Improving Fuel Economy in Cold Weather

Cold weather can damage your car in many ways. It can also harm fuel economy, thus taking money right out of your pocket.  Did you know that for short-trip driving, a conventional gasoline car’s gas mileage is about 12% lower at 20°F than it would be at 77°F, and hybrids’ fuel efficiency can drop about 31% to 34% under the same conditions? So if you think you were spending more money on fuel this winter, you were not imagining it.

Fuel efficiency is lower in cold temperature because:

  • Cold engine oil and other fluids create friction in engines and transmission, making your car to work harder.
  • It takes longer for your engine to get warm, making short trips less fuel efficient – the engine is performing at less-than-optimal temperatures.
  • Battery performance decreases in cold weather, making it harder for the alternator to keep the battery charged. This also affects the performance of the regenerative braking system on hybrids.
  • Car heater, heated seats, and window defrosters use additional power, requiring more fuel.
  • Idling to warm up your car increases fuel consumption and air pollution.
  • Colder air is denser, increasing aerodynamic drag on your vehicle, especially at highway speeds.
  • Cold temperature contracts air, decreases tire pressure, and increases rolling resistance.
  • You use more fuel driving a four-wheel drive car, even more if you use the the “four-wheel” option.
  • Slippery roads make your tires work harder while increasing fuel consumption.

If you want to improve fuel economy this winter and save a little cash for Santa, the following tips will come in handy:

  • Park your car in a warm place. This is possible for some and not possible for others. Long story short: if you have a garage, clean it out and use it.
  • Combine trips. By doing this, you will drive less often when your engine is cold. Subsequently, your fuel economy will increase.
  • Don’t idle your vehicle to warm it up. There is nothing wrong with doing this for 30 to 60 seconds, but anything beyond this is going to take a toll on your gas mileage.  Read more about this here.
  • Check your tire pressure. Tire pressure that is too low or or too high can reduce fuel economy. Read more about this here.  Furthermore, it can make it unsafe to drive in inclement weather, such as snow or ice.
  • Don’t use defrosters and seat warmers more than you have to. Many people don’t realize that using these features has an impact on fuel economy.
  • Remove roof luggage racks or ski racks when not in use.  These act as air dams and can cause your vehicle to work harder.
  • If you drive a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle, preheating the cabin while plugged into the charger.  The heater uses the same components as the rest of your car, so warming up while plugged in can extend your vehicle’s range.

While you’re counting the days until Spring, these simple changes in your driving habits in cold weather will lead to better fuel efficiency, use less energy and improve air quality.  These are the types of things you can do to improve fuel economy in cold weather. Even if you only implement one of these tips, you may be surprised at how much gas it saves you. Full blown winter weather is on its way. Are you and your vehicle prepared?