Nobody likes to spend more than they have to on gas. In fact, my husband will often go out of his way to save a few cents per gallon (although I’m not sure the math works out when you take into account the extra time on the road, but I digress).
But by making a few changes and keeping up with a few key items you can make a significant difference in the amount of gas you’re using.
Read on for 8 things you can easily do to stretch out your time between fill-ups, complete with action steps in each category that you can take today!
1. Lose the Junk in Your Trunk
I’m not talking about toning your backside, I mean literally take the junk out of your trunk.
I can’t tell you how many foldable chairs, soccer balls, scooters, and bike helmets I cart around in my trunk on a daily basis for no reason other than I forgot to take them out. Really, I only need those things a few times during the week but in the mean time I’m carting around all that extra weight which is doing me no favors when it comes to fuel economy.
If you can lighten your load for your day to day driving you may be able to prolong your next visit to the pump.
Today’s Step: If you don’t use that removable 8th seat, store it in your garage!
2. Slow Down!
Where you headed in such a rush anyway?
Oh right, everywhere.
If you’re anything like me you’re late to everything. Soccer, school, church, doctor appointments, you name it. Even when I’m going somewhere without the kids I still can’t seem to leave on time.
But as hard as it is, even if you’re able to give yourself just 5 more minutes to get somewhere you can reduce the urgency to floor it every time the light turns green.
All of those “jackrabbit starts” as my dad used to call them, really take a toll on your gas mileage. And those sudden stops you’re making as you approach a red light or stop sign aren’t doing your brakes any favors either. Aggressive driving can lower your gas mileage by 15-30% on the highway and 10-40% in stop and go traffic.
Today’s Step: Practice accelerating slowly as you pull away from traffic lights and coasting to a stop instead of slamming on your breaks.
3. Change your air filter, it’s probably gross.
This is one of those things that the mechanics always tell me I need to do when I get my oil changed and usually I just assume they are trying to sell me something I don’t need. Which, don’t get me wrong, could be the case.
So knowing the signs of a worn out air filter can be helpful to avoid getting ripped off. You may be able to tell just by looking at it. If there are black spots on the side where the air enters the filter, it’s probably time to change it.
You can also gauge pretty accurately if it’s time by keeping track of the miles you’ve driven since the last change. Most cars suggest that air filters be replaced every 30,000-45,000 miles. If you drive on dirt roads frequently or sit in a lot of traffic on hot days, that number could be even less.
Thankfully this can be pretty easy and inexpensive to do yourself, so don’t put it off and save yourself some gas money in the process.
Today’s Step: Google how to change your own air filter. Then do it.
4. Check Your Tire Pressure
When was the last time you checked your tires to see if they were properly inflated?
Never? Me too.
Maybe you’re better at keeping up with that kind of thing. I prefer to remain blissfully unaware. But an under-inflated tire can lower your gas mileage by about 0.2% for every 1 psi drop in tire pressure.
So next time you’re pulling into the gas station take advantage of the tire pressure gauge and fill up to the recommended psi. You can find the information you need on a sticker in the driver’s side door jamb. If you don’t see it there check your owner’s manual.
Today’s Step: Order a tire pressure gauge like this one to keep in your glove box. So if you forget to check while you’re at the gas station you can run out to your driveway when you do remember for a quick check up.
5. Pay Attention to that ECO Light
Most minivan models have some sort of indicator in the dashboard to let you know when you’re in the sweet spot as far as fuel economy.
In my Sienna, it’s simply the word “Eco” that illuminates in green to let me know that if I continue to drive at this speed I am getting the most miles out of my tank. Other models will show where you are on a range and shoot you out of that “Eco” zone when you accelerate too hard, simply reminding you that you are using more fuel than you need to. (Please see #2).
Today’s Step: Doing some highway driving today? Set your car on cruise control once that ECO light comes on. You’ll drive less aggressively and actually utilize one of your minivan’s nifty features.
6. Personal Space
I’m a fan, especially on the road. One of our biggest fights in the car is when my husband drives too close to the car in front of us.
It. Kills. Me.
I’m already an anxious person but put me in the passenger seat behind a car that just keeps getting closer and I’m an unstable mess.
If you can give yourself about 5 car lengths between you and the car in front of you, not only will you not feel the need to tap the brakes so often but you’ll increase your fuel economy as well (Are you reading this, Ross?).
Today’s Step: While you’re driving today, take note of how many cars you could squeeze between you and the car in front of you. If it’s less than 5, it’s time to take a social cue and give everyone some much needed personal space.
7. Keep Your Van Squeaky Clean
Ever hear someone say that a clean car runs better? Well, believe it or not, it does. When you wash your car regularly and keep a nice coat of wax on it you are actually increasing the aerodynamics of your vehicle.
Minivans already have a relatively aerodynamic shape, but by removing the friction (aka dirt), you are allowing it to slice through the air more affectively.
There is actually an episode of Myth Busters where they test this theory and it turns out it’s entirely true! They tested the MPG of both a clean and dirty car and were able to increase the MPG from 24 to 26 mpg. That really adds up over time!
Today’s Step: Take a trip to the car wash, or if the weather is right, set up a car wash in your drive-way and put the kids to work. Apply a nice coat of car wax if you feel like being a little extra.
(This is a great productto keep in your garage so that you can apply it after each wash, it’s easy and cheaper than paying for a full-service car detail.)
8. Turn Off Your Car
Waiting more than a few minutes in that school pick up line? Turn off your engine while you wait.
I’ve always assumed that it was more fuel efficient to leave the car on than to use the gas to start up the engine. But it actually only takes 10 seconds worth of fuel to restart your car.
Idling, on the other hand, can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour. So if you won’t suffocate from the heat, turn off your engine, roll down your windows, and enjoy some fresh air while you wait for you kids.
Today’s Step: This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Waiting? = Turn off the car ;).
So while there are definitely other tricks to extending the life of your last tank of gas, these are some quick and easy ones you can tackle today. Have a trick you’ve learned along the way? Leave it in the comments below.