Improving Your Vehicle's Fuel Economy

Introduction

So you are looking for ways to increase the fuel economy of your vehicle, well you have come to the right place. There are many difference aspects of a vehicle which need to be maintained or can be modified in order to decrease your vehicle's fuel consumption. Any of these areas can be considered a small gain, but with many improvements it can significantly add up in the end. In this article, I will break down any of these maintenance or alteration aspects into specific areas of the vehicle such as driving practices, body, interior compartment, drivetrain, wheel and tires, and performance upgrades. Be aware that any aspect can affect a vehicle differently, some may experience higher efficiency gains than others.

Driving Practices

This is probably one of the bigger areas of improving fuel efficiency is one's day to day driving practices. Just from your current driving practices, you can find a 30% increase of fuel economy. Now obviously with that much of an increase, your driving characteristics would have to be on the opposite extreme end of the spectrum, but it is possible. One does not want to be driving their vehicle "like they stole it". You need to be fairly conservative with the throttle, within reason obviously. For example with acceleration, don't put the accelerator to the floor as if you are aiming for a drag strip quarter mile time. Gradually increase the accelerator to a balanced point where your engine's rpm exceeds no more than 3000rpm. Now some say that may be slightly high, but you also have to realize the longer period you have the accelerator depressed for to achieve a highway speed can end up using an excessive amount of fuel. As for the 3000rpm example, this will vary depending on what type of vehicle you have, transmission, redline limit and fuel type (gasoline or diesel). Next point is to leave plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. Now you may be wondering what this would have to do with fuel economy, well this practice is used to think ahead so you do not waste energy. If you are following someone closer, you will have a tendency of being overly cautious and braking constantly. The larger distance allows for you to coast off the throttle gradually and prevents from slowing down more than what is actually needed.

There are also a couple other aspects which you can adjust accordingly to your highway or long distance driving that can increase your fuel efficiency. The first one being cruise control if your vehicle is equipped with it. With cruise control, a specific speed can be set and maintained regardless of the terrain type. Unfortunately not all cruise control systems equipped on a vehicle can conserve fuel, I have experienced this myself. This is dependent on your vehicle, some will decrease fuel consumption and others will actually increase fuel consumption. Obviously this will be something you will need to determine yourself based on fuel consumption calculations of your vehicle. The next point is the maximum speed that you drive. The faster you drive, the higher your vehicle's rpm will be and this will decrease your fuel economy. Most vehicles have that specific balanced speed where it sees the best fuel economy in overdrive. If you drive a manual, this will be easier to control because you are able to select the highest gear at any given time. With that being said, it doesn't mean you should select your highest gear while driving around town as this will put an excessive load on your engine and increase fuel consumption. When owning a manual vehicle, some manufacturers have written specifications in the owner's manual stating what the optimum engine rpm is for shifting or when to select the overdrive gear. If you drive an automatic, the vehicle is already programmed to engage overdrive at an appropriate speed. As a generic specification, it normally engages at around 80kph(50mph).

Depending on your geographical location, you maybe able to pick a route of travel whether it is to school, work, grocery shopping, etc. which enables for the smoothest amount of driving. A route with minimal stops, less traffic, allows for highway speed, and the least amount of uneven terrain. If you maintain a constant throttle position and your vehicle does not operate under load, the savings will add up quickly in the long run. As for the last point in this particular section, always allow your vehicle to warm up before any trips. When your vehicle's engine is at optimum operating temperature, this is when it's at maximum efficiency. Engine's normally run on two different cycles which is the cold cycle and the warm/hot cycle. While in the cold cycle, the engine is feed more fuel to help it warm up while not having reduced performance. During this warm/hot cycle, the engine's oil is much more viscous to allow for the internals to move more freely and the vehicle's computer is set for a balance between performance and efficiency.

Body

In order to decrease a vehicle's fuel consumption relating to the body, there can be modifications made to increase aerodynamics or even reducing some weight. This is something that can cost virtual nothing but a few minutes of your time or upwards of a few hundred dollars, if not more. It is dependant of how much you are willing to invest. When making a vehicle more aerodynamic, we want to increase the amount of air flowing past the body or decrease the amount of wind drag. Perhaps you have roof racks, maybe even a roof storage compartment, this can waste anywhere from 5% to 15% of your fuel consumption. Most vehicles have removable roof racks, whether it's the full rack system or the cross bars. Usually they can be removed in only a couple minutes, either by a couple bolts, clamps, clips, or key locks. If you are into towing larger loads and have larger mirrors either clipped onto the body or slide over top of your existing mirror, just like roof racks this can cause added wind drag. This in turn will increase your vehicle's fuel consumption.

Lightweight body panels are also another option which can be included in body modifications, but unfortunately isn't an aspect which everyone may want to take into consideration. This can be very costly and isn't an option available for all vehicles, some may need to be custom made. A couple different lightweight materials which can be found on automotive application can include aluminum or carbon fiber. Normally these custom body panels would replace anything that can be bolted onto the vehicle such as fenders, hood, bumpers, trunk, or tailgate. These can be purchased from an aftermarket company depending on your vehicles make or model, other times you will have to get these panels custom made. Either method, it can be very costly and is normally directed towards racing applications rather than achieve maximum fuel economy.

Interior Compartment

You may not think this plays a factor in fuel economy, but there are a couple areas that does relate to the interior compartment. These areas can include your interior climate setting and weight. For your interior climate setting, this is specifically directed towards air conditioning and only relates to vehicles equipped with this option. To understand how a basic air conditioner works on a vehicle, when the system is activated the engine drives a small compressor that circuits a chemical around the system, which in turn cools the air being pushed through the interior vents. Obviously the system is a little more complex than that, but the main part which I want to point out is the air conditioning compressor. Once this compressor is activated, it will put a load on your engine and one example of this can be shown when your vehicle is running at idle. With the air conditioning system off, the vehicle will idle at a certain engine speed, but once that system is activated the engine's speed will increase slightly. The engine needs to make up for that loss of power. Now another example will be through throttle response. With the system off you may notice the car operates at a slightly better performance, but once that system is turned on the vehicle isn't as responsive with the throttle or takes longer to reach a desired speed.

Another aspect with the interior can include weight. This does not include the number of occupants in the vehicle, but rather what you store in your vehicle or any other interior objects. If you are finding that you have an excessive amount of objects in your vehicle that you do not use all the time or perhaps you have not had the time for organization, this characteristic might be motivating. For example if you carry an extra 100lbs (45kg) of added weight that isn't needed, the engine will be using extra power to move that mass. It may not make that much of a difference, but it does add up in the long run. With regards to another aspect relating more to a performance standpoint, you can remove interior components to reduce weight. This is found to be a common practice for racing applications as this lightens up the vehicle, therefore making the it faster. As mentioned just a moment ago if less energy is used by the engine to drive the vehicle, this allows for increased fuel consumption. As an example if your rear seat is unused, then you can consider removing it and this could possibly be 50lbs (23kg) of weight saved.

Drivetrain

First we shall start with some of the cheaper easier modifications and than move up into the more expensive and work intensive ones. Not all vehicles have the option with some of the upgrades, also some vehicles may see a greater increase on efficiency than compared to others. The aspects which will be discussed is regular maintenance, upgrading fluids for better lubrication qualities, how to allow the engine to breathe better, performance upgrades, and wheel characteristics. This will be based on a general overview on all vehicles regardless of the fuel type. If you do wish to continue further with one or more of these modifications, you will need to research information that is specific to your vehicle. Regular maintenance also plays a huge factor in economy and can be often overlooked. Areas relating to this include replacing air or fuel filters, spark plugs, lubricants, etc at specific maintenance intervals. Lacking in any of these areas can affect your vehicle's performance drastically and increasing fuel consumption. As for when these maintenance intervals occur, be sure to consult with your owner's manual as they vary between vehicle manufacturers.

Starting with a simple and cheaper aspect is picking your vehicle's lubrication fluids which covers the engine, transmission, transfer case (if applicable), and differential. For example, engine oil is available on three different levels which include a conventional, blend, and full synthetic. Conventional oil has the lowest mileage rating for vehicle and is also the cheapest. Working our way up, a blend is a mix of both conventional and synthetic oil, and also tends to be slightly more expensive than a conventional oil with a slightly higher mileage rating maintenance interval. A full synthetic does have a higher installation cost, yet it has the highest mileage rating compared to the other two types. Synthetic is a higher quality oil which in turn reduces friction and wear on your engine as compared to the convention type oil which has the highest friction rating and can increase internal engine wear. The blend on the other hand is a mix of the two which comes half way on the quality and friction rating. As for other components found in your drivetrain that require lubricating fluids such as the transmission, transfer case (if applicable), and differential some may not have the option of an upgrade or they may only have the option of a conventional type oil and synthetic, but no blend.

Next moving onto something slightly more expensive and technical is the engine's form of breathing, both on the intake and exhaust side. Firstly, this does not apply to all vehicles but some will have an air intake which can be very restrictive. Either just the overall design or there will be some form of a sound deadening device within the intake that can reduce both performance and economy. Sometimes it can be as simple as removing that sound deadening device or a small restrictive flap, other times you can buy a fully upgraded air intake. There are various types of aftermarket air intakes on the market consisting of either a cold air intake or a short ram air intake. Both have their pros and cons, which I won't be getting into depth here and again this is dependant on your type of vehicle as to what it will improve. When increasing the airflow of your engine, it is also important to increase how well that engine is able to push out that added airflow. There are more than just a handful of vehicles with very restrictive exhaust systems, starting from the exhaust manifold all the way to the tailpipe. Manufacturers design exhaust systems to serve more than one purpose which include efficiency, performance, and exhaust note. When having to balance all those aspects, it is obviously that one area can suffer. Sometimes it can be as simple as doing a resonator delete, replacing a muffler with an aftermarket option, upgrading the system from the catalytic converter back, or doing a full custom system that does include a performance header. Depending on what upgrade you do pick, you may find it to be less restrictive or actually promote exhaust flow within the design. Remember when picking either the air intake and exhaust upgrades, this will affect the sound of your vehicle as well and it may or may not be to your liking.

A vehicles wheels can also affect how your vehicle can preform with fuel efficiency. Tires tend to play a big role in fuel economy and an inexpensive aspect is air pressure. The generic pressure rating for tires tends to be 32psi, but this can vary between sizes so be sure to consult with the specifications on the side of the tire or your owner's manual. If a tire is under inflated, this creates more drag when rolling and in turn reduces fuel economy. Now don't go off over inflating your tires either as this will cause premature wear and reduce traction. Besides optimizing fuel economy, in general it's also a great preventative maintenance practice to maintain appropriate air pressure. As for the tire type, yes there is a tire which can be purchase on the market that increases fuel economy. These particular tires create a lower friction coefficient, therefore allowing your vehicle to roll more freely which decrease the amount of engine powered used and decreases fuel consumption. When purchasing these tires, they are labelled as being an economical or fuel saving tires and their design characteristics differ from other models available. Beyond tires, we also have the selection of wheel choice. Sure some people enjoy increasing the aesthetics of one's vehicle by increasing the wheel size or design, but this may increase fuel consumption as this can increase weight. With a heavier wheel, your engine is required to use more power to rotate them. Some wheels are rated as being a performance or lightweight upgrade. They are intended for more of a racing application, but can be used to increase economy too.

As for performance improvements on a generalized basis relating specifically to the engine, there are improvements to be made as well. These type of upgrades tend to be more expensive, besides the purchase lightweight wheels. There are a variety of areas that can be improved on the engine consisting of fuel, air, air/fuel mixture, and tuning. For fuel, injectors tend to be a great upgrade but sometimes other modifications will need to be made in order for your engine to run correctly. There are fuel injectors available which provide better fuel atomization, therefore creating an optimum burn or combustion. Next increase the engine's airflow efficiency. Similar to upgrading the air intake, the engine can also have a polish and ported throttle body, air plenum, and head(s). Doing this allows for again, maximum fuel atomization which in turn create an improved burn or combustion. As for an electronic basis, engine computers can be tuned as well to increase fuel economy. Normally that fuel economy is found when the computer is upgrade for a higher horsepower output. As long as you drive on a somewhat reserved basis not using all the power, then this characteristic will be prominent.

Conclusion

In the end there are various types of methods or modifications which can help increase your vehicle's fuel economy. They range from a variety of costs and work involved which include driving style, vehicle's body, interior compartment, and drivetrain. As mentioned earlier not all areas can be applicable to one's vehicle and you will also see different results based on each vehicle. If you are considering any upgrades, the costs will carry based on what that modification maybe or for the vehicle it's being installed on. Be sure to do your research for vehicle specific upgrades to determine if anyone has had any experience specifically related to your situation.