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Winter Fuel Economy Tips

What causes the winter decreases in mileage?

Fuel economy drops during cold weather. We pay the price not only at the pump but indirectly with increased emissions and their effect on the environment.

Winter fuel economy drops predominately due to the increased friction caused by the thickening of the fluids that lubricate a car's engine and drive train. Also, a vehicle's tires have increased rolling resistance when extremely cold because the rubber is stiffer, and air pressure drops significantly as temperatures get colder. The shorter, colder days also lead to more fuel being used to run electronics such as headlights and heaters.

Additionally, fuel burns less efficiently until the engine gets up to its optimum operating temperature. This is because fuels don't evaporate fully in the cold weather, resulting in incomplete combustion, using more fuel, and potentially causing engine problems.

What can we do to maximize fuel economy during winter?

  • Warm up your vehicle by driving it. There is no benefit to letting your car warm up more than 30 seconds before you drive off. It only wastes fuel and releases needless greenhouse gases. Research shows that only 30 seconds of idling is needed to circulate the engine oil on cold days. Avoid driving at high speeds for the first three miles of your trip when the temperature is below zero to avoid engine wear.
  • When running errands, always go to the farthest destination first. This will warm up the engine and make it more efficient for your other stops during the day.
  • Keep your vehicle in a garage where it is warmer, thus reducing the time to achieve optimal operating temperatures.
  • Clean snow and ice off before you hit the road to make your car lighter and more aerodynamic. Don't run the engine to clear the windows of ice-use an ice scraper to save fuel.
  • Allow more time for travel on slippery winter roads. Speeding will decrease your fuel economy, since most vehicles achieve maximum efficiency at about 60 mph. A few miles per hour decrease in speed will significantly increase fuel economy and might help you avoid accidents.

Additional tips to keep the air clean in winter:

Keep your gas tank full on cold nights. A half-empty tank will need fuel additives to dry up water condensation. These fuel additives often contain volatile compounds which, if spilled, evaporate and cause air pollution.

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