Money! It may not be the root of all evil as some have suggested, but one thing is for sure, having some of it in your pocket can make even a pauper look more attractive. Anyone that has to spend time working out of a vehicle knows, though, that no matter how nice your truck or van is, it takes upkeep to make sure it stays that way.
Now, we’re not talking about anything custom this time, but we are going to try to share some ideas on how to get a few more miles per gallon out of your vehicle and make it last a little longer.
Here’s the catch, for some of you, you have a newer vehicle under warranty from the dealership, while others own it free and clear. Gasoline or diesel? Two wheel drive or four wheel drive? Single axle? Dually? Tow rig? Small van?
While the range of vehicles that our readers and customers use covers a wide swath, we’ve isolated a few things that every one of them can benefit from and we’re listing it here to save you some money.
- Oil Changes. No matter what you drive, keeping the oil clean and the filters changed is paramount to long engine life and better fuel economy. We’re not going to get into the debate about synthetic versus regular oil, but suffice to say that a good quality lubricant and a high quality filter is going to go a long way towards long engine life. Sure, we know that diesels can “soot” up oil, and everyone has the brand they trust with their livelihood, but nearly any brand bearing the correct quality API Service category (based on the year the vehicle was built and the type of fuel in the engine) is going to be better than NOT changing it out – same with the filters. As a matter of fact, buy this stuff in bulk ahead of time so you don’t have an excuse.
- Cooling systems. It’s all too easy to forget the radiator, especially so if you keep your vehicle in a garage. Nonetheless, despite the promises from the manufacturers of “5 year coolant life,” as antifreeze ages, it becomes acidic, eating into blocks and depositing rust and debris in the water jackets and radiator and making your engine work harder. More heat equals more energy lost and lost energy. That means fuel. Make sure that you are checking and/or flushing at least every two years and, at the same time, with certain vehicles, remember that fuel pressure and oil pressure is, to some degree, dictated by the coolant. Bottom line? Keep your coolant clean and your operating temperatures in line.
- Air filters. Oh boy! Here we go, opening a can of worms. Oiled gauze or dry paper? Whether you choose to go with a “lifetime” filter made of oiled gauze and simply follow the manufacturer’s recommendations or you use a throw-away paper element, the end result needs to be the same – clean air in your engine. No dust, no debris. Sure, it’s nice to think that somehow the crankcase oil will “catch” any dirt in your engine, but by the time dirt is introduced into the crankcase, it has already gone through the combustion chambers. Not good. Now, for more mileage, there are plenty of cold air intakes (CAI), and, depending on your application, they may make a lot of sense. One thing to be cautious of, though, if the bank still owns more of the truck than you and you are under a dealership warranty, a CAI may void that warranty. Depending on where you have the truck registered, it also may fail emissions testing, too.
- Tuners and programming. While computers have become a fairly common piece of equipment in vehicles in the last 30 years, actively changing the programming in them is a relatively recent development. Adding a programmer or tuner to modern vehicles does give the user the advantage of being able to choose from a variety of settings, from “economy” to “towing” and this, coupled with a smart regular maintenance schedule, can lead to big savings at the pump, since the driver can determine how the vehicle is being used and from there, the computer can pick the proper timing, spark advance, and even shift points for the transmission.
- Tires. Tires are one of the most neglected places to look for fuel economy, and the easiest to effect change. Running at a higher pressure point (but still within the specifications of the manufacturer) allows for less drag on the roadway and limits the contact patch of the vehicle, thus lowering rolling resistance. All too often, buyers go for looks instead of economy and use far too aggressive of a tread design – and a softer rubber compound – that wears quickly and reduces the fuel economy. For best performance, even in the snow, we like a taller, thinner tire with a higher load range (like “E” if possible) to give great treadwear and long life. The results? Purchasing fewer sets of tires and better economy.
- Bring what you need. The truth of the matter is that if you have a work vehicle, chances are, you haul a lot of stuff in it. Tools, inventory, trailers, and a million little things and no matter how small the job is, if you don’t bring something, chances are you’ll need it when you get to the next jobsite. There may not be any way around that, but the truth is, all that weight adds up to higher fuel costs. Hot rodders have long ago documented that every hundred pounds of extra weight in a vehicle costs it 1/10 of a second on the dragstrip, and moving around a bunch of extra weight going from site to site costs fuel, too. Our thoughts on the matter? Stay organized, for one, and if you can streamline that weight, even better. We see, time and again, pickups with Spacekaps or vans getting better mileage than a traditional pickup with an open bed – even if the vehicles in question all have the same drivetrain. Aerodynamics is another “secret” way to save fuel. At the same time, if you don’t HAVE to take a trailer to the jobsite, then leave it. Hauling a 500-pound welding unit around wherever you go – especially if you don’t need it – is wasting money. Organize your stuff and cover it, and, if you can, get the junk out of your trunk!
No matter what you drive, the facts are this: you have to put fuel in it, and by simply taking the time and making the tiniest of efforts, you CAN save money. Even one extra mile per gallon can save you hundreds over the course of a year, and when you stretch that out to the lifetime of the vehicle, that number just keeps growing. Use your brain, not your right foot and put more money in your pocket.