Here are some tips to ease the pain of filling up. They'll also help reduce the overall level of vehicle emissions.
Top 3 tips
- Plan your travel and try to drive less.
- Check your tyre pressures.
- Drive smoothly and more slowly on the open road.
The big picture
- Plan your travel. Make as few trips as possible. Combine multiple trips into 1 or 2 a week. If possible, avoid main centres in the rush hour - but at least try to minimise the time you spend in heavy traffic. Sitting in a jam wastes fuel. Try to avoid major road works if you're planning a longer trip (for road works, check the AA RoadWatch site).
- Bus, bike, train or walk. Work out how much you'll save if you leave the car at home 1 or 2 days a week. For small amounts of shopping, walk to the shop rather than drive.
- Carpool. If you do a regular commute, check out carpooling opportunities.
- Think smaller. Look at a smaller car if you're planning to replace your vehicle. The Fuelsaver and Rightcar websites have fuel-economy data for many current and older New Zealand models. Or consider buying a diesel car - although these are often a little more expensive than petrol models. New diesel-engine technology runs much cleaner and is always more efficient than petrol.
Keeping your car in shape
- Get the car serviced. Have the wheel alignment and engine tuning (including air filter and spark plugs) checked.
- Check your tyre pressures. Use the simplest vehicle-maintenance trick: keeping tyres pumped to at least their recommended pressure gives you significant fuel savings. Pump up to the maker's recommended maximum pressures when you're driving at higher speeds (or when you're carrying heavy loads at lower speeds). It all helps you save a little extra.
- Keep the drag down. Every 25kg of weight increases fuel consumption by 1 percent. Roof racks add an extra 5 percent or more. Open windows make the car less streamlined and even the air conditioning is a drag on the motor. Both add to the cost.
- Fill the tank to the first automatic cut-off click. Overflow wastes your dollars.
- Drive smoothly. Accelerate steadily and smoothly, changing gears early but not labouring the engine at any time. For automatics select "economy" or "overdrive".
- Treat the accelerator as if it has a nail poking up into your bare foot. You'll be fine with gentle, steady pressure, but any sudden acceleration is really going to hurt.
- Keep within the speed limit and what is safe for the conditions. Travelling at 100km/h instead of 110km/h will cut around 13 percent off your fuel bill.
- Look ahead 3 or more cars. If they're turning or slowing, ease off early rather than waiting and braking.
- Ease through the corners. Take a smooth line and minimise movement of the steering wheel. Don't accelerate on short straights - you'll only have to slow again, saving little time and wasting fuel.
- When climbing hills, ease off the accelerator when approaching the top, and use gravity to help you regain cruising speed on the other side. But don't hold up the following traffic.
- Reduce idling time. If you're going to be idling for more than 30 seconds, switch the engine off - provided it's safe to do so. Reducing idle time also applies from a cold start. Move off as soon as possible after starting the engine, but keep light on the accelerator until the engine has warmed up. If you drive an auto - pop it into neutral while waiting at the lights.
- Turn off the air-conditioning. Reduce use of the air-con, but remember - staying cool on summer trips keeps you alert. Alert drivers are safer drivers. Don't open the windows at highway speeds - this causes drag, which will cost more than using the ventilation fan.
Measuring fuel economy
We used to state fuel economy in terms of the number of miles you could drive on a gallon of petrol. The bigger the number, the better the economy. Now, it's usually expressed as litres per 100 kilometres - which means the smaller the number, the better the result.
If you want to know how well you're doing, fill the car to the auto-cut-off point, record the odometer reading and drive. When you next put in petrol, try to use the same pump, with the car facing the same way on the forecourt. Fill the car to the same point. Multiply the number of litres you put in the second time by 100, and divide by the number of kilometres you drove. That's your fuel economy. It won't be precise, but you'll get a reasonably good idea.