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Trimming petrol consumption

I shouldn’t have to list the reasons why you should drive more frugally and use less petrol.  You can probably think of the same ones as I can, and possibly more.  But this is where the rubber hits the road:  how do you drive more frugally?  How can you cut down on petrol consumption without selling your family-sized Ford Falcon or similar and squashing three teenagers, two adults, the dog and the luggage into a pint-sized hatchback?  (However, if you are a singleton or a couple, then considering a new fuel-efficient small vehicle might be a good option.  And even small, frugal hatches can be quite hot and sporty – believe me!)

Try these petrol-saving tips on for size (and give yourself a pat on the back if you already do any of them):

  1. Discover what your feet are for.  If you’re just popping down to the dairy or to post a letter, don’t use the car!  Obviously, this will save petrol because you’re not actually using the car, but you’re actually saving more than you think.  Stop-start driving and cold running is less efficient than long runs and hot running.  Distances of less than 2 km are easy enough for the average person to walk, and in rush hour traffic when the roads are congested, you can sometimes overtake the gridlocked cars, all chewing through the petrol at a standstill…  You might also be able to do without your gym membership, which makes for another saving. 
  2. Drive like a smooth dude.  Rough, jerky driving involving rapid takeoffs and sharp braking chomps the fuel more than taking things smoothly.  Not only will this demand less of your engine, but you’ll also make things more comfortable for your passengers.  Keep an eye on the road ahead so you can anticipate red lights, sharp corners and stop signs – gentle easing off and braking is more fuel efficient.  Keep your distance when following so you don’t have to bang on the brakes in a hurry if the driver in front stops for that daft stray dog that has wandered into the road.
  3. Remember your high school physics, especially the bits about momentum and gravity when doing hill driving.  If you build up speed before you approach a slope, your momentum will do a lot of the work for you, rather than leaving it all to the engine.  Same goes for at the top of the slope – gravity will provide a bit of acceleration, so ease off.  However, it’s probably not the best idea to do what a friend of mine in La Paz, Bolivia, used to do.  At the top of one of the big slopes that formed a main artery through the town, he would switch the ignition off at the top and let gravity take his beloved VW Beetle down, with the aim being to see how far we could get on momentum alone (usually the traffic lights).  This can be hazardous, as a lot of safety bits need the ignition going to be deployed, and the gearing can be used to slow you down if things get a bit hairy.
  4. Service with a smile.  A well-maintained car doesn’t have to work as hard, and is thus more fuel efficient.  You know how much harder it seems to do everything when you’re not feeling quite 100%?  Your car feels the same.
  5. Blow the whistle on the bells and whistles.  Yes, the convenience features are convenient.  But switch them off when you don’t need them, as they can slurp bits from your engine.  The biggest culprit here is air-con – having this on increases fuel consumption by about 8%.  While air-con is a sanity saver during the Australian summer, if you don’t really need it, switch it off.  Sometimes, you can get away with opening the windows and letting the breeze cool you.
  6. Take a load off.  Back to basic physics again, folks!  The heavier the load inside your car, the harder the engine will have to work to get it up to speed.  This is why car designers strive to reduce the weight of components: it makes the car more economical.  If you don’t actually need your cricket gear in the back this time, take it out.
  7. Take another load off.  Roof racks increase your drag, which increases your petrol consumption, as you’ve lost some of the aerodynamics of your vehicle.  By all means put the roof rack on when you’re off on holiday and need to carry the kayak and the tents, but once you’re back home, remove the roof rack (a bit harder to do if you have integral roof rails, but these tend to have been factored into the aerodynamics of the exterior design).
  8. Don’t sit idle.  Idling is a real gas-guzzler, so avoid it as much as possible.  Turn the engine on once all the passengers are inside, rather than sitting there with the motor running waiting for little Justin to finish tying his shoes and get in the ruddy car.  Take the scenic route rather than main drags if you know the traffic will be heavy and congested.  Avoid travelling during rush hour if you don’t have to. 
  9. Keep it legal.  The more you go over the speed limit, the more your fuel consumption goes up.  Just because your car can do 200 km/h in ease and comfort doesn’t mean that you should.  You also avoid speeding tickets.
  10. Teach an old dog new tricks.  Most modern cars don’t need to be warmed up before getting underway, so don’t bother doing this, unless it’s really cold or you haven’t driven the car for a long time.  Just starting off gently (see tip number 2) will do the job of warming up the engine.