EV car driving

Although you may dream of buying a hybrid or an electric vehicle, many of us have to drive the cars we already have, at least for the time being. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do with driving habits and car maintenance to boost fuel economy and improve energy efficiency. Whether you want to save money or cut your carbon footprint (or ideally both!), check out these tips and learn to save green at the pump.

1. Use Your Brakes Sparingly

Yes, they are a great invention, and safe driving practices involve using your brakes. Although there is certainly a time and place for applying the brakes, they can also be overused. Let the car coast before approaching stop signs, stoplights and congested areas where you will likely need to slow down. Your gas tank loves it when you lay off both the accelerator and the brake, as it saves a lot of gas. Laying off the brakes saves gasoline because most cars merely waste energy when the brakes are applied. Some cars, such as the Toyota Prius, have regenerative braking systems that capture some of the kinetic energy and transfer it to the battery, but such systems aren’t completely efficient.

2. Roll Up the Windows at High Speeds

Rolling down the windows makes your car less aerodynamic, causing it to consume more fuel. This is true at all speeds, but even more so at high speeds. The exact numbers vary by the car, but the air conditioning is usually more efficient than rolling down the windows at speeds above 60 miles per hour. At lower speeds, it saves energy to roll down the windows and turn off the air conditioner, according to Popular Mechanics.

3. Combine Trips

Planning ahead can cut the miles you drive. Combine errands and outings to save gas by avoiding unneeded trips. Combining trips in cold weather can also save gas because the engine is warmer and therefore more efficient (see tip #5 for more about this). Combining trips also saves wear and tear on the car by cutting down on the miles you drive.

4. Let the Car Coast

We are often in such a big hurry that we accelerate up to stop signs and busy crosswalks. In many cases, this accelerating doesn’t result in arriving at the destination sooner, but it does waste gasoline. As we learned in tip #1, cars love to coast, so relax and take your foot off the gas pedal.

5. Limit Cold-Weather Driving

A fuel economy gauge reveals that cars consume more gasoline in cold weather. In fact, a car uses 12 percent more gasoline when it is 20°F than it does at 77°F, according to U.S. Department of Energy. Fuel economy can drop by 22 percent for short trips of less than four miles because the engine and transmission friction increase from cold engine oil and other factors.

6. Use a Driver Feedback Device

If your car has a fuel efficiency gauge, use it to learn more gas-efficient driving techniques. Such devices can improve fuel economy by 3 to 10 percent by giving drivers valuable feedback on saving energy.

7. Monitor Your Speed

Although this varies by the make and model of the vehicle, most cars are less fuel efficient over 50 miles per hour. Keep in mind, however, that driving significantly slower than the flow of traffic can be dangerous. Use your best judgment to determine your speed while considering fuel economy and safety.

8. Avoid Unnecessary Idling

An idling car can consume between a quarter and a half gallon of fuel per hour. Whenever possible, turn the vehicle off when not moving.

9. Remove Excess Cargo

Although the figures vary by vehicle, driving with more weight consumes more gasoline. In general, every extra 100 pounds reduces fuel economy by 1 percent. So unless you’re actively using it, remove that roof rack and take anything out of the trunk that’s not an emergency supply.

10. Maintain Recommended Tire Pressure

Do you regularly check your tires to determine if you have the recommended tire pressure? If not, this is a great habit to adopt. Maintaining your tires at the ideal pressure helps them wear evenly, extending the life of the tires. It also helps save gas. This is because of the rolling resistance associated with properly inflated tires. To determine the ideal pressure for your car, simply refer to the sticker in the door jamb.

11. Drive with a Clean Air Filter

Your engine requires airflow, and having just the right amount of airflow enhances engine performance. A clogged filter restricts airflow, which requires your car to work harder to travel the same distance. It is often recommended to change the air filter every 12,000 miles or every 12 months, but this varies with driving conditions. If you frequently travel on dirt roads, it’s recommended to change the filter more often. In the worst-case scenario, you can improve fuel economy by 10 percent by changing the filter.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.