Vehicles

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

Bryan Baker
Posted on August 1, 2007

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.

 

Tip 5: Wires, Coils, Caps, Rotors, and Fans

OTHER ITEMS TO check at tune-up time:

Plug wires: Be sure they are all in good condition and are not frayed or cracked.

Coils: be sure all coils are functioning properly and all electrical plugs are inserted securely.

Distributer caps and rotors: For the vehicles still using this set-up, it is also good to check them during every other oil change, and change every 45,000 miles.

Clutch fans: Fans are made to activate when the vehicle needs cooling to normal operating temperature. Clutch fans operate off your belt system and require extra energy when active. If your clutch remains engaged, the fan will always be drawing energy from your pulley system, therefore hindering your vehicle’s economy.

 

TIP 6: Drive the Right Way

DRIVING STYLE IS perhaps the largest factor when it comes to fuel economy. Jack-rabbit starts and high-speed driving creates insane fuel waste. How many of us have been at the airport and watched a cab zoom away in a huge cloud of exhaust, engine roaring? How many times have you wondered if your vehicles are leaving like that? I know we all like to think that our chauffeurs would NEVER do anything like that, but in reality, they do.

 

Flight changes and the day-today reality of last minute added runs can lead to the urge to hurry to get there. Tracking fuel mileage per vehicle is not very hard, takes very little time, and can help you catch a car that is having an issue, or a driver that is having lunch across town between pickups. It can also alert you to fraud or theft. Most of the fleet fuel systems will track it for you and send a report detailing fuel use and miles per gallon per vehicle.

 

TIP 7: Being Idle Can Be a Good Thing

INSTITUTING AN IDLING policy can save you at the pump as well. Summer and the heat that comes with it are here. Weddings are plentiful and no doubt your cars are spending a large amount of time idling in front of churches and reception halls, trying to stay cool. Some companies have a 15 minute idling policy that if the car is not going to move in the next 15 minutes, it is shut off. This can be a double-edged sword, though, because the car will start to heat up inside the moment the air stops and let’s face it, it can be hard to cool a big car down quickly. If you choose to try this, I would have your drivers look for shady spots to park under if possible. This will minimize the heat build up in the car.

 

TIP 8: Manage & Dispatch Chauffeurs Well

HERE ARE A few more tips to help eliminate costly chauffeur driving habits:

• Randomly do ride-alongs or mystery rides for all chauffeurs.

• Periodically hold chauffeur retraining classes to help eliminate bad driving (and chauffeuring) habits.

• Provide monthly incentive bonuses to the chauffeur who gets the best fuel economy from their particular vehicle type. This will also make the chauffeur more aware if the vehicle develops a problem that decreases its fuel economy.

• Dispatch smart: Dispatch jobs so all vehicles with multiple jobs are operating in a smaller area. Why have a vehicle run all the way across town for a pick up when you already have a vehicle operating in that area?

 

All of this brings us back to the start of this article, the 100 mpg carburetor. It seems that when gas prices rise, another industry springs to life. The hucksters and charlatans will promise huge economy gains with a magic pill placed in the tank, or a device placed in the intake to straighten out the air coming into the engine, or spark plugs with split tips or multiple electrodes. I have seen many promises of gains over the years, and have tried some; most failed, some did actual damage. I have actually also had one that worked. Fuel Miser is a product that claims to give an average fuel economy gain of 7% to 12%. The company offers a money-back guarantee if you do not see a 10% increase, no questions asked. I have one on my ser vice vehicle and can verify a 12% increase in fuel economy. I cannot tell you why it works but I can tell you for a fact that it does.

 

Fuel costs are on everyone’s mind and I hope that some of the tips provided here can assist in cutting a few dollars off of your cost column and moving them back to your profit column.

 

BRYAN BAKER is co-owner of Affordable Elegance Limousine in Huntsville, Ala. He also provides repair and maintenance to limousines in the area, and serves as LCT’s Dr. Limo.

Related Topics: dispatching, driver behavior, fleet managers, fuel efficiency, improving chauffeur driving style, maintenance tips, reducing fleet idle time, tires and wheels

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