How to save fuel like a boss

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Every time there’ sa fuel price hike (which is of­ten, not­with­stand­ing this week’s price cut), my e-mail in­box tends to get bom­barded by fuel-sav­ing tips from au­to­mo­tive com­pa­nies.

One tends to ho-hum through these mis­sives as they usu­ally spout some des­per­ately ob­vi­ous ad­vice on how driv­ing slower or switch­ing off the air­con will save you money at the fuel pumps.

But just how much fuel can you re­al­is­ti­cally save by driv­ing as if there’s an egg un­der the throt­tle pedal?

I got the chance to find out while tak­ing part in a fuel econ­omy run hosted last week by Ford, as part of a group of mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists who were set loose on Gaut­eng’s roads in a fleet of Fi­esta 1.5 diesels.

Mo­tor­ing journos aren’t by rep­u­ta­tion the most econ­o­my­fo­cused driv­ers, but there’s noth­ing like a bit of ri­valry to stir one’s com­pet­i­tive side even if it means find­ing your in­ner granny driver. And so the roads north of Pre­to­ria and the Har­te­beespoort area were vis­ited upon by some very con­ser­va­tively-driven Fi­esta 1.5 TDCis last Thurs­day.

Re­sult? The worst fuel con­sump­tion recorded in the test was 4.4l per 100km and the best was 3.2l (Ford’s fac­to­ryclaimed fig­ure is 3.3l). Ad­mit­tedly we drove like we were on Val­ium and also swel­tered in the sum­mer heat with air­cons switched off and win­dows closed, and that 3.2l fig­ure won’t re­al­is­ti­cally be achiev­able in nor­mal driv­ing.

But, apart from iden­ti­fy­ing the Fi­esta TDCi as one of the coun­try’s most fru­gal cars, the ex­er­cise demon­strated how much fuel can be saved by ad­just­ing one’s driv­ing style. This in­cludes se­lect­ing higher gears as quickly as pos­si­ble to keep the en­gine revving low, avoid­ing harsh ac­cel­er­a­tion and brak­ing, and try­ing to time traf­fic-light changes so that you don’t need to stop.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween a fuel con­sump­tion of 4.4l and 3.2l per 100km amounts to a range of 954.24km ver­sus 1,313km on the Fi­esta’s 42l tank. At to­day’s 50ppm diesel price of R16.12/l it will there­fore re­spec­tively cost you R70 to travel a dis­tance of 100km, ver­sus R51.

That’s a no­table dif­fer­ence. Mul­ti­ply that by driv­ing 15,000km in a year and you’ve saved R2,850. That might just be worth driv­ing slower or turn­ing off the air­con. And take my ad­vice: in your quest for lower fuel bills stay away from those mag­i­cal “fuel-sav­ing” de­vices such as fuel ad­di­tives or mag­nets that clamp to the ve­hi­cle’s fuel line. I’ve tested a num­ber of these snake-oil prod­ucts and have yet to find one that works.

Fuel econ­omy is a big com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in ve­hi­cles and mo­tor man­u­fac­tur­ers spend gazil­lions in R&D in a bid to squeeze ex­tra mileage out of every fuel tank, and if there’s a con­sump­tion­im­prov­ing gad­get that works you can be sure the fac­tory will make it a stan­dard fit­ment in the car. So the best way to save fuel is to drive slower and keep the en­gine revs low, as the ve­hi­cle slurps about 25% less fuel when trav­el­ling at 50km/h in fifth gear in­stead of third gear. Not to men­tion that stick­ing to the speed limit will also keep those traf­fic fines at bay.

But mar­ginal gains can also be had by adopt­ing other prac­tices, such as switch­ing off the air­con and cut­ting the en­gine when idling for ex­tended pe­ri­ods. Leav­ing a car idling wastes fuel and pol­lutes the air and many modern cars (though not the Fi­esta TDCi) have au­tostart-stop that switches the en­gine off when sta­tion­ary. Three min­utes of idling equates to about 1km of driv­ing at 50km/h, so if you’re go­ing to be sta­tion­ary for a while it’s bet­ter to switch off and save.

Also, check the tyre pres­sures as un­der­in­flated tyres have in­creased rolling re­sis­tance, thereby rais­ing fuel con­sump­tion. Apart from pro­vid­ing bet­ter fuel econ­omy, cor­rect pres­sures also re­duce wear com­pared to un­der­in­flated tyres.

Yes, 3.2l/ 100km is achiev­able if you have the pa­tience (and the air­con switched off).


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