Innovation


Fuel for thought: How to make your car more fuel-efficient.

23 July 2020

Small changes to the way you drive can make a big difference to your weekly fuel bill and minimise your environmental footprint.

Innovation


Fuel for thought: How to make your car more fuel-efficient.

23 July 2020

Small changes to the way you drive can make a big difference to your weekly fuel bill and minimise your environmental footprint.

In a challenging year, we’re all keen to save money where we can. With just a few minor tweaks, you can spend significantly less on your fuel bill as well as minimising your own environmental footprint. Choosing a vehicle that best suits your day-to-day lifestyle – not a lifestyle you one day aspire to – is a critical first step, says Paul Hennig, from Mercedes-Benz Australia-Pacific.

A silver car

If fuel economy is your first priority, you might be better off with a four-cylinder C-Class rather than a GLC SUV, says Paul Hennig. Image: Daimler.

Hennig, the Field Service Manager for Mercedes-Benz Special Vehicles, has worked across the company’s truck, SUV and passenger car ranges, including coaching heavy truck drivers to adopt the most fuel-efficient driving style possible.

Now managing a fleet of Mercedes-Benz G-Class Professional four-wheel-drives working in land management, fire protection and defence roles, the lessons he teaches about fuel efficiency are just as relevant to every passenger car driver.

The right vehicle choice

“Understanding your needs is probably the most important first step when choosing a fuel efficient car. Do you commute around town or do you do lots of highway kilometres? Big cars can be very appealing, but be honest with yourself – do you really need one?” Hennig says.

“For example, if you were looking at a GLC SUV, but 99 per cent of your driving is going to be around town, you might be better off with a four-cylinder C-Class if fuel economy is your first priority.”

The choice of a pure electric vehicle versus one powered by a petrol, diesel or hybridised engine should similarly involve a few home truths. “People looking at EVs sometimes get wrapped up in the idea of range anxiety – ‘but can I drive to Sydney?’, they’ll ask. How often do you drive to Sydney? Most people, probably never,” he says.

A silver SUV

Range anxiety is often a deterrent when it comes to choosing an electric vehicle. But ask yourself: How often do you drive to Sydney? Most people, probably never, says Paul Hennig. Image: Daimler.

“If you have a big family or kids with sporting equipment, you might need a bigger car. But if you’re serious about saving fuel be honest with yourself and buy the most compact vehicle with the most fuel-efficient engine that fits your requirements.”

Another consideration is choosing between a vehicle that sends power to all four wheels, versus two. “A 2WD is usually going to be the more fuel-efficient choice, so be realistic about its use – are you really planning to take this vehicle off the road, or not? Plus, check whether the vehicle you want is offered in a hybrid model, which will always be better for fuel consumption.”

Prepare and maintain

Now that you’ve purchased the right vehicle to suit your lifestyle and minimise ongoing fuel use, your day-to-day use of the vehicle can also impact significantly on stretching out visits to the bowser.

“Tyre pressures are crucial,” Paul says. “This is vital for truck drivers, but also important if you drive a car: check your pressures weekly. It makes a huge difference when you follow the recommendation on the tyre placard. You’ll save money on fuel immediately and also get more wear out of your tyres, so it’s a win-win.”

Other techniques to ensure your vehicle is ship-shape for the road include removing roof racks and cargo pods when they’re not in use, emptying your boot of non-essential items, and regular car washing.

“You’d be surprised at how much drag is created by the dirt on the surface of your car. And not bothering to remove roof racks when they’re not in use, creates significant drag and bumps fuel use up quite a bit.”

Optimise your driving style

In traffic, always look several cars ahead of your own and anticipate changes in speed before they occur, Paul says. Leave several car lengths to the vehicle in front, allowing you to lift off the accelerator rather than hit the brake. “This creates a smoother driving style with less of the accelerate-brake, accelerate-brake that really chews into fuel use.”

Yellow car on a road

Driving a few kilometres-per-hour under the posted speed limit could also make a significant difference to your fuel efficiency. Image: Daimler.

Similarly, Paul advises drivers to make full use of the cruise control function. “In steady traffic, I use it at 60, 80 or 100 km/h,” he says. “It avoids the natural tendency we have to go from accelerator to brake and back again. And most engine management systems are geared towards achieving the best fuel economy in that scenario.”

Driving a few kilometres-per-hour under the posted speed limit could also make a significant difference, as can releasing the accelerator just before the crest of a hill and allowing the car to roll down the other side.

“This is one that a lot of truckies use. Many car drivers accelerate over the crest and then find themselves braking on the other side. Any time you are able to lift off all the pedals and just coast is obviously very beneficial for fuel use,” Paul says.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about taking a regular look at your car and the way you use it, and just thinking through a few basics. Small changes really can make a big difference in your daily fuel use.”

By Steve Colquhoun