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Improving fuel economy...


Improving fuel economy is not just about saving money.  It’s also about saving time because poor fuel economy means having to fill your vehicle up with fuel more frequently which requires more time to do that.  Improving fuel economy is also about improving the performance of the vehicle because the fact is that a vehicle that runs better, uses less fuel.

The following points below will have a positive effect on fuel economy.  However it’s important to remember that the harder you push your vehicle, the more fuel it will use, regardless of whether you use any of the measures below to save fuel.  Pressing harder on the accelerator as opposed to pressing lightly and driving gently, results in a much higher volume of fuel being consumed and a significant deterioration in fuel economy.


Check the ignition timing every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres…

Check the ignition timing of the engine once every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres (12,000 miles), whichever comes first, and set it correctly according to specifications if it is found to be out of adjustment.  Incorrectly set ignition timing causes excessively high fuel consumption, poor engine performance and can also lead to serious engine problems, such as piston damage, which are expensive to rectify.

The correct ignition timing setting for a vehicle’s engine can be found on the Vehicle Emission Control Information label on the underside of the front of the bonnet, provided that the engine in the vehicle is the original, factory-fitted engine or one identical to it (such as a reconditioned engine of the same type).  Refer to a workshop manual for your vehicle for the correct procedure and equipment required for setting the ignition timing of the engine.


Check the engine idle speed every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres…

Check the engine idle speed once every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres (12,000 miles), whichever comes first, and set it correctly according to specifications if it’s found to be out of adjustment.  An excessively high engine idle speed causes excessive fuel consumption.

The correct idle speed for a vehicle’s engine can be found on the Vehicle Emission Control Information label on the underside of the front of the bonnet, provided that the engine in the vehicle is the original, factory-fitted engine or one identical to it (such as a reconditioned engine of the same type).  Refer to a workshop manual for your vehicle for the correct procedure and equipment required for setting the engine idle speed.


Change the air filter at the recommended service interval…

Ensure that the air filter is changed at the interval specified in the owner’s manual or workshop manual for your vehicle or even sooner.  A clogged air filter will have a detrimental effect on fuel economy because insufficient air will flow to the combustion chambers to enable the fuel to burn, resulting in wasted, unburnt fuel and less power being supplied to the wheels.

Better still, purchase a high-quality K&N air filter for your vehicle.  A K&N air filter captures smaller particles of dirt and also, amazingly, increases the air flow to the engine, enabling more efficient combustion of the fuel, which leads to better fuel economy and more power when needed.  One outstanding benefit of this type of filter is that it is guaranteed to last for ten years from the date of purchase and requires very little maintenance.  Cleaning and re-oiling it every twelve months is enough to keep it in peak condition.  This sure beats regularly purchasing a new air filter and results in much better engine performance and fuel economy.


Use a fuel additive to clean the entire fuel system…

Use a fuel additive like GreenSky 3-in-1 fuel conditioner every time you fill up the vehicle with fuel to keep the fuel system free of carbon deposits, varnish and gummy deposits from the fuel.  This includes the fuel injection system and extends to the combustion chambers in the cylinders which are also kept free of carbon deposits through the use of this fuel additive.  The net result of all of this is more efficient operation of the fuel injection system, better fuel economy and smoother engine performance.

It’s important to keep the combustion chambers free of carbon deposits because they interfere with the correct combustion of the fuel according to the preset ignition timing.  Hot, glowing carbon deposits in the combustion chambers often serve to ignite the fuel/air mixture earlier than it otherwise would be by the spark plug.  This early ignition impedes fuel economy and is also known as pre-ignition.

What happens is that the early combustion of the fuel ends up opposing the upward movement of the piston rather than driving it downward.  This can also lead to serious engine damage by placing excessive strain on the pistons and connecting rods (‘conrods’) that connect the pistons to the crankshaft.

For further information on using GreenSky fuel conditioner to clean the fuel system, please see the section titled, Fuel System.


Remove and inspect the spark plugs every 6 months or 10,000 kilometres…

Remove the spark plugs and inspect them for excessive wear every 6 months or 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles), whichever comes first, where normal plugs are fitted or every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres (12,000 miles), whichever comes first, where high-quality plugs are fitted.  Replace them if they’re no longer in a serviceable condition.  Ensuring that the spark plugs are in the best possible condition helps to ensure efficient combustion of the fuel/air mixture and better fuel economy.  It also has a dramatically positive effect on the performance of the vehicle, resulting in greater responsiveness and crisper acceleration.

For further information, please see the section titled, Ignition System.


Replace the spark plug wires every 24 months or 40,000 kilometres…

Replace the spark plug wires every 24 months or 40,000 kilometres (24,000 miles), whichever comes first, to keep the ignition system functioning at its peak and to consequently maximise fuel economy.  Over the course of twenty-four months, the spark plug wires can degrade internally due to the frenetic and continuous high-voltage activity associated with the ignition system and the hostile high-temperature environment of the engine bay.  At the end of a full twenty-four months of operation, it’s easier to simply renew the spark plug wires altogether than go through the tedious process of checking each wire for defects.

Because the spark plug wires are relatively passive ignition components that simply carry the high voltages from the distributor to the spark plugs and remain in what is basically a fixed position between the distributor and the spark plugs over the course of their operation, I don’t believe that it’s necessary to inspect the spark plug wires during their service life.  If desired, they can be wiped over with kerosene to get rid of any build-up of grease or dirt on them.

NGK is a manufacturer that makes high-quality spark plug wires that minimise the electrical interference between the high-voltage ignition system and other sensitive electrical components of the vehicle such as the microcomputer which controls the electronic fuel injection and other vehicle systems.  I use and recommend NGK spark plug wires.


Replace the distributor cap and rotor every 24 months or 40,000 kilometres…

Replace the distributor cap and the distributor rotor every 24 months or 40,000 kilometres (24,000 miles), whichever comes first, to keep the ignition system functioning at its peak and to consequently maximise fuel economy.  Over the course of twenty-four months, the electrical terminals inside the distributor cap and on the distributor rotor become burnt and oxidised from the frenetic and continuous high-voltage activity associated with the ignition system.  Since it’s generally not easy to restore these points of electrical contact to an ‘as-new’ condition, particularly inside the distributor cap, it’s best to renew the distributor cap and rotor altogether.  Together with the spark plugs and spark plug wires, the distributor cap and rotor are ignition components that have a decisive effect on the performance of the ignition system and the subsequent performance of the engine.


Check the air pressure in the tyres every two weeks…

Check the air pressure in the tyres every two weeks and maintain the air pressure at a high pressure of 38-40 psi (pounds per square inch) when the tyres are cold for better fuel economy and better handling provided that this pressure is at least 10 psi less than the maximum allowable air pressure stated on the wall of the tyres, in order to allow for a safety margin.

If this high pressure of 38-40 psi exceeds the maximum allowable pressure minus a safety margin of 10 psi when the tyres are cold, then reduce the air pressure until it is 10 psi less than the maximum allowable pressure.  For example, if the maximum allowable pressure stated on the wall of the tyres is 45 psi, then the tyres should not be inflated to more than a maximum of 35 psi when the tyres are cold.

It is very important not to exceed the maximum allowable air pressure stated on the wall of the tyres minus a safety margin of 10 psi when the tyres are cold because one or more tyres could burst as the tyres heat up in use and the air pressure in the tyres subsequently increases, causing you to lose control of the vehicle and have a bad accident.  The higher the speed, the worse the outcome could be.

The reason for maintaining a relatively high air pressure in the tyres is that the lower the pressure in the tyres, the more rolling resistance there is when the vehicle is in motion, resulting in more energy required to propel the vehicle and hence less favourable fuel economy.  Tyres with higher air pressures offer less rolling resistance and the improvement in fuel economy will be noticeable.  Additionally, the handling of the vehicle will become more sure-footed and the steering will be more responsive.

The tyre pressures stipulated in the owners manual of the vehicle are often quite low in order to offer a more comfortable ride.  However these low pressures, such as 32 psi, won’t result in good fuel economy.  They also tend to provide a spongy ride and an unsatisfying driving experience.

For further information on maintaining the tyre pressure, please see the section titled, Checking the Tyre Pressure.


Have the vehicle wheels aligned every six months…

Get a front wheel alignment (and a rear wheel alignment also if the alignment of the rear wheels on your vehicle is adjustable) every six months.  Improper wheel alignment results in greater rolling resistance between the tyres and the road resulting in more energy required to propel the vehicle and hence less favourable fuel economy.

Over the course of six months it’s inevitable that the wheel alignment will go out of adjustment due to the many bumps encountered on the road.  While holding the steering wheel and driving, you can feel when the front wheels are out of alignment because the vehicle moves less nimbly and more ponderously.  In addition, when steering around corners, the vehicle can feel as though it’s fighting you and you find that you need to concentrate more and apply more effort to steering the vehicle exactly where you want it to go.

Probably the easiest way to determine if the wheels are out of alignment is by taking your hands off the wheel momentarily when the vehicle is travelling in a straight line on a level road.  (You should keep your hands hovering over the steering wheel, ready to take back control after a second or two, to avoid having an accident.)  If the vehicle continues travelling in a straight line then the wheel alignment is good.  If it veers off to the left or right, then the wheel alignment is probably out.


Don’t use an engine oil that’s thicker than it needs to be…

Use an engine oil that’s thick enough to protect your engine from wear but not any thicker than it needs to be.  The thicker the engine oil is, the greater the resistance it poses to the motion of the moving parts in the engine, resulting in more energy required to cause those parts to move and more fuel required.  Excessive friction inside the engine is detrimental to fuel economy.

It’s best to consult the owner’s manual for your vehicle for the specification of the correct type of oil to use for your vehicle.  If you’re in any doubt, you can ask your mechanic for advice or inquire at your local automotive parts shop.  Try to speak to somebody with qualifications or at least extensive experience as a motor mechanic.  The different types of engine oil available is quite a complex subject so it’s worth spending some time asking questions to ensure that you obtain the oil that is best suited to your vehicle.

High-quality synthetic oils offer considerably less friction than conventional mineral oils and will result in an increase in fuel economy and power when needed.  Nulon is one engine oil manufacturer that makes synthetic engine oils that offer almost a third less friction than comparable quality synthetic engine oils, which is why I personally use Nulon 100% Synthetic 15W-50 Street & Track High Performance Engine Oil in my vehicle’s engine.


Keep the engine oil perpetually immaculately clean using a bypass filter…

The dirtier the engine oil is, the greater the resistance it poses to the motion of the moving parts in the engine, resulting in more energy required to cause those parts to move and more fuel required.  Excessive friction inside the engine is detrimental to fuel economy.  However a bypass filter will keep the engine oil free of virtually all contaminants at all times such as dirt and carbon, unlike conventional filtration which fails to prevent the engine oil from becoming so badly contaminated that is has to be drained out and replaced with fresh oil on a regular basis.  Bypass filtration is truly revolutionary with massive benefits that are impossible to ignore.

For further information on using a bypass filter to keep the engine oil clean, please see the section titled, Bypass Engine Oil Filtration.


Keep the transmission and differential fluids clean…

It’s important to keep the fluids in the transmission (whether automatic or manual) and differential as clean as possible by replacing them every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres (12,000 miles), whichever comes first, and by installing an external magnetic filter on the automatic transmission to capture all metal wear particles from the transmission, however small.  Cleaner fluids pose less resistance to the moving parts in the transmission and differential which results in better fuel economy, not to mention less wear and tear inside the transmission and differential and therefore lower maintenance costs.

For further information on using an external magnetic filter to keep the automatic transmission fluid clean, please see the section titled, External Automatic Transmission Fluid Filtration.


Use PTFE-based additives in the engine, transmission and differential...

Use high-quality PTFE-based (ie. polytetrafluoroethylene) additives in the engine, the transmission and the differential each time the fluids are changed in these three components of the drive-train to further reduce friction, reduce wear, improve performance and reduce noise.  Fuel economy improves as a result of the use of PTFE-based additives and the reduction in friction that they provide because less friction means that less energy is required to produce the same level of power output.  PTFE is the slipperiest substance known and it actually impregnates the metal friction surfaces of these drive-train components to reduce friction and therefore reduce wear.  Nulon is a manufacturer of high-quality PTFE-based additives for the engine, automatic transmission, manual transmission and differential as follows:

  • Nulon Performance Engine Treatment (Part No. E20)
  • Nulon Automatic Transmission Treatment (Part No. G60)
  • Nulon Manual Gearbox & Diff Treatment (Part No. G70)

I use these Nulon additives myself and I’ve consistently found that the performance of the engine, transmission and differential improves dramatically almost immediately after the additive is added.  Noise is significantly reduced and there’s absolutely no doubt that these additives give rise to smoother operation by reducing friction.  You can literally feel the difference that these products make!  They’re an indispensable part of my strategy for maximising the performance of my vehicle.



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Copyright 2016 Andrew Mackinnon.  All rights reserved.