Zen and the art of fuel efficiency

LAST UPDATED: 5 Jul, 2008 @ 09:44
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After the fuel crisis of a fortnight ago many people will be looking for more economical ways to remain on the road. Here are our Top Ten tips:

UNLESS you live in one of Andalucia’s big cities or along the narrow coastal strip better served by public transport, it is difficult to avoid using your car.

Sadly the car in rural Andalucia is anything but a luxury. It’s a basic essential of everyday life that can’t be wished away despite the surging price of fuel and the recent crisis that saw hundreds of petrol stations closing around the region.

There is however plenty you can do right now to reduce the cost of your motoring and to improve the fuel-efficiency of your vehicle.

Scouring the Internet and referring to some of the major motoring and environmental organisations, we’ve come up with ten handy tips to help you get the most out of your wheels and reduce the impact on your family budget as fuel prices soar.

Get a more fuel-efficient car

While you don’t need to be Mastermind to work this out, it’s worth putting at Number One because, according to What Car? magazine, people still make their decisions on the kind of car to buy on a surprisingly irrational basis. Although fuel consumption is increasing in importance to drivers, in a survey of new car buyers acceleration from 0 to 100kmh and the number of extra features included in a package had more importance than the fuel consumption.

Many people believe that given the often less-than-perfect state of rural roads, the best bet is to buy a 4×4, all-terrain vehicle.

There seems a certain logic to this but it’s false logic. In the UK’s Motoring Watchdog Group’s survey of the most and least fuel-efficient vehicles, nine out of the ten worst performing vehicles were 4x4s.

BMW’s X5, the Land Rover Defender and Mitsubishi Shoguns cost a fortune to keep topped-up. Do you really need one? How many times a week do you really need to drive off-road?

For day-to-day running a Citroen C1, for example, wll give you 83MPG against 29MPG for a Land Rover Defender.

If you drive an average of 16,000km a year that’s a difference of over a 1,000? in fuel alone, not to mention vastly higher maintenance, insurance and depreciation costs.

Drive differently

Like half the male drivers in Andalucia you don’t need to zoom up to and away from junctions as if you have a woman about to give birth on the back seat. There are certain ways of driving that can radically improve your vehicle’s efficiency. Drive in the highest gear possible, don’t over-rev your engine, drive more smoothly and at a more even speed and your fuel will last longer.

Use your AirCon less

If you can do without it, do without it. AirCon systems, although more efficient than they used to be, still have a big impact on your car’s consumption. It is true that driving with the windows down has a negative effect on a vehicle’s aerodynamics but experts agree that below 70km/hr it is more fuel friendly to do this than to have your passenger space cooled like the inside of a Zanussi.

Make sure your car is properly maintained

There are several easy ways to make sure your car doesn’t use more fuel needlessly. Make sure the tyres are inflated to the correct pressure; make sure the wheels are properly aligned; make sure the filters and oil are changed regularly. On their own, each of these measures makes a very small difference but put together they can improve your fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent.

Lose weight

Cut out sweets and fatty foods and your car will love you more. No, not really dumbo! You need to reduce the weight of your car to improve its efficiency. Don’t carry around gear in your car that you don’t need. Some people’s boots are used as extra home-storage capacity. If you don’t need that tent/toy box/tool kit every day, keep it at home. Every 50kg of extra weight reduces your car’s fuel efficiency by an incredible two per cent!

Cut out the drag

If you don’t need to use your roof rack regularly, take it off. Extra drag has a big effect on fuel consumption. Also, do you really need to be flying that flag from your radio aerial? Okay, it’s not the worst thing you could do in fuel efficiency terms, but lose it anyway, it’s really very chavvy!

Multi-task

Combine trips and reduce the number of times you do the same route. Obvious perhaps, but the point of an article like this is to make everyone think a little about the blasé way we use our cars in the modern era. There are consequences to the environment and to the family budget that can be avoided by eliminating thoughtless reliance on motor vehicles. Think of it as Zen and the Art of Fuel Efficiency!

Offer lifts, ask for lifts

Talk to friends who often do similar journeys to the ones you do every day and see if you can’t coordinate and take one car instead of two. There is a downside, of course. Busy people want to go shopping when they want and at a moment’s notice and you can’t do that if Conchi’s never ready before 11.30am. The compensations are worth considering too, however. Not only are you acting responsibly, you might get to know your neighbours better and enjoy some social interaction and learn a bit of Spanish while carrying out your regular chores.

Don’t overfill your tank

This is especially relevant to life in an Andalucian summer. Your fuel expands as the temperature rises. If you fill your tank right up to the brim, not only are you carrying the extra fuel load but the petrol or diesel has no way of expanding and you could damage the tank

Think when you fill

When you get to the end of filling your tank, make sure you give the pump time to drain into your tank. Don’t take the hose straight out of the filler cap. You’ll get a few decilitres extra and you won’t leave a trail of fuel dribbling down your paintwork. Also, fill in the morning or evening, not in the midday sun. You are charged by the volume of fuel your buy but when fuel is hot it is less dense and hence you get less of it in your litre. Always try to refuel when it’s cool. Now that’s a top tip!

Obviously, one or two of these measures only make a tiny improvement to the fuel efficiency of your vehicle but taken together your could improve your consumption by 20 to 30 per cent and save yourself a lot of money. The knock-on is that you are also doing the environment a favour too, and that can’t be bad.

So, anyone interested in a 15-year-old Defender with roof rack, dodgy steering, dirty filters and flat tyres? No, thought not.

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