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Can I make my car more fuel efficient?

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Updated 31 Oct 2019

Bruce McMahon

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Clean and match-fit cars are happy cars, more economical to run and nicer to drive.

While today’s fuel - and emission - savings are controlled largely by swags of sensors and computer chips, there are still ways to save on petrol and diesel.

Most are obvious enough, but time-poor drivers often forget, or forgo, some basics.

A regular service, as per the manufacturer’s handbook schedule, is one of those.

A clean car and driving habits also play their parts.

Neat and tidy

The first step to saving some fuel is cleaning up and de-cluttering the car - inside and out.

Do the kids’ football kits need to be sitting in the boot all through summer?

Do you need that roof rack out of the holiday season?

A good tidy up, a good clean-out and vacuuming, can unload a couple of unwanted kilograms with the benefit of making the interior more welcoming.

And keep the exterior, in particular the glass, clean; the body doesn’t have to be spotless but it makes it easier to spot any issues.

Lighter cars run better, happier drivers steer better and that should make for fuel savings.

Drive clean

Driving habits can make some of the biggest differences to fuel economy.

There’s an old line about imagining a carton of eggs under the accelerator, meaning treat that pedal with respect.

So, smooth and steady acceleration and deceleration is best.

This doesn’t mean driving slow - better to get the vehicle rolling at the speed limit with ‘authority’ and into its best fuel-saving gears.

Read the traffic ahead, avoid sudden stops. Keep off the brake pedal as much as possible - how often do brake lights flash ahead when people baulk at a slight turn?

Try taking the foot off the accelerator a tad to slow down.

Less heavy, and less timid, acceleration plus less braking will save fuel.

The right rubber

Some argue tyres should be pumped beyond the manufacturer’s recommended pressures.

The idea is this lessens the rolling resistance and means less work for the engine.

Yet this could be a false economy; over-inflation can lead to irregular tyre wear and a need for new rubber which would offset any fuel economy gains.

The right size tyre, with correct pressure and tread pattern, for your car is important for efficiencies - as are balanced wheels and correct front end alignment.

Service on time

While there may be fewer components in an engine bay these days, there remain elements which need to be in good order for best fuel economies.

Items such as fuel, air and oil filters, engine and transmission fluids should be checked on a regular basis, as set out in the vehicle’s maintenance guide.

Belts, hoses and all fluid levels need to be in top condition. Air conditioning should be running in peak condition.

Some of these can be checked by the ‘home’ mechanic and it is an idea to look under the bonnet from time to time.

Yet for prime results have the vehicle serviced, on time, by an expert.

Any element that’s not in good shape, and therefore compromising engine efficiency, will affect fuel economy.

Find your efficiency expert on AutoGuru.

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Written By

Bruce McMahon

Bruce McMahon is a Queensland-based journalist who’s spent a fair slice of his career dealing with automotive matters.

His first car was a 1949 Riley Roadster, followed by a mix of machinery from Porsches to Jeeps, Alfa Romeos and Range Rovers through to the current four-wheel drive Mazda ute.

He’s driven the Nurburgring and the Tanami Tracks.