Are you following bad advice when it comes to saving gas? Here are some tips you may have heard about that don’t work as advertised:
* Using premium fuel instead of regular –
“Premium” fuel is a misleading term. The gas isn’t better, it’s just higher octane. If your car’s engine doesn’t need high-octane gas (your owner’s manual will tell you) then you’re just wasting your money by feeding it high-octane fuel. And that’s not all. If you feed an engine designed to burn regular unleaded high-octane premium fuel, your gas mileage will probably decrease because your engine is not designed to burn the high-octane fuel, which reduces its combustion efficiency.
* Not using the air conditioning –
It’s true that air conditioning draws power from the engine and that’s why many people reason that not running the AC will save gas by decreasing the load on the engine. However, unless you also keep the windows rolled up, any efficiency gains achieved by not running the AC will be offset by the increased aerodynamic drag created by leaving the windows open for ventilation. Cars built before the 1980s – when AC was still a fairly rare option – often had ductwork that provided adequate forced air ventilation to the interior even with the windows closed. But modern cars don’t have that feature, because most modern cars come standard with AC – and it’s assumed you will use it, rather than leave the windows down.
* Taking off your tailgate (pick-up truck owners) –
There is some truth to this one, but not in the way most people probably think. It’s not the improved airflow over the bed that kicks up the MPGs – it’s the weight reduction that comes from taking off a fairly heavy piece of metal. If you can operate your truck without the tailgate, you might see a slight increase in your MPGs by taking off the tailgate. But don’t go out and buy one of those expensive tailgate nets to replace it – unless you just like the looks or need something to hold your cargo in place – because the cost of the net will cancel out the slight potential mileage improvement you’ll get by taking off the metal tailgate.
* Filling up your tires to the maximum recommended air pressure –
This is another Catch 22 “fuel saver.” It’s true that by filling up your vehicle’s tires to the maximum allowable air pressure (listed on the sidewall of the tire) you may decrease your vehicle’s rolling resistance, which could, in turn, result in a 1-2 MPG uptick in your fuel economy. However, if you exceed the maximum recommended air pressure (see your vehicle owner’s manual) it is also likely that your tires will wear out faster – and given the average $100-150 dollar per tire replacement cost – it is highly unlikely you’ll come out ahead, money-wise. Also, if you inflate your vehicle’s tires to a higher-than-recommended PSI, it will likely alter both ride quality and handling, as well as increase braking distances.
* Turning off your engine at traffic lights –
Hybrids do this, so why shouldn’t you? Because hybrids have high-torque starters designed to quickly (and repeatedly) start the gas engine side of the hybrid gas-electric powertrain – and your standard (non-hybrid) car does not. It takes more energy to operate a conventional starter – and will wear that expensive part out sooner – if you overuse it by turning off your car’s engine at every stoplight. You will also put unnecessary load on your battery, which may reduce its life. There are, however, some situations where it does make sense to shut off your car’s engine in order to save gas that would otherwise by used up just idling. If you find yourself caught in a traffic jam or work zone where it’s clear you will be stationary for more than about 5 minutes, shutting down your engine is ok.