Friday, January 23, 2009

11 Car-Care Tips that Save Gas

Fill up with a lower-octane gasoline. Buy the lowest grade or octane of gasoline that is appropriate for your car. Unless your car requires premium gasoline, filling up your car with high-octane fuel is a waste of money. That pricey premium fuel won't boost your car's fuel economy or performance in the least, so skip it.

If you're not sure what grade of fuel works best for your car, open up your owner's manual and take a look. As long as your engine doesn't knock or ping when you fuel up with regular unleaded, you're good to drive on this much cheaper gas. Passing on pricey premium gasoline could save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Don't top off. Don't bother topping off when filling your car's gas tank. Any additional gas is just going to slop around or seep out. Why waste your money paying for gas your car won't use? Stop pumping at the first indication that your tank is full when the automatic nozzle clicks off.

Tighten up that gas cap. Gas will evaporate from your car's gas tank if it has an escape. Loose, missing or damaged gas caps cause 147 million gallons of gas to evaporate each year, according to the Car Care Council. So be sure to tighten up that gas cap each time you fuel up your car.

Go for the shade. The hot summer sun that makes the inside of your car feel like a sauna also zaps fuel from your gas tank.

"If you let your car bake in the sun there's going to be a greater amount of evaporative emissions that take place than if you park in the shade," says Jim Kliesch, research associate at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and vehicle analyst for

So park your car in the shade of a building or tree whenever possible. And buy a good windshield shade. A windshield shade blocks sunlight and helps to keep heat out of the inside of your car.

Use your garage for your car. Got a garage? Clear it out and make room for your car. Parking in your garage will help your car stay warm in winter and cool in summer, and you won't have to depend as much on your gas-guzzling air-conditioning or defroster when you drive.

Pump up your tires. Don't get caught driving on underinflated tires. Underinflated tires wear down more quickly and they also lower your car's gas mileage.

"Tires that have low pressure offer more resistance so the engine is going to work harder to keep the car at 60," says Brian Moody, road test editor at

Your car's gas mileage may plummet by as much as 15 percent. Driving on underinflated tires may also reduce the life of your tires by 15 percent or more.

Check your tire pressure once a month. Buy a digital gauge and keep it in your glove box. Compare the pressure in your tires with the recommended pressure listed in your owner's manual and on the placard in your car door. Then inflate your tires as needed. Be sure to check tire pressure when your tires are cold. A good time is early in the morning after your car's been idle overnight.

Keep your engine in tune. Fixing a car that is out of tune or has failed an emissions test can boost gas mileage by about 4 percent. So be sure to give your car regular tune-ups. You'll also want to watch out for worn spark plugs. A misfiring spark plug can reduce a car's fuel efficiency by as much as 30 percent.

Replace air filters. Keep a close eye on your engine's air filter. When the engine air filter clogs with dirt, dust and bugs, it causes your engine to work harder and your car becomes less fuel-efficient. Replacing a clogged air filter could improve your gas mileage by as much as 10 percent and save you 15 cents a gallon. It's a good idea to have your engine air filter checked at each oil change. The Car Care Council recommends changing your car's air and oil filters every three months or 3,000 miles or as specified in your owner's manual.

Use the right oil. You can improve your car's gas mileage by 1 percent to 2 percent by using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil. Opt for motor oil with the words "energy conserving" on the API performance label. This oil contains friction-reducing additives.

Don't skimp on maintenance. Be serious about auto care. Your car's performance depends on it.

"Always follow the manufacturer-recommended maintenance," Moody says. "The car's designed to run a certain way. If you neglect it, it won't be as efficient."

Obey the car-care guidelines outlined in your owner's manual. For more auto-care guidelines check out this free maintenance schedule from the Car Care Council.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is Biofuel still in this 2009?

I recently spent time with Saab’s bioethanol experts – and it got me thinking. Are they heading down a dead-end with their E85-fuelled vehicles? Or are they right to persist with biofuels, even if public perception swung dramatically in 2008?

They certainly don’t sell many in the UK. Since 2006, Saab Biopower cars make up less than half of one percent of sales here – but the UK is notoriously behind other markets with its acceptance of bioethanol cars.

Sweden: firm believers in biofuels

Back in the homeland, half the buses in Stockholm run on bioethanol – and a third of all new cars sold in Sweden every year run on the green stuff, including one in five Saabs. As ever with fuel debates, availability is a big issue: the UK has only 20 filling stations with bioethanol, compared with 60 in Ireland and 350 in France. Compare that with the 1050 in Sweden and you can see why it’s popular there.

Okay, so you can mix bioethanol with regular petrol, but then of course you’re turning your back on its green credentials. Saab argues that even if petrol stations in the UK aren’t supporting the use of bioefuels as much as they could or should, it’s still possible to run your car on petrol in the meantime and keep your options open for the future.

We already know from Ben Oliver’s report in the August 2008 issue of CAR magazine that ethanol is majorly supported in Brazil, where a quarter of cars run on biofuels. But can you imagine having the sugar plantations required in the UK and the resultant change required in the agricultural system? Supporters argue we already import much of our energy, so why is shipping in biofuels any different?

How do biofuels perform on the road?

I drove the latest Saab XWD/Aero running on biofuel and can confirm it in no way affects the performance of the car compared with regular UK models slurping unleaded. Could I detect the higher power outputs and combustion efficiency of Saab’s Biofuels engines? It’s touch and go.

Critics say that Saab is backing the Betamax of the fuel world, but I still admire the plucky Swedes for developing E85 cars. Who knows what could come from this in the future.

We all look to develop and advance ourselves for the better, so why not the environment we live in? Maybe this is a useful starting block for what is to come. IMO we should be looking at all options – whether they be electric, hybrid, plug-in or biofuel. And you know what? I prefer a car to sound and feel like a car, and that’s why I still struggle with the milkfloat connotations of electric cars.

Would I buy a biofuel car? Not at a premium – too many uncertainties remain. But I still believe they’re right to develop the technology. None of us should put all our eggs in one basket…