Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Vacation Road Trips

Ah, summertime. Picnics, watermelon, the pool... and for many -- vacations. And lots of those vacations are by car.

To be prepared for the road this summer, here's a few tips from, the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information.

Assuming you're not going to buy a new car just for the trip, it really boils down to three main areas to maximize your fuel economy:
  • Driving more efficiently
  • Keeping your car in shape
  • Planning and combining trips

Driving More Efficiently

  • The first thing you can do is drive sensibly. Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money.
  • Second, observe the speed limit. While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.25 per gallon for gas. 
  • Next, avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by up to 2 percent. The reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle's weight and affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.
  • In addition, avoid excessive idling; use cruise control, which helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas; and use overdrive, because when you use overdrive gearing, your car's engine speed goes down. This saves gas and reduces engine wear.  

Keeping Your Car in Shape

  • Before heading out for vacation, make sure your engine is properly tuned. Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, though results vary based on the kind of repair and how well it is done.
  • Keep your tires inflated. You can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.
  • And before hitting the road, get an oil change. You'll improve your gas mileage by 1–2 percent by using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil. For example, using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed to use 5W-30 can lower your gas mileage by 1–2 percent. Using 5W-30 in an engine designed for 5W-20 can lower your gas mileage by 1–1.5 percent.

Planning and Combining Trips

If you're taking a day trip or lots of stops on a longer trip, remember that combining errands into one trip saves you time and money. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm. Trip planning ensures that traveling is done when the engine is warmed-up and efficient, and it can reduce the distance you travel.

Final Tip

A roof rack or carrier provides additional cargo space and may allow you to meet your needs with a smaller car. However, a loaded roof rack can decrease your fuel economy by 5 percent. Reduce aerodynamic drag and improve your fuel economy by placing items inside the trunk whenever possible Avoid carrying unneeded items, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 lbs in the trunk reduces a typical car's fuel economy by 1-2 percent.

Information courtesy of

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