Back in the good ol’ days of $2.50-per-gallon gasoline, you could ignore simple car maintenance. After all, what was it costing you? A buck here and a buck there? But when prices hit the $4 mark, things changed. Now, every cent counts, and you can save a surprising amount of scratch by performing a few simple maintenance tasks yourself. We’ve put together a quick list of five basics from Jalopnik’s “How To” series, ranked from easiest to most difficult, that can help any vehicle owner squeeze a few extra MPG (Miles Per Gallon) out of their daily driver.
1. Fill Up Smart
It doesn’t get easier than this. Fill up your vehicle during the coolest part of the day. With older pumps that don’t have a temperature-compensating flow meter, fuel is denser when it’s cool, so you actually get more for your money when you pump gas in the early AM instead of filling up at 5:30PM on your way home from work. Also, if you really want to penny-pinch, and you don’t need to be using premium fuel in your car, ditch the premium gas and use the cheaper stuff. Finally, stay away from E85 – the ethanol-mixed fuel provides lower fuel economy than the pure stuff.
2. Keep Your Car Clean
First off, wash and wax your car – it doesn’t just look good, it actually lowers the wind resistance of your vehicle. No, not by much, but every little bit helps, remember? More importantly, clean out the inside of your vehicle, particularly any unnecessary boxes of heavy junk you have in the hatch/trunk/backseat. By removing weight, you can improve fuel economy. Just keep the baby seat installed.
3. Check Your Tire Pressure
Underinflated tires take more energy to push down the road so check your tire pressure often. Invest a few dollars in a good dial-type tire pressure gauge and use it to check your tire pressure once a week. Even if the pressure is only a couple PSI low, you’re burning a lot more fuel than you need to.
4. Change The Air Filter
If your engine’s wheezing and has to work harder bringing in the air it needs to burn fuel efficiently, it doesn’t complain to you. It simply burns more fuel. By replacing your air filter annually, or biannually if you live in a dusty area, you’ll ensure the engine can breathe freely. Consult your owner’s manual for filter changing instructions – it’s usually a straightforward process. While it won’t save you dollars per fill-up, it could save you at least the price of an air filter each year depending on your mileage.
5. Replace Your Spark Plugs
Worn spark plugs can’t ignite the air/fuel mixture in your engine as effectively, resulting in more fuel used for a given amount of power produced. Depending upon the vehicle you drive, your spark plugs may need to be changed as often as yearly or as rarely as once a decade or so. Again, consult your owner’s manual for details. Note that we’re now getting into “real work.” If you drive an older vehicle with an inline engine, changing plugs can be done in as little as an hour. A transverse V6, like that commonly found on minivans and domestic sedans, can be an entirely different story involving bloody knuckles, part removal, flex sockets, and extensive cursing. If your car is due for plug replacement and you’re not up to the task, a competent shop should be able to do the work for a reasonable fee
Once you’ve mastered these automotive basics, you can drive confident in the knowledge that you’re doing everything you can to make your car as efficient as possible. Plus, you may have gained enough confidence that you’re ready to tackle more complicated projects, so good luck and happy wrenching.