Dropping The Dead Weight

By Sharon Naylor

February 2, 2012 5 min read

The price of fuel continues to hit the average American's wallet hard with each fill-up. With some easy changes, though, you may find yourself filling up your gas tank far less often -- and saving money in the process. Here are some smart strategies that can help you get better fuel efficiency from your car.

--Remove all unnecessary items.

If you're lugging around heavy boxes of sports supplies, books or other items, your car has to work harder. According to the energy efficiency site EarthEasy.com, an extra 100 pounds of cargo increases fuel consumption per tank of gas by 1 to 2 percent. The drag of heavy cargo creates more waste in stop-and-go driving, so it's best to remove all unnecessary packages, boxes and other items from your car.

Some energy efficiency experts even suggest taking out removable seats and benches that you don't use on a regular basis to further lighten your load. But don't go too far in weight reduction, such as removing your spare tire and tools from your trunk. You always want to keep safety supplies handy. It's the too-lazy-to-put-this-in-the-garage junk in your car that's wasting your fuel money.

--Remove any unused racks from your car.

When empty luggage bike racks are affixed to your car, they create drag because the air traveling over and down your car's profile hits the vertical resistance of these units. If it's too inconvenient to remove these racks, simply remove the cross bars to reduce frontal-area drag.

--Drive with your windows and sunroof closed. When these portals are open, air flows inside your car while you're driving and creates a drag effect similar to an open parachute. According to EarthEasy.com's experts, "At higher speeds, using the (air conditioning) may be more efficient than the wind resistance from open windows and sunroof. Later model cars have more efficient air conditioning units, and the fuel saved by shutting down the A/C is not significant. In newer vehicles, roll up the windows and enjoy the A/C during hot weather."

--Remove your vehicle's rear spoiler.

...Or choose a car that doesn't have a rear spoiler. This feature is for racing, not for street use, and having yours professionally removed by your mechanic can significantly reduce your drag quotient.

--Maintain proper tire inflation.

EarthEasy.com's experts say, "Under-inflated tires can cause fuel consumption to increase by as much as 6 percent" and advise you to check your tire pressure at least once a month when your tires are "cold" (when the vehicle has not been driven for at least three hours). Use a handheld tire inflation gauge and follow directions in your vehicle's manual, checking to be sure your front and back tires are inflated to the set pressures suggested for each by the manufacturer. If any tire is underinflated, head to your gas station to check the pressure again, and then use the station's air inflator to bring each of your tires to within their optimal pressure range as noted in your manual and often on a sticker inside your car door well.

"Radial tires can be under-inflated yet still look normal," warns EarthEasy.com. "On average, tires lose about 1 (pound per square inch) per month and 1 PSI for every 10-degree drop in temperature." Never inflate your car tires to the maximum allowed pressure marked on your tires, thinking that fuller tires would be better. Over-inflated tires can, in fact, explode, so stay within the suggested range.

--Keep the top up.

Fuel efficiency site Fuel-Economy.co.uk's experts suggest that convertible drivers should always drive on highways with their top up, which may not be as much fun but reduces a large amount of drag on faster roadways.

--Remove flags, banners and antenna decor.

These decorative items for team pride, school spirit, patriotism and other statements are ideal for displaying your message when the car is parked, but remove them for the drive. They may be small, but any item impeding the jetstream of aerodynamics will negatively affect your fuel efficiency.

--Run a well-maintained car.

Fresh oil and clean air filters allow your vehicle to run more efficiently, and your car's variety of lubricants and other essentials also maximize the car's performance. When you take great care of your vehicle's maintenance needs, it will cost you less to use and enjoy, so book that overdue appointment at your mechanic's shop right now, and research new cars at FuelEconomy.gov.

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