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Fuel - save money, save the planet...

...and reduce stress!

We’re back again with more tips on how to save money and improve life on this planet. As you know, we’re building an earthship so we can live in a more environmentally friendly way. Our main faux pas is the amount of fossil fuels we use and the pollution we cause whilst doing the 2 1/2 hr round trip to the build. We tried to ignore this to begin with, hoping that the finished house would balance it out. But the rising fuel prices encouraged us to investigate how to reduce our fuel consumption. To our delight some of the changes we’ve made have also increased our driving enjoyment and we get home much less stressed now. We’d like to share these ideas with you so you too can save money, save the planet and reduce your stress levels all in one go.

Assessing need

• First and foremost, make sure the car you’re driving is the car you actually need. If you live 3km down a regularly flooded rambla then the odds are you could do with a 4x4. On the other hand, if you live 500m off a tarmac road and have to cross a rambla that floods maybe once a year - then do you really need a 4x4? If you only ever do short around town journeys, do you even need a car? Public transport, bicycles or walking could be a much healthier and cheaper solution. When you take into account the cost of insuring, servicing as well as running a car, using taxis or hire cars for the occasional long distance journey may be cheaper.

• If you’re changing your car think about hybrids or fully electric cars as an option. They’re getting better and better, in fact some are quite cute, and the more we the consumer ask for them the more the manufacturers will improve them.

• I know this sounds obvious, but if you have more than one car choose the one most suitable for your journey.

• Car share whenever possible. Sharing trips would cut your fuel consumption by half and give you a chance to catch up with all the goss.

• Short journeys, under 3 kms, are the least fuel-efficient and most polluting. A cold engine will produce 60% more pollution than a warm one. And do you really want to use a litre of fuel to buy a litre of milk? Walking or cycling to your local shops will save you money and keep you fit.

• When shopping for food buy in bulk to cut down on the number of trips you need to do in a month. Better still support your local traders. A lot of them here in Spain even do ‘the rounds’ so all you have to do is listen out for the tooting of car horns announcing their arrival. You can buy anything from gas to frozen goods to bread and melons, all on your own doorstep, marvellous!

• If you have the option make your journey off peak. Sitting in heavy traffic is not only miserable but very costly on fuel. And if you do get stuck in a jam and are likely to be in the same place for more than a few minutes, turn your engine off.

Car maintenance

• Check tyre pressure regularly. Under-inflated tyres wear quicker and can make a big difference to fuel consumption. Wide tyres cause extra drag too, so try to stick to those recommended by the car company. Be careful not to over-inflate tyres as this can be dangerous.

• Avoid carrying excess weight around and remove roof racks when not in use. Filling up the fuel tank is also adding extra weight.

• Service your car regularly. Leaving it un-serviced can reduce its fuel-efficiency by up to 10% or more. And catalytic converters are only environmentally friendly when properly maintained.

• Premium grade fuels may be more expensive but they do increase the performance and therefore efficiency of your engine. They also burn cleaner and reduce harmful emissions. A few cents more per litre might get you many more kilometres driving. Most cars won’t need re-tuning to run on these fuels, but it’s worth checking with your local garage or the manufacturer.

Driving style

• Drive at or below the speed limit. It’ll save you litres and litres of fuel and a ton of stress. Driving at 90kph uses 25% less fuel than at 112kph. You’ll enjoy the journey a lot more and it’ll only take a few minutes extra - yes really! If you’re a speed freak save it for the race track at the weekends.

• Avoid going from accelerator straight to brake (unless of course you have to). If you read the road ahead you can ease off the accelerator to slow you for corners or queues. If you’re on a windy road reduce your speed in general rather than going from brake to accelerator at every bend.

• Take the pressure off the accelerator when you reach a comfortable speed and ‘feather’ the throttle. Don’t coast out of gear though as this won’t save you fuel and you should maintain control of your vehicle at all times.

• Two things that are hard not to do when in Spain is driving with the window open or with the air-conditioning on full blast. But, you guessed it, driving with the window open creates more drag and increases fuel consumption and air-conditioning uses more fuel. Try turning the air-con down a bit, and use the air vents instead of opening the window whenever possible. Little things but it all helps especially on long journeys.

Most modern cars have information panels showing miles per gallon or litres per 100 kilometres. Try testing yourself before and after you’ve made any of the above changes. We’ve tried it and increased our fuel efficiency by 13% just by keeping our tyres at the correct pressure and easing off the accelerator. This equates to an extra 100kms on a tank of 50 litres, which would be about 7 or 8 euros at the moment. CO2 emissions are reduced and the icing on the cake is that we’re enjoying our journeys a lot more and getting home much less stressed. That’s got to be worth it.

Published in Levante Lifestyle Magazine September 2008