tablet — you name it. So put your favorite mapping program to work, and make sure that whenever you’re going somewhere, you’re maximizing continuous driving time and minimizing stops.

When you’re stopped, see, the engine’s still running, but you’re not going anywhere. Not good for MPG. Stop-and-go traffic can be even worse, because moving a stationary vehicle requires a lot of energy from the motor, and then you stop and repeat the process. On the other hand, so-called “steady-state” cruising is great for fuel economy. In a typical car, your MPG will increase by up to 50% in this scenario, so it often makes sense to take a longer route with fewer stops. Just do a little advance planning with one of those navigation programs, and you could save a lot of coin.

3. Be gentle with the throttle.
Americans have always loved good power, and as capable as engines are these days, it’s very tempting to goose that go-pedal at every opportunity. Not surprisingly, that’s not good for your fuel economy. But it’s not just about resisting the urge to burn a little rubber; there are also plenty of everyday situations where you can conserve fuel just by having a lighter foot.

Take the simple act of driving up a hill, for example. A lot of us will naturally ride the brakes on the way down a hill and then hammer the throttle on the way up, but trust me, there’s a better way. As long as there’s no one right behind you or in front of you, what you should do is anticipate that uphill climb by building a little extra speed on the way down, because that means you’ll need less energy to climb back up. And if no one’s behind you, don’t worry if your speed drops below the limit halfway up the hill. What’s your hurry? You’re saving fuel, right?

Another example is taking off from a stop sign or stop light. Again, our natural tendency is to step on it and keep up with traffic, but I’m here to tell you that it’s all about being smooth. Whereas big sudden throttle inputs open the floodgates in your engine, smooth progressive inputs keep the fuel flow nice and moderate. So be smooth out there, my friends, and save some money while you’re at it.

4. What do YOU think?
Now it’s your turn to chime in. Did I forget anything? What are some tricks that you use to conserve fuel? Let me know in the comments, and I might even add my own two cents.

Editor’s note: Visit Advance Auto Parts for tips on how to maximize your mileage.