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Warming Your Car in Winter Can Burn a Hole in Your Pocket

by Scott Siegel

Winter is a hard time for drivers and car owners. It wreaks havoc on your fuel mileage. Chances are you are an unwitting ally to hurting your gas mileage. The wrong idea about warming your car up might be burning a hole in your pocket.

Most drivers are in the habit of warming their cars up in cold weather. They are under the mistaken idea that their car needs to warm up for a considerable amount of time to operate properly. Older vehicles may have needed to warm up but current cars do not.

Many drivers idle their car for 5 to 10 minutes in the winter to let their cars warm up. You should not let your car idle for more than 30 seconds. You need no more than 30 seconds of idling to circulate the engine oil before you can drive away on cold days

When you idle your car to warm it up you are burning gas but not going anywhere. When you let that happen you are getting zero miles per gallon. You may think that idling your car for few minutes or so is no big deal, think again.

To give yourself an idea about how much gas you would be burning by just letting your car idle for 5 minutes each time you start it think about this. Assume you idle for 5 minutes when you start your car in the morning. Assume you idle for 5 minutes again, sometime during the day when you start your car again to drive home.

That means your car is idling for 10 minutes per day. If winter is considered to be November, December, January and February, then winter is 120 days long. If you idle your vehicle for 10 minutes each day for 120 days then you are idling for 1200 minutes during the winter season.

1200 Minutes is 20 hours. Think about it, warming your car for only 5 minutes per start amounts to your car idling and burning gas going nowhere, for 20 hours. Can you visualize your car sitting and idling for 20 hours? Of course not. Then why warm it up for the equivalent of 20 hours of burning gas when it is completely unnecessary?

The best way to warm your car is by driving it. Most drivers don’t realize that in order for your car to operate efficiently other parts in addition to the engine need to warm up. The tires, the transmission, the wheel bearings and other moving parts also need to warm up. The catalytic converter on your car doesn’t function at its peak until it reaches between 400C and 800C. The only way to warm up the other parts of your car is by driving. The reality is your car needs to be driven to completely warm it up anyway.

To save gas and increase gas mileage in the winter one of the simplest things you can do is warm your car by driving it, not by idling. Not only will it save you gas and money but you will also be doing something positive for the environment. That warm car will stop burning a hole in your pocket.

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Improve Gas Mileage by Changing Your Parking Habits

by Scott Siegel

There are many easy and simple things you can do to increase your fuel mileage. One of those simple things is to change the way you park.

Is this what you do when enter a parking lot? You enter the lot and the first thing you do is head for the parking area nearest to the entrance to the mall or the store where you are going. There are not any spaces available at the entrance because everyone, like you, tries to find the closest spaces.

Now you do either one of two things or both. You drive up and down the closest rows to see if you can find a spot that is still close to the entrance or you sit and wait for a while to see if any cars will be pulling out of spaces near the entrance.

Both of these behaviors will cost you gas mileage and will cost you money. When you sit and wait to see if anyone will vacate a space you are running your engine but not moving. You are getting zero miles per gallon when you are sitting and idling like that.

If you slowly cruise the parking rows close to the store entrance you are burning fuel. You are get very poor gas mileage when your car is moving slowly. If you stop behind another car that is waiting or as you stop at spaces that might open up, you are idling and getting zero miles per gallon.

Think how much fuel you will burn in a year if you only spend 1 minute a day waiting for a parking space. Assuming 30 days for an average month, to make a simple calculation, and assume you are burning fuel for an extra 60 seconds or one minute each day, then you would be burning fuel for 30 minutes or a half hour each month.

One half hour of burning fuel a month is the equivalent of burning fuel an extra 6 hours per year. Would you ever leave your car sitting and idling for six hours doing nothing but burning fuel? Absolutely not. But in essence you are letting your car sit and idle for 6 hours if your parking habits involve always looking for the closest parking space.

What is the solution to all of this wasted gas? How can you improve gas mileage by changing parking habits? Very simple, park far away from the store or mall entrance. The farther from the entrance you go the more empty parking spaces there are. Chances are that if you, immediately upon entering the parking lot, go to the rows far from the entrance, you will find a place to park right away.

You save all the fuel you would have burned waiting and looking for a close parking spot by parking far away. There is an additional benefit to parking far from the entrance. Not only will you increase fuel mileage and save money but you will get extra exercise by walking the additional distance to the entrance. It’s good for your pocket book and good for your body.

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Toyota Tundra Fuel Gauge Questions

Funny fuel gaugeOver the past few months, we’ve received some questions about the Tundra’s fuel gauge. Basically, they all come down to this:

1) When my truck’s fuel gauge shows “E”, I’ve actually got quite a few gallons left in the tank. What gives?

The big reason — the fuel gauge sending unit is fairly low-tech. There’s a float in the fuel tank, and it’s somewhat inaccurate. Part of the inaccuracy is due to the technology itself — a float will rise and fall depending upon if the truck is turning, is level, has been moving recently, etc. Floats can also get “stuck”. For instance, if you leave your keys in your ignition in the “on” position (truck’s not running, but one crank and it will be) the next time you fill up, chances are when you jump in your truck to go you’ll see your fuel gauge reading less than “F”, even though you just filled it. That’s the nature of the float.

The second reason that the gauge shows “E” even though there is quite a bit of gas in the tank — the tank itself is pretty big. A big tank means that substantial changes in fuel volume don’t equal substantial changes in fuel height. You can look at my poorly drawn graphic below, but if you do the math and calculate the difference in height that the float must detect as one or two gallons leave the tank, you can imagine it’s pretty small. Combine that with the fact that the float is least accurate at the extreme ends of its range (read at empty and full), and you’ve got a formula for poor accuracy. Here’s the important part — it’s been this way for decades.

Toyota Tundra Fuel Gauge Inaccuracy Explained

The last reason, and the best explanation for why no one has ever bothered to improve on the current system, is that auto manufacturers like the idea of a “fuel reserve”. With the exception of Toyota, nearly all manufacturers offer free roadside assistance for the first 3 years of a vehicle’s life. That roadside assistance includes bringing you gas if you were to run out. If the tank has a hidden reserve of 2 or 3 gallons below the “E” mark on the gauge, you’re much less likely to run out of gas, and thus much less likely to call roadside assistance. Also, if you’re a procrastinator like me, this reserve feature has saved your bacon a time or two.

The big issue with the Tundra — if you can call this an issue — is that the reserve in the Tundra’s tank has been reported to be as high as 6 gallons! We suspect this is one of many first-year production issues that Toyota will clear up over time.

If you want to calculate your “reserve”, simply drive your truck until your fuel gauge is reading “E” (wait until the needle points right at it). Then, when you fill up, subtract the amount of fuel you add to your truck from the listed capacity of 26 gallons. Oh yeah — make sure you’re near home when you try this out. That way someone can bring you some gas just in case your truck has no reserve (highly unlikely, but technically possible).

New Tires From The Tire Rack

If you’ve never visited, you owe it to yourself to check it out. They’ve got just about every brand of tire, quite a few different types of after-market wheels, and a unique tool that allows you to see how a new set of rims will look on your vehicle. They also stock suspension kits, air intakes, brake pads, and a handful of other stuff.

What I like best about the Tire Rack, in addition to the good pricing, is that they have a great collection of reviews on tires. I was just buying a set and I really appreciated the fact that I could read dozens of reviews on the particular brand of tire. The reviews weren’t all good either — as a matter of fact, I upgraded myself from a cheaper tire based on some user reviews. Overall, it’s a good system.

The choices for custom wheels are another matter. While I really like being able to see how wheels will look on my car, I think Tire Rack’s wheels are overpriced for the most part. They do offer some wheel and tire packages that seem pretty reasonable, but I would definitely call the local custom wheel shop before buying wheels from Tire Rack. The same goes for some of the premium tire brands (like Goodyear and Michelin) — sometimes, you’ll find your local premium brand retailer (i.e. your local Goodyear tire shop) will be able to offer a better price on a Goodyear tire than you can find on Tire Rack. However, for brands without a brand-name national retail network (like Pirelli, Nitto, Yokohama, etc.) Tire Rack is often the least expensive.

Installation was easy — I had them shipped to a friends dealership (he works in the service department). I got them installed easy, and no one tried to sell me “siping” or “tire insurance” either, both of which aren’t good deals (in my opinion). Finally, Denver sales tax is almost 8%, so my shipping costs were lower than the sales tax I would have paid if I’d bought them locally. If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend with a shop, there’s a list of preferred installers.

Since winter is coming, the tire retailers are going to be advertising all kinds of specials in the next couple of months. To see a list of Tire Rack’s current specials, click here .

Is Your New Tundra Getting The EPA Rated Gas Mileage?

We recently received an email from a new Tundra owner who wasn’t getting the mileage stated on the sticker. Basically, this person said that “I drive mostly on the highway, but I’m not getting the 18 mpg listed on the sticker. Instead, I’m getting about 15.5 mpg.”

We haven’t heard back from this person yet, but we sent them an email with the following ideas. We figured it might be useful to someone else so we copied it here…

1) Calculate the mileage manually — sometimes the automatic system is inaccurate. We’ve found that minutes spent idling at the dealership (before you owned it) will throw the computer-calculated mileage off substantially, especially for the first few tanks of gas.

2) New engines need at least 1k miles to break-in properly, but it may take as much as 5k miles before you get the best mileage.

3) Have you added any aftermarket wheels or tires, or maybe a camper or other high profile item to your truck? Any of these things could be hurting your mileage. Surprisingly, even a set of tires can drop 1 or 2 mpg if they have aggressive tread.

4) The engine control module (ECM) adapts to the driver’s style to provide the best performance and fuel economy. If you have another driver in the family, their style could be drastically different. Even if this other driver isn’t “hot rodding” the truck, the drastic difference can trick the ECM to switch into “programming” mode every time you switch drivers. I can’t imagine this would result in such a big difference between EPA and actual, but it is possible.

5) How much of your driving is on the highway? Even if you drive 90% of the time on the highway, the other 10% of the time you drive in the city can lower your overall mileage as much as 1 mpg.

6) Finally, if none of the above seem plausible, your truck may be one of a few Tundras that simply doesn’t achieve the stated mileage. Just like some trucks do better than the sticker, some trucks do worse. Your dealer can try to fix this be re-flashing the ECM, or maybe updating the truck’s software. Either of these will fix the problem.