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Maximizing Your Ride’s Winter Gas Mileage

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By Albert Khoury

Winter is coming, and you should know how the cold weather affects your vehicle’s performance and efficiency. First, engine and transmission friction increase in cold temperatures due to cold engine oil and other fluids. It also takes longer for your engine to reach its optimal temperature in the winter. Also a vehicle’s aerodynamic drag is proportional to air density, and the density increases as temperatures drop. Your car has to work harder to move when the air is cold.

All hope is not lost, though. Get a handle on your gas mileage this winter with our driving tips.

1. Don’t idle

It’s a common enough winter site to see a car idling. Resist this temptation! It does nothing for your engine. It does, however, lower your gas mileage. This is because an idling car is getting zero mpg. Letting your car idle will not make it easier for the engine to warm up. It’s better to start the car and get moving within a minute or so. Keep your speeds low and use gentle acceleration until you see the temperature gauge start to climb.

We understand that you may want to let the car idle to get the heater working, but this too will kick in faster once you start moving!

2. Check your tire pressure

Your tires perform best when properly inflated and can do the job they were designed to do. Tire pressure levels affect traction, braking distance, shock absorption, road noise, and yes, fuel efficiency.

You can improve gas mileage by up to 3% with proper tire pressure. Cold temperatures can cause tire pressure to drop about 1 pound per square inch for every 10-degree drop in temperature.

Check your owner’s manual or the label affixed to your car’s driver’s side door edge for proper tire pressure levels. Use a reliable tire pressure gauge and pump to inflate or deflate each tire as needed. Do this when the car has been idle and the tires are cool, or you’ll get inaccurate readings.

3. Avoid shorter trips

Frequent stops mean more engine idling, which is bad for fuel economy in any weather conditions. It gets worse in the winter, as your car is spending more time at sub-optimal temperatures. You want to keep your engine running while driving as much as possible. Plan your trips to include fewer stops and shorter idle times. This will pay off big over a long winter season.

4. Take it easy with the comfort features

Cold weather makes it harder for your alternator to keep your battery charged. It has to work even harder when you run onboard accessories such as fans, USB chargers, and heated seats. The higher the electrical load, the more power the alternator has to pull from the engine. You want to be comfortable, but don’t run all your accessories at once. Use the heated seats and heater until you’re comfortable and then set them to a lower setting.

Don’t skimp on using your front and rear defrosters! They are critical safety features to keep your glass from frosting up. If you have to choose between having good visibility or plugging in your phone, go with your defrosters.

5. Park it inside

Parking your car in a garage will help to protect the engine, battery, and fluids from the effects of cold weather. This will also make it easier to start up the car in the morning, and the engine will warm up in less time. All this leads to better fuel efficiency.

If you don’t have garage access, cover your car overnight to lock in some of the heat after you’ve driven it. This will also protect your car’s surface from the elements, and if it snows, you won’t have to scrape it off in the morning. Just use a brush to clear it from the car cover.

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