Have you noticed your vehicle become a gas pig lately, or at least more than normal? You’re not alone. With temperatures dropping, our cars and trucks are burning more fuel than normal. In this article we look at why your fuel efficiency drops in winter and what you can do to save money and the environment.
Simply put, cold weather means higher fuel consumption. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that a drop in temperature from 24°C to 7°C can increase fuel consumption in urban commutes by 12 to 28%.
Why your Fuel Efficiency drops in Winter
There are a few reasons why your vehicle is burning more fuel in January, February, and March, and – shocker – it all comes down to science. Let’s start with the obvious one, slippery roads:
- Winter weather creates difficult driving conditions – You’ll encounter rougher roads when driving in winter. Your engine must work harder to overcome the increased rolling resistance these obstacles create. Snow and ice also increase wheel slippage, which means higher fuel consumption. Fuel consumption can increase 7 to 35% because of poor winter road conditions alone, according to U.S. EPA data.
- Aerodynamic resistance is greater in the winter – Cold, dry winter air is 11% denser than warm, humid summer air. The increased resistance increases highway fuel consumption by about 1.3%. The average wind speed is higher in the winter too, which also increases aerodynamic resistance and fuel consumption.
- Winter gas normally has lower energy density – Gasoline composition is seasonally and geographically adjusted based on historical temperature data. A litre of winter gas has less energy than a litre of summer gas, typically in the range of 1.5 to 3%. Diesel fuel is affected similarly.
- Winter driving taxes the vehicle’s electrical system – Other than the use of air conditioning, your vehicle’s electrical loads are normally higher in cold weather. This is due to greater demand from heating, defrosting, headlights and interior lights, heated seats, heated mirrors, and increased use of the windshield washer pump. The energy for these comes from the vehicle’s electrical system, which gets its power from the engine.
How to Improve Winter Fuel Efficiency
By following these tips, you can lessen the impact of winter weather on your fuel efficiency (AKA save money) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (AKA save the environment). Win win!
- Don’t idle to warm up – It may feel bone-chilling, but idling for more than 30 seconds has no benefit for the vehicle. Ten minutes of idling burns 0.25 to 0.50 litres of fuel and emits 600 to 1,200 grams of CO2, depending on the vehicle and conditions. Driving for a few minutes is the most efficient way to warm the engine, drivetrain, and the cabin. That said, never, ever drive without properly clearing your windshield, rear window, mirrors, and roof. Don’t be this guy…
- Keep tires properly inflated – Tire pressure drops when the temperature drops and driving a vehicle with tires under-inflated by 56 kilopascals (8 pounds per square inch) can increase fuel consumption by up to 4% and reduce the life of the tires by more than 10,000 km. Measure your tire pressure at least once every month, and more often during seasonal changes, to ensure a proper level of inflation.
- Use a block heater – Block heaters warm your engine in advance, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions. For best results, put your block heater on a timer, set it to turn on no more than 2 hours before you start the engine.
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With thanks to Natural Resources Canada