You might not know it, but there are some easy things you can start doing today to make your car more efficient.

Experts call these techniques “ecodriving”, and they can help the environment by reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

With the average family spending about $80 on fuel each week, it can also help your household budget.

So how can we become ecodrivers ourselves? We spoke to transport experts to find out.

Learn to go with the flow

One of the key principles of ecodriving is driving smoothly.

The more you use the accelerator and the brake, the more fuel you’ll use, says Nicholas Platt, a senior vehicle engineer at RACV.

“Every time you need to accelerate additional fuel is burnt,” he says.Little Green Pod: Driven To ChangeJoin host and mum-of-two, Fi Poole, on her quest to find quick and easy ways to live a little greener.Read more

What you want to do is flow with the traffic, keeping an eye further up the road so you can avoid obstacles while avoiding unnecessary braking and acceleration.

Here are some other suggestions for fuel-efficient driving from transport researcher Robin Smit, an adjunct associate professor at UTS.

  • Keep your speed as steady as possible;
  • If you’re in a manual vehicle, drive in the highest gear possible, which will reduce the load on your engine;
  • If you’re in an automatic, use the “eco” setting if you have one. The setting can smooth acceleration and is easier on the engine;
  • Use cruise control when possible to keep a steady speed on highways;
  • Maintain a good following distance to help avoid any sudden movement or accelerations;
  • If you have to decelerate, release the accelerator early and coast the vehicle until you reach your desired speed.

Switch off your engine when you can

Another major cause of unnecessary fuel consumption is engine idling.

Dr Smit’s research suggests that Australians likely idle more than 20 per cent of the time they’re driving in normal traffic conditions.

He estimates that, in passenger vehicles, idling accounts for about eight per cent of total fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The impact is equivalent to having an extra 1.5 million cars on the road, he says.

Some newer cars have a feature called automatic stop-start, which shuts off the engine while stationary. The RACV says these features can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 5 per cent.

But if you don’t have the feature, the RACV does not recommend shutting off your engine in traffic or while stopped at lights.

“It can put additional wear on the starting and charging systems, and more importantly can impact the airbags and seatbelt pretensioners, which are still necessary functions when stopped at traffic lights,” Mr Platt says.

An easy win is to avoid idling while parked, or when there’s no reason for the engine to be engaged.

And, in case you’re wondering, there’s no need to warm up modern cars before driving. Most cars today are fuel-injected, which means they run smoothly from the get-go.

Use the air conditioner sparingly

Another tip is to limit the use of your air conditioner which can have more impact than you might think.

“Air conditioning is very important. According to estimates I have seen in the scientific literature, air conditioning is responsible for 4 to 8 per cent of total fuel use and CO2 emissions,” Dr Smit says.

One option is to use the fan, which uses less energy than air conditioning. But, at low speeds, winding down your window is even better.

At higher speeds (above 80 kilometres per hour) using a fan or the air conditioner may be better than winding down windows due to the effects of wind drag.

A man in a white shirt drives a car with the window down, for a story about green driving.
Winding down your window instead of turning on the air conditioner can help you save fuel.(Pexels)

Keep the tyres pumped

Underinflated tyres increase fuel consumption by between 2 and 4 per cent, according to one study.

On top of that, there are some other benefits to keeping your tyre pressure in check. It can improve grip, help your car’s stopping ability and reduce tyre wear.

Be aerodynamically efficient

Roof racks are convenient, but they also increase the aerodynamic profile of your car, which means more fuel consumption.

“Any additional items on a car such as roof racks, roof boxes, bike racks and bull bars all seriously affect the vehicle’s aerodynamics, and drastically increase fuel use as it has to work harder to push the car through the air,” says Mr Platt.

“These items alone can increase fuel use by as much as 25 per cent depending on how large they are.”

One study estimated that roof racks were responsible for about 1 per cent of the light-duty vehicle fuel consumption in the United States. That corresponds to roughly 380 million litres of petrol.

There’s a simple solution: only use your roof racks when you need to.

Beyond that, try to avoid boxes, racks, trailers and anything else that will reduce the aerodynamic efficiency of your car.Benefits of leaving your car at home once in a whileInstead of “demonising” cars — or ditching them completely — it helps to be creative when thinking about how we transport ourselves.Read more

Avoid excess weight

Lighter vehicles require less fuel, so avoid carrying around more weight than you need.

That means emptying your boot or tray as much as possible and avoiding lugging around heavy items like tools or equipment when you don’t need them.

Get your vehicle serviced regularly

Yes, your mechanic is right about this one.

“Regular vehicle maintenance and servicing will ensure the vehicle operates as it was designed to,” says Mr Platt.

“It can also improve fuel economy.”

Does it really work?

While these suggestions and techniques might seem small, they do make a difference.

Research by the RACQ found that private motorists could reduce their average fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by about 5 per cent.

For the average household, that means a saving of about $200 each year.

“At the end of the day, the best thing is to not use your car if possible,” Dr Smit says.

“But, of course, if you have to drive, being conscious of different ways to reduce your fuel use and emissions will help.”

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