Saving Fuel

The peril of short journeys, and how to subsequently make the most of the fuel in your tank.

Many of us are stuck in cycles where short journeys are a necessity. A parent with school runs, or someone whose job requires a few short journeys each day, relies on a car to be able to stick to a schedule.

Yet with soaring prices at the petrol and diesel pumps, motorists are finding themselves becoming increasingly cautious about the way they use their vehicles.

While a generic shift towards electric or hybrid vehicles is something that, in the long-term, can reduce cost and produce greener, more efficient vehicles, for those of us stuck with traditional fuel run-arounds, the realities of everyday short-distance use can be a concern. That’s because there’s nothing worse for your car – or your pocket – than short car journeys.

While a trip of less than, say, 10 minutes will not damage in any obvious way, it does fail to allow the engine to reach operating temperature. These sort of outings, in a cold environment, allow excessive condensation in the crankcase and other parts. Only when an engine warms up does the oil lubricate better, boiling off that moisture.

If the moisture doesn’t ever reach a temperature to condense, the lower temperature will impact the air/fuel mix, which reduces the oil’s effectiveness as a lubricant and can cause excessive wear on moving parts, such as the piston rings.

Short trips, and the nature of driving around built-up areas and tight streets, will also impact wear and tear on tyres in a way that won’t happen with longer journeys on straighter roads with fewer stops.

In addition, users may also find battery performance dips badly over time. At no point on short journeys is the car in motion long enough to sufficiently recharge the battery – this means you’re using a lot of power starting the engine frequently, without fully replenishing its charge.

Remedies

Where short journeys are concerned, there is little you can do to prevent some of the ills that are occurring inside your engine. Yet you can prolong a car’s performance in other ways with a close eye on fuel management that will negate some of the negative effects:

General maintenance

The greater the burden you place on your car, the better it will respond if properly maintained. From changing the oil regularly – which will be much more necessary for a car performing a number of short trips than a few long ones – to ensuring tyres are inflated to the correct pressure, better fuel consumption can be achieved.

Excess weight

Everything in a car that offers weight will lead to greater fuel consumption. From objects left in the boot to unoccupied children’s car seats – the more you can remove, the lighter the car and the more money you will save at the pump.

Gear high, revs low

If you are forced to make a number of short journeys, try to use a high gear, whilst staying within the speed limit.

You should change up through the gears as quickly as possible because logic says the faster an engine runs, the more fuel it uses.

While a car’s optimum speed for fuel efficiency is usually around the 50mph mark – a speed that’s unsafe in urban areas – it’s obviously true that lower speeds ask more of an engine, so if you find yourself operating at lower speeds, use smooth right-foot control, with gentle acceleration; and never break hard, instead cruise to a stop whenever possible.