Follow These Rules and Improve Your Fuel Economy (Or Just Buy a Turbocharged 3-Banger)

Ford Fiesta

Fiesta: possible 3-cylinder candidate

Get ready for a turbocharged 3-cylinder!

As part of the race to improve fuel economy across the auto industry, Ford said yesterday it plans to introduce its smallest engine ever by 2013.

The new turbocharged 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine will be available in small cars globally, though Ford hasn’t let slip which cars those will be (though the Fiesta is probably a safe bet).

The engine will reportedly have the same power output as the Blue Oval’s 1.6-liter, 120-hp 4-cylinder mill but get around 50 mpg on the highway. Sounds to me like a modern take on the old 3-cylinder Suzuki Swifts and Chevy Metros of the 1990s! I love the idea and look forward to driving one.

For those who want to start saving on gas right away, we recommend either buying an old Swift or keeping the car you have and following these tips:

Suzuki Swift

1994 Suzuki Swift

The obvious tips you can find anywhere are to keep your tires properly inflated and your engine tuned up. Combined, those two bits of simple maintenance can potentially save you a lot of cash at the pump.

As part of a properly tuned car, make sure the oxygen sensor is working correctly. A bad one can cause as much as a 40 percent reduction in fuel economy! Also use the recommended grade of motor oil. If you use 10W-30 when the manufacturer calls for 5W-20, you’ll pay a few cents’ penalty for every gallon you pump. Ouch.

Conventional knowledge also says to change a dirty air filter to see an improvement in mileage, but that has recently been proven not to be the case. You’ll see better performance with a clean filter, but no fuel economy benefit (unless you drive a pre-1980s carbureted vehicle).

Altering the way you drive can provide an even bigger return on fuel costs. You could try hypermiling techniques, or just make small adjustments to your daily driving habits. I won’t even mention to avoid drag-racing when the light turns green. Every idiot on Earth knows that just pours gas down the drain.

If your company allows it, alter the time you leave home in the morning to avoid rush hour. Then on the way home from work, make your grocery stops instead of heading out again later.

Take everything out of (and off of) your car that you don’t need. One list says that every 250 pounds of stuff you haul decreases fuel economy by 1 mpg. So carry the golf clubs only when you go golfing, use the bike rack only when you carry bikes, and don’t forget to take the sand bags out of your trunk when Spring arrives.

In short, just be smart about driving. For too long we in the U.S. have relied so heavily on our cars that we use them as an extension of ourselves. Many of us have forgotten that our legs are actually attached to us and not sitting on four tires out in the garage.

Walk or bike when you can, and use the car as the luxury it is, not as the crutch we’ve all turned it into. At least until 2013. Then just pick up a turbo 3-banger and drive all you want.

Do you have any gas saving tips?


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Used Ford Fiesta
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  1. Some good points Randy but learn to drive a diesel they react differently to petrol engines my little Citroen diesel likes to be driven like a truck ie lugged at low revs it pulls well from 1200 rpm on I can run around at 50kmh in town in 5th gear no problem and of course using no throttle uses no fuel. Our open road limit is 100 kph or 2500rpm in 5th max torque is at 2200 so has great pickup from there withoput needing to downshift so it gets great fuel milage unless you srart driving at very high speeds or try to race everything this car easily exceeds 100mph if you need to, of course its manual I hate auto diesels I had to drive an Iveco autoshift truck for some time did not like it much preferred the navistar with Cat and 18 speed I got taken out of though it was slower and didnt handle as well

  2. The problem with undersized turbo engines is that the turbo is engaged a bit too often, which eliminates the fuel savings of the smaller engine. On American highways, you should use some common sense and pick an engine/transmission combo that matches your local terrain and driving style. Undersized engines are no good if you like to accelerate hard and drive fast and live in a area with lots of hilly terrain. Here are some fuel saving tips that work:
    1. Overinflate your tires a bit and check them often. The most common cause of lost economy is under-inflated tires.
    2. Use synthetic oil. Synthetic oil is the single best thing you can do for your car. I used to work in GM Research’s tribology (lubricant) department, and the tests we made using synthetic oil proved that it lubricats better, suspends crud (to protect your bearings and rings), and reduces internal friction. It’s also much more stable to much higher temperatures. Switching to synthetic can also improve your mileage.
    3. Learn to drive for econmy. Slow, steady acceleration, keeping a good following distance (to reduce braking) and keeping your speed down can dramatically improve mileage. You can think of your cruising speed as gasoline– It’s kinetic energy and you must burn gas to get and keep kinetic energy. Your brakes convert kinetic energy to heat and represents a loss of energy that you will have to burn gas to get back. Also, remember that energy is the product of your mass times the velocity squared, so to achieve higher velocity you must burn much more gas then lower velocities. Just driving 80 instead of 40 requires at least four times more energy (V-squared) plus the energy loss due to wind resistance is much higher at higher speeds. So paying attention to speed limits can help.
    4. Drive a stick shift. A skilled driver with a manual transmission can get much better mileage than the same driver with an automatic transmission. Automatics are less efficient at transferring the energy produced by the engine to the drive train than are automatices.
    5. Get a Diesel. Even large trucks have significanly higher mileage with Diesel engines because the Diesel is much superior thermodynamically than gas engines. Also, Diesels produce a lot of torque at low RPM’s which doesn’t look impressive from a horsepower standpoint but is much more useful in accellerating a vehicle without high RPM’s.
    6. Trick other people into driving you around. This only works for so long unless you are a very talented female or especially pathetic senior.

  3. @ gr0undh0g
    Thanks for the comment, groundhog :)

    @ panayoti
    And panayoti, come on, a guy can have his 0-60 in 2 second car for the weekends and his 3-cylinder “testicle-crushing interior” car for the workday commute, right?

  4. Geesh TG, why don’t you ask me to push my knees up to my chest, put my testicles in a vise, and my elbows inside my shorts too??? Your concept of “saving” and “hypermiling” are not conducive to comfort and/or sanity. I don’t want to do all these things that you, of all people are suggesting that I do to get the most mileage possible. You keep writing about “excitement” and “performance” and “dreaming” about super cars even if it is in our imagination, yet in the same breath you are now extolling the virtues of 3 cylinder engines that I could probably outrun in the first quarter mile. I just don’t get it. Where are you in this discussion??

    Look, lets do some math. To get the most mileage you would probably need a “sardine” can so the 3 cylinder could probably propel it. Lets just use a Kia Rio as our sardine can. Lets take its larger brother, the Optima as our big car. Plenty of room, no testicle-crushing interior, lots of creature comforts and pretty affordable in its own right. At the end of the year, driving 15000 miles, it would cost you $1923 in gas for the Rio and $2137 for the Optima. For less than $20 a month you would exchange the comfort, power, and utility of the Optima for the testicle-crushing Rio or worse yet, a 3 cylinder?? Shame!! Now you’ve soiled yourself!! I suggest you save these kind of articles for our Mexican friend and that you continue focusing on your supercars that no one can afford.

  5. Very well written article. I must applaud the practical tips given here and the importance of saving on fuel in the country. Atleast until 2013 – then we can all drive a turbo 3 cylinder all we want. *chuckle*

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