Should you wash your car in an attempt to improve gas mileage? The honest answer is a clean car has an extremely small impact on fuel efficieny under normal driving conditions.
On this episode of MythBusters (many of you may be familiar with), they actually found a clean car does improve gas mileage by around 2 miles per gallon compared to a mud-drenched car, which isn’t a normal scenario for most people. While a clean car can reduce drag, keeping a car spotless really isn’t going to have an impact for the majority of people who keep their vehicle’s relatively clean.
The honest truth about fuel economy ‘hacks’
The fact of the matter is driving habits really have more to do with gas mileage than anything. For the average driver, using cruise control and watching your speed will give you the biggest fuel efficiency gains than most quick hacks will.
Nevertheless, it really is a good idea to keep your vehicle clean. From debris under your hood, to what’s lubricating the engine, to mud or dirt on the surface of your vehicle, MPG-killing drag and resistance will occur if you don’t take the time to keep what needs to be clean…well clean.
4 practical cleaning and maintenance hacks you might as well try!
While I normally write about how to keep your car clean on the inside and out, today I wanted to discuss a few maintenance tips that really don’t take too long to perform after you finish washing/waxing your vehicle.
Absent from this list are common sense approaches (like driving with a lighter foot) in order to increase your miles per gallon (MPG) or fuel economy. Driving habits are difficult to change, which is why I won’t bore you with these obvious tips.
Collectively, these best practices can make a small difference when it comes to fuel efficiency but more importantly help to prevent future problems in the long run which is why I recommend them.
1. When in doubt, go ahead and wash!
Like I mentioned earlier, a clean car does produce less drag overall thus technically leading to better fuel efficiency. That said, you might as well wash and wax regularly if for no other reason than to remove contaminants that can lead to rust. Airlines actually do wax their jets, and while a slicker car does help cut through the air slightly better, the cost savings simply won’t be as noticeable as they may be for a company with thousands of airliners in the skies, 24 hours a day.
On the other hand, if you’re the type to ride around with a mud-covered Jeep, go ahead and wash and wax it. You may see a few extra miles per gallon in extreme cases like this.
One of my favorite ways to quickly clean dirt off is with a small electric pressure washer. When used with foam guns, they really can cut your wash time in half. Check out this post I wrote for a few of my favorite budget pressure washers for beginners.
2. Clean under the hood
Many people don’t bother ever popping the hood, even though keeping the engine bay clean along with topping off fluids and changing filters can have more of an impact in the long-term in terms of protecting your engine.
Clean your engine bay
While this may not be a problem for many, if you’ve never cleaned your engine bay you are driving a less fuel-efficient vehicle then you could be. Debris buildup can make the engine run hotter, causing your vehicle to burn more fuel. It’s actually pretty easy to clean those black plastic engine covers that can look pretty awful.
This won’t make much of a difference MPG-wise, but it can make a difference if you have leaves or other debris under the hood, making it difficult for air to reach the engine.
Change your air filter regularly
Out of all the tips, airflow to your engine is extremely important for an engine to operate at peak efficiency. A clogged or old air filter can cause engines to work harder and burn more fuel, which is why it’s important to change your air filter regularly or at least check it from time to time to dust off debris.
While not a general maintenance tip, probably the biggest fuel efficiency gains for less fuel-efficient vehicles (like trucks) can be had by installing a cold air intake system which provides even more cooling to the engine. But today I’ll stick to quick tips.
3. Inflate your tires to recommended pressure levels
According to fueleconomy.gov, inflated tires can help increase fuel economy by anywhere from 0.6% on average up to 3% in some cases. If you’re not checking your tire pressure regularly, this is one of the easiest and most effective ways on the list to increase fuel economy.
Clean muddy tires
If you have a truck with aggressive offroad tires and live near lots of mud, you know how difficult it is to keep everything clean. Removing stuck-on dirt and mud can definitely help with traction which in turn can help improve fuel economy.
There’s a reason why Indy cars use tires without patterned tread – it creates drag. The same can be said for those muddy, bulky mud tires.
4. Use lower viscosity oil – and better oil
It’s sometimes tempting to get your oil changed for a few bucks at the 5-minute lube, but oftentimes the oils used in many of these establishments are simply not to the quality that many automotive manufacturers recommend.
If you do use a lower viscosity oil and a premium synthetic oil, you can see a slight increase in gas mileage. These oils flow through your oil pump and engine better, producing less drag and better lubrication. I’m a big fan of Mobil synthetic, and would highly recommend it based on the type of oil your vehicle calls for.
There you have it, a few practical checks to make every time you wash your vehicle that may just help you achieve slightly better gas mileage.
All of these tips mentioned likely won’t offer any noticeable difference if you tend to drive fast or burn poor quality fuel, but collectively they may be able to boost your fuel efficiency by a few percentage points. Every little hack or trick helps.