This post is part of The One Hour Project, in which you can spend just one hour to put your finances in a better place without a big lifestyle change, through frugality or other financial choices.
A few very simple auto maintenance tasks that anyone can do can end up saving a lot of money over time by improving the gas mileage of your automobile. You should be able to run through this checklist in about an hour and improve the efficiency of your car by quite a bit. I also know very well that most people aren’t interested in automotive stuff, so I’m sticking with just very simple tasks that anyone can do. These tips, all together, can improve the gas mileage of your car up to 10%, which can save hundreds of dollars over a year for just an hour’s worth of effort.
Air up your tires According to CarCare.org, underinflated tires can reduce gas mileage by 0.4% for every 1 PSI below the recommended maximum on all four tires. Most tires can be as much as 10 PSI underinflated without it being obvious by visual inspection, meaning that a full airing up can save 4% in gas mileage, raising a 12 MPG to 12.5 MPG or 25 MPG to 26 MPG. Over a year of driving 10,000 miles in a 20 MPG car, inflating your tires can save $60 (assuming $3 a gallon for gas) in just that year. I wrote a detailed explanation of how to air up your tires a while back if you want more detail on the process, but it’s quite easy and is usually free.
Clean your car’s air filter Most cars that receive routine maintenance get their air filter changed every 15,000 miles, but even after just 5,000 miles, an air filter can get dirty enough to reduce your gas mileage by 7%. In the car described above, this is a cost of at least $100 a year from reduced gas mileage. The process for cleaning the filter is really easy and is explained step-by-step in your car’s manual – mostly, it’s a matter of popping the hood, unscrewing a single wingnut, lifting a lid, picking up a filter, running a vacuum cleaner over the filter and in the place where it was resting, then putting everything back where it was. Simple as can be and well worth doing yourself every once in a while.
Remove weight Unless you’re in the middle of a northern winter, excess weight in your car only serves to reduce gas mileage – the more extra weight you have, the less efficient your car is.. Check your trunk, your backseat, and other places for items of excess weight. A friend of mine once drove a year and a half with three cinder blocks in her trunk – I won’t even speculate as to how much fuel was wasted hauling around that extra weight. A thorough inspection of your vehicle, including under the seats, and a removal of any heavy and unneeded items is well worthwhile.
That’s it. Do these three things and you can easily save 10% on your car’s fuel costs. If you commute like I do, you know how quickly that money can add up.