Nine tips to cut costs now that gasoline prices are rising

If you panic whenever you hang the pump by the gas tank, you are not alone.

Fuel costs are rising in these uncertain times. Reducing the fuel tax offers some temporary relief in the short term. Switching to electric driving seemed to be the solution for a long time.

But you can also do a lot to relieve your hip pocket pain.

We spoke to Michael Barber, one of Australia’s top test drivers and automotive engineers, about how to lower your fuel bill.

1. Slow down

The first thing to understand when driving economically with a car is that the more you demand from the engine, the more fuel it consumes.

When driving in the suburbs, most power accelerates the vehicle away from traffic lights.

When driving at high speed on a highway, most power is spent overcoming wind resistance.Nine tips to cut costs now that gasoline prices are rising

The higher the speed, the more force it takes to move the air. Not just a little, but a lot more.

“Suppose your car needs 15 kW of constant power to go 100 km/h on flat terrain,” says Barber.

“If you increase your speed to 110 km/h – a 10 percent increase – you actually need 20 kW of power – a 33 percent increase.”

The impact is just as dramatic the other way around. A cutting speed from 100 km/h to 80 km/h reduces power demand by almost 50 percent.

Of course, if you took that strategy to its limits, you wouldn’t drive at all. And Barber says that’s not a bad idea.

“Drive less,” he insists.

“Combine driving goals: ask your partner to stop by the shops on the way [home]† Team up with friends, family, and neighbors for drop-offs and pick-ups, or use leg power instead.”

2. Accelerate carefully

It’s not just the amount of power we demand from the engine but also the rate at which we consume it that sucks fuel.

Accelerating more slowly is more economical than accelerating.

3. Watch the revs

The tachometer is the other dial in your instrument panel that usually sits next to the speedometer.

It measures engine speed or revolutions per minute (RPM).

The higher the needle arc in that tacho, the faster the motor spins. Higher revs equate to more friction and pumping losses in the engine, which consumes power and thus wastes fuel – no matter how much power the engine sends to the road.

The engine speed is easily controlled via a manual gearbox. The higher the gear, the fewer revs for a given rate.

If your car has an automatic transmission, it’s a matter of learning the upshifting characteristics and encouraging higher gears.

“Sometimes, by accelerating a little more, the car can select the next higher gear, and the engine speed will be lower,” Barber notes.

Keeping an eye on your car’s dashboard can save you money at the Bowser. Photo: Getty

4. Don’t carry extra weight

The heavier the car, the more power it takes to accelerate to speed.

So leave what you don’t need at home: camping gear, sports equipment, and your in-laws (boom, tish!).

Removing items like roof racks and towing mirrors will also reduce wind drag and weight, providing a double benefit.

5. Go with the flow

In urban areas, look ahead and try to read traffic and traffic lights. Remember that accelerating from the morning is a major consumer of fuel. Slowing down moderately and early can keep you from stopping completely.

In hilly terrain, you should drop your speed as you climb a hill and build up again at the bottom.

Cruise control can be a big help on flatter terrain, especially if you lose track of your speed and then accelerate to get back up to speed.

6. Keep an eye on the air conditioner

Putting your car’s climate control system in automatic mode and forgetting it means that the air conditioning compressor is running constantly, providing one to two kilowatts of power and increased fuel consumption.

The compressor also runs in recirculation mode, and when demisting the windshield, it’s worth watching your climate control system and what’s running when.

On the other hand, in hot weather, it is more economical to use the air conditioning system at speed rather than driving with the windows open, as this significantly increases air resistance.

7. Don’t sit still

“If you’re an idler running the engine when you’re waiting to pick up the kids and so on, don’t do that,” Barber says.

“Even idling for five minutes is correct. It can easily add up to one or two liters a week, costing more than ever.”

Barber says you should turn off the engine while waiting at a train crossing or red light. It’s all right.

And don’t bother with the traditional long idle on a cold morning before setting off. Modern engines don’t need it, and some can even be damaged.

Of course, there are times, such as the height of summer, when idling is necessary so that you can keep the air conditioning system working.

You will reduce fuel consumption if you reduce your speed uphill and pick it up again while descending. Photo: Getty

8. Check your tire pressure

Tire pressure and condition are critical to achieving the best possible fuel economy.

“Both tire pressure and wheel alignment affect rolling resistance and tire life,” notes Barber.

Of course, a regular maintenance schedule also keeps the engine running smoothly and the brakes not dragging. When you work well, you both save fuel. And the chance that you will end up on the side of the road with bad luck is also smaller.

9. Buy the right fuel

Do not fill your car with lower quality, cheaper fuel than prescribed, as this could lead to engine damage. But then again, for most car engines, there is no benefit to using a higher quality fuel than recommended.

“Your car is designed and engineered to use a certain type of fuel — more than that is just paying extra at the pump,” explains Barber.

E10 Ethanol is a mixed blessing. It is less efficient than petrol which means a 4% higher fuel consumption, so it has to be more than 4% cheaper to be cost-efficient. Do your sums.

“Often, E10 fuel is 94 or 95 RON compared to normal unleaded 91 RON,” Barber notes.

“If your car requires 94 RON, E10 will probably work better for you than buying premium unleaded.”

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