The winter of 2014 will be remembered as one of the coldest. Digging out cars has been the norm for some, and for others, giving up driving temporarily was the only option. And it’s a good thing — not just for the obvious reasons of maneuvering around slippery roads, but because driving in cold temperatures are terrible for fuel efficiency.
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.
8 tips to improve fuel efficiency in cold weather
- Park your car in a warmer place, like an indoor garage.
- Don’t take short trips. Combine trips if possible so that you drive less often with a cold engine.
- Don’t idle your car to warm it up. The engine will warm up faster when you start driving.
- Use your seat warmers initially and don’t start the heater right away. Use defrosters sparingly.
- Check your tires and maintain the optimum pressure. Driving with tires with low air pressure is not only less fuel efficient, it’s also dangerous.
- Check with your car’s manufacturer for its recommendation on oil for cold weather driving.
- Remove roof racks or ski racks when not in use.
- If you drive a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle, preheating the cabin while plugged into the charger 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.