Ways to Improve Gas Mileage

Dear Tracy,

I know everyone is complaining about gas prices, but the expense is really killing my budget! Is there anything I can do to improve the gas mileage on my car and make that expensive gas go a little further? I have heard that you can get fuel additives that will improve gas mileage. Do these work?

Nancy S.

Dear Nancy,

I completely relate to your frustration! For most of us it is really difficult to cope with the financial burden of these rising gas prices. I understand why you would like to do something to improve your gas mileage, but think twice about spending even more of your hard-earned money on fuel additives.

The knowledge and technology that has gone into the vehicle engines of today is pretty amazing.  Through decades of research, vehicle engineers understand engines and the demands placed on them. Today’s engines are developed to provide optimal performance under the most stressful conditions. Engines undergo thorough and rigorous testing, and are developed to be reliable with proper maintenance. While some fuel additives may provide some benefits, your engine was designed to provide peak performance all on its own. If you still are not sure, before you pick up a bottle of something from your local auto parts store, check with your mechanic. He or she will be able to educate you on the different types of additives and the needs of your particular vehicle.

The best way to improve gas mileage is with proper maintenance and smart driving habits. Here are a few quick tips that should help you make the gas budget go a little further:

Proper Tire Inflation – always keep an eye on your tire pressure and keep the tires inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

Regular Oil Changes – make sure you always use the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil for optimal performance.

Regularly Check Tire Tread – remember that worn out tires are not only dangerous, but they cause your vehicle to operate less efficiently.

Do Not Speed/Use Cruise Control  on the Highway – maintaining a safe and consistent speed has all kinds of obvious benefits including better gas mileage.

Combine Trips – if you can discipline yourself enough to plan your trips, you may be surprised and delighted to discover how much you can save on the gas budget.

Take Time to Love Your Tires

Image from www.vintagevintagevalentinemuseum.com

Hope everyone had a Happy Valentine’s Day! Now don’t forget to show your tires some love this weekend by making sure their pressure is right. Not only will your tires love you for extending their service life, you will be happier because properly inflated tires mean safer driving and better gas mileage.

Be sure to check your owner’s manual to find out the manufacturer’s recommendation for proper tire pressure. Although you will see a tire pressure number on the tire, that number is the maximum pressure, so you’ll want to inflate to the pressure recommended in the manual instead.

Unscrew the valve cap and press the tire gauge on the valve stem. You will hear a hissing sound when you first press down, but it stops once you press all the way down. You only need a few seconds to get an accurate reading. Once you’ve reached the right pressure, replace the valve cap. Do the same for all four tires.

If your tires need air, you can fill them with a portable compressor, or use the air pump at your gas station. Filling the tires is a lot like checking the pressure except that instead of pressing the gauge to the valve stem, you’ll be pressing the fitting on the air hose to the stem.  Watch  the pressure as you inflate until you reach the right pressure number. If your tires are over inflated, remove the excess air from the tires with your gauge. Remember that hissing sound? When you hear it, let it go for a moment, then recheck the pressure. The more experienced you become with checking your tires, the better you will be able to tell how long you need to inflate or deflate to get the right pressure.

And remember, just because tires look good does not mean the pressure is right. By the time a tire looks underinflated, tire pressure is extremely low. Make sure you catch it before it gets to that point.

Good Tread May Not Mean Good Tire

Dear Tracy,

Our family has inherited an RV/Camper that is older, but in excellent condition. It had belonged to  my aunt and uncle who have not been able to use it much over the past several years due to health issues. They very generously decided to give it to our family so we could enjoy it. My uncle suggested that we have the tires replaced since they have not been used often, but we think the tread on them looks fine. As long as the tread is not worn, the tires should be safe, right?

Melinda D.

Dear Melinda,

Congratulations on your RV! RV vacations are wonderful, and will make great memories for your family.

Regarding those old tires, I am inclined to agree with your uncle – they could be an issue.  Even though the tire tread looks fine, tires are subject to the affects of “tire aging” and can become unsafe. Tire aging specifically refers to the deterioration of a tire’s structural integrity. On a typical vehicle that is driven regularly, tire aging is not an issue because the tread wears out before degradation from aging can occur. Vehicles that are driven only occasionally, such as collector cars or those used for recreation, are especially susceptible to tire aging problems. While un-mounted tires that are properly stored should not age as quickly as mounted tires, spare tires can also become too old to safely use before they actually wear out.

In deciding whether or not to replace your RV tires consider a few things. How old are the tires? Has the RV been stored in a garage or out on a driveway? Having an overall inspection of the RV performed by your auto shop is a good idea – you can get professional opinion on the tires then. Lastly, according to general advice given on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website www.safercar.gov, “it is always wise to err on the side of caution if you suspect your vehicle has tires that are over six years of age.”

Run Flat Tires – Things to Consider

Dear Tracy,

I have heard that there is a new type of tire, called a run flat tire, that prevents blow outs. I recently had a blow out that scared me so badly, I almost wrecked. Can you tell me more about these tires? I really think I would like to get them!

Cindy W.

Dear Cindy,

You may have just heard about run flat tires, but they have actually been around for awhile. In fact, the idea for a self-supporting tire goes back to the 1930’s when a “bullet-proof” tire was developed for military vehicles and armored cars. This tire featured a sponge rubber inner tube that did not require air and was drivable, even after taking several bullets. (Tire history fans can read more in this 1935 article found in Popular Mechanics.)

Today’s run flat or zero pressure tires are designed to resist the unstable effects of deflation when punctured, and allow the vehicle to continue to be driven at a reduced speed for a limited distance, usually up to 100 miles. Run flat tires do not “prevent” blow outs, but they do keep your car more stable and drivable in the event of a flat. While these are good features, there are some draw backs to consider:

  • Run flat tires have much stiffer sidewalls so they are able to maintain vehicle weight. The result is compromised ride comfort.
  • The reinforcements necessary in run flat tires add weight to each tire. The heavier weight compromises vehicle handling.
  • Run flat tires may cost up to twice as much as standard tires. Some reports also suggest that they have a shorter life-span.
  • Drivers must pay close attention to tire pressure as pressure loss is harder to detect with run flat tires. While the use of a tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) can provide low pressure warnings, if those warnings are ignored, tire damage and destabilization may still occur.

Some vehicle manufacturers are designing vehicles to be equipped with run flat tires and engineering ways to offset these drawbacks. The good news is that as car manufacturers move in this direction, the technology behind the run flat design should continue to improve. One day, tires that prevent the type of experience you had may be the new standard.