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Save on gas: 5 ways to make your car more fuel-efficient

11/14/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 01/13/2015 05:59 EST
Does your car get the gas mileage that you think it should? For many of us, the answer is No.

CBC’s Marketplace investigated fuel ratings and what dealers tell you about them when you buy a car.

Marketplace heard a lot of complaints from drivers who bought vehicles based on fuel-efficiency ratings, but felt their cars didn't live up to those promises.

​"When you don’t have updated [fuel] tests, like we've had in Canada for the past seven or eight years, you can’t go by those numbers,” automotive journalist Michael Bettencourt told Marketplace co-host Tom Harrington.

“When you’re actively advertising these numbers as a selling feature, then I think consumers have some reason to be mad.” 

Watch the investigation, "Fuel Proof," Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador) on CBC Television or online at cbc.ca/marketplace. Share your tips about saving on gas on Twitter using the hashtag #fuel.

According to Natural Resources Canada, “your vehicle’s fuel consumption will vary from its published fuel consumption ratings, depending on how, where and when you drive.”

But even if you’re stuck with a car that doesn’t give you the mileage you think you should get, there things you can do to lower what you pay at the pumps.

Jim Davidson, author of 75 Ways to Save Gas: Clean, Green Tips to Cut Your Fuel Bill, weighed in on what you can do to to maximize your car’s fuel efficiency.

“Some tips are really little and tiny, but if you bundle five or six of them together, it’s significant,” Davidson says.

“But some tips are major game changers. You can chop your fuel bill by probably 50 per cent.”

Here are five ways to save on fuel.

1. Cool it on the defroster

A lot of people know not to run their air conditioner non-stop in the summer. But what about your defroster?

“What many people don’t realize is that your defroster is the same system,” Davidson says. “But people turn it on and leave it on all winter.”

Davidson says that the effect on your gas bill could leave you feeling cold: It can be eating up to 25 per cert of your fuel.

So when should you turn it on?

“Only when you can’t see,” Davidson says.

2. Take your tires seriously

“Imagine riding a bike with a flat tire, how hard that is. You can’t do it, you get so exhausted,” says Davidson.

​He says that with cars running on underinflated tires, the experience is the same.

"The engine is trying to force through all that extra drag, which is just wasting your fuel.”

Davidson says surprisingly common for drivers to be on the road with at least one that needs some air, especially with cars that are more than a few years old.

But with proper inflation, Davidson says the savings can be substantial.

His advice: Check the tires once a month. Davidson recommends buying a higher-grade tire gauge to get a more accurate reading.

3. Your car doesn’t need long to warm up

Idling is a huge fuel waster, and it’s the biggest problem when the weather gets cold.

If you’re spending a few minutes warming up your car in the morning, you’re doing it wrong, says Davidson.

“Psychologically, when we get in the car and we can see our breath, we think the car needs to warm up.”

But it doesn’t.

“You might be cold in the car, but the engine isn’t,” says Davidson.

“It doesn’t matter what temperature it is, 30 seconds is all you need.”

4. Servicing does help

It may seem obvious, but making sure your car is in good shape can have a big effect on how much fuel you use.

Getting your car regularly serviced means it will be running as efficiently as possible, says Davidson.

“Service is really important,” Davidson says. “If your car’s well-tuned, it will behave properly and won’t eat fuel.”

5. Try not to speed

“It doesn’t matter what you’re driving, we all hit a wall at 93 km/h. Anything after that, you’re burning so much fuel to push through that wall," says Davidson.

The faster you go, the more fuel you waste. But Davidson knows that it’s not a change many of us are likely to make, no matter how much we hate spending our money on gas.

“That’s the hardest one. Nobody wants to give up speeding,” he says.

“We’re all guilty of that.”

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