Don’t Get Caught In the Cold: Facts About Winter Gas Mileage

Created: December 16, 2012 Last Updated: December 21, 2012
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Clearing snow off your vehicle improves fuel economy. (Courtesy of Brandpoint)

Clearing snow off your vehicle improves fuel economy. (Courtesy of Brandpoint)

Colder temperatures are notorious for creating difficult driving conditions that can place strain on drivers and their vehicles. And as the temperature drops this winter, so will your gas mileage.

Colder temperatures mean cold oil, tires, and cold air in the carburetor—all factors that reduce gas mileage. With higher prices lingering at the gas pumps, a few fuel-saving tips can help protect your fuel economy this winter.

Warm Your Car Up the Right Way

Many people believe the myth that you must warm your car up in the winter. The truth is that idling your car actually destroys your fuel economy and isn’t necessary.

Colder temperatures mean cold oil, tires, and cold air in the carburetor—all factors that reduce gas mileage.

Modern cars don’t require a warm-up, even when the temperatures drop below the freezing point, according to the American Automobile Association. Modern engines, those built since about 1990, have fuel injection systems rather than carburetors and need no more than 10 to 30 seconds to get oil moving through the engine properly.

Auto experts recommend driving moderately in cold weather to allow the engine and other systems to warm up slowly and reduce wear and tear. So even though many people choose to warm up their car in the winter for personal comfort or to defrost windows, idling a vehicle for more than even one minute is simply wasting gas.

Get Your Car Winter-Ready

From changing the oil to checking the tire pressure on a regular basis, improving your winter gas mileage is easier than you might think.

“Your vehicle’s motor oil becomes thicker in colder temperatures, which adds stress to the engine,” says Jim Rossbach, director of technical services and quality with CHS, a Minnesota-based agribusiness owned by farmers and cooperatives.

“Try a thinner grade of oil to keep your engine running smoothly in the colder months,” Rossbach advises.

Rossbach recommends using a high-performing synthetic oil like Cenex Maxtron, which is designed to perform well in low temperatures and improve fuel economy.

Proper tire inflation can also improve fuel economy by up to 3 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It is important to check tire pressure several times throughout the winter when colder temperature can reduce tire pressure at a rate of one pound per square inch (PSI) for every 10 degrees change.

Lighten the Load

Extra weight from cargo or snow also reduces fuel efficiency. Cleaning out your car and clearing off heavy snow is an easy way to get better gas mileage.

In the past, carrying sandbags in the trunk was a common method for gaining more traction and helping rear-wheel drive cars perform better on snow and ice. Today, most cars are front-wheel drive with the engine over the front wheels, creating that same grip.

Carrying extra weight in the back does not make a difference when traveling in a straight line, but it may reduce fish-tailing when turning under very slippery conditions.

— Brandpoint

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  • Kevin Hiebert

    Synthetics really do make a difference in winter! I use a 5W-30 non-petroleum based motor oil in my vehicle and it starts right away up on the ski hill. I experience slightly better gas mileage and have no worries between oil changes (i.e. full warranty coverage).


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