High Fuel Prices Getting You Down? Don’t Sweat It!

Posted on August 1, 2007 by Bryan Baker

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For nearly as long as there have been automobiles, there has been a race to improve their fuel economy. Many of you are old enough to remember the fuel shortages of 1974 and the havoc that it wreaked on daily life.


I can remember reading in the back advertisers section of Popular Science magazine in late 1975 and seeing an ad for a 100 mpg carburetor and a device to make a car run on water, as well as plans to convert your car to electric power. Sitting in front of my computer 32 years later, I still wonder whatever happened to that carburetor. With the rising cost of fuel eating away at all of our profit margins, I thought I would write a little about fuel savings and the way that small gains in economy can add up into large savings for us all.


TIP 1: Get into Proper Alignment

AS ANYONE WHO has gotten the shopping cart at the grocery store with the wobbly wheel knows, all four wheels have to be pointed in the same direction to travel smoothly and freely. Correct alignment is very important to maintaining good economy. If one wheel is out of line with the others, it drags along, wasting energy and fuel. That drag is also wearing rubber off of your expensive tires (which are also a product of oil). This problem is compounded by the excessive weight of a stretched car and the weight of all its occupants.


As a general rule, I suggest an alignment check every six months. Many of you are DOT compliant, so this could be included in your 90-day inspection cycle. For operators in northern climates with the potholes that result from salt and freezing water, I would recommend a little more often that six months, maybe 90 days. This will also depend on the amount of time your car spends on the road.


TIP 2: Feeling the Pressure

CHECK YOUR TIRE pressure weekly. Under-inflated tires cost you more in fuel than almost any other single item. I keep all of my tires at 42 psi. Always stay below the maximum inflation pressure that is printed on the tire. The vehicle will ride just a little more firm, but the rolling resistance will be much lower, meaning the car does not have to work as hard to roll along, saving you fuel.


TIP 3: I’m in Tune

THE WAY YOUR car runs also has a large impact on fuel economy. Keeping your car in good tune will also save you money on some replacement parts as well. One of the first items on your tune-up list should be your spark plugs. They are usually something nobody thinks about until the engine begins to run rough or misfire. Spark plugs need to be changed every 30,000 miles — period! They are relatively inexpensive, and are of vital importance to fuel economy. Every time a spark plug fires, a little piece of metal vaporizes from its electrodes. As those wear, the gap between them gets larger. The larger that gap is, the harder the coil has to work to fire the spark.


Eventually the gap gets large enough that the spark will not jump, and you get a misfire. All of the gasoline that just went into that cylinder passed right into the tailpipe without providing any energy. I suggest that you use the manufacturer’s recommended part numbers when replacing spark plugs. There are many spark plug companies that claim mileage and performance gains, however when tested, they never seem to show any increases despite the price difference.


As almost anyone that owns a vehicle with Ford’s coil-on plug ignition has found, when the vehicle starts missing, they have to usually replace the coil pack on the affected cylinder as well as the plug. There is a reason for this. The reason is that all of the energy that the coil stored to fire the plug had to go somewhere when the plug did not fire. It went right into the coil winding and turned into heat. This usually causes the coil to fail. Changing spark plugs at 30,000 miles has lowered my coil failure rate to almost zero. At $50 to $80 dollars a coil, that has saved a ton of money.


Tip 4:Your Car Needs to Breathe Clean

Air ANOTHER KEY ELEMENT is your air filter. Your vehicle can’t perform it’s best if it can’t breathe. Just try to run the 50-yard dash without breathing... not an easy task! The same goes for your car. The air filter should be changed regularly. I change mine every oil change, but that is just a personal preference. As the vehicle runs, it uses air at a tremendous rate. All of that air passes thru the filter. As the filter becomes clogged, the engine has to work harder to draw in fresh air. The harder it works, the more fuel it uses.


I use a performance air filter in all of my vehicles. They are the cotton mesh washable type. Companies such as K&N and Fram have air filters like this. I have one spare for each type of vehicle. That way I can wash the old one when I finish the job, not while I am doing the tune up — just slap the spare in and go. I have found that these types of filters actually do give a benefit in the performance of the vehicle, and will help economy.


The fuel filter is perhaps the most neglected piece of the fuel economy mystery. Maybe people think if they put a clean one in, more gas will get to the engine and it will use more. The fuel injectors in a modern engine have passages in them as fine as a human hair. Gasoline is a horrible collector of dirt and water. It seems to suck dirt to it like a magnet. Every drop of fuel that goes into your engine passes through the fuel filter. Keeping it clean keeps the dirt out of the injectors, eliminating clogging. I recommend 15,000-mile change intervals on the fuel filter; some manufacturers use longer intervals, some shorter. A stopped-up fuel filter makes the fuel pump work much harder as well, using more energy. This overworked pump will fail sooner and that is not a cheap fix. It’s simply more money saved by a small investment.

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