Use Safe Driving To Save Gas During The Last 6 Weeks Of Winter

Photo: pfly

Yesterday, Punxsutawney Phil predicted that we will have to endure six more weeks of winter. When I heard this news one thing came to mind: more winter driving. While I don't like the added danger of driving in winter conditions, I am more upset by the knowledge that the snow, ice, and cold reduce my car's efficiency by up to 50%.

A while ago we looked at the efficiency improving techniques of 'hypermiling'. Many people criticize these techniques as unsafe but really the core concepts are, in fact, perfectly suited to safe driving in winter weather.

By practicing these techniques for the next six weeks you will be a safer, more efficient driver. As a added bonus, you will be in the habit of fuel saving driving when spring and summer arrive.

Hypermiling is Safe Winter Driving

The AAA advice for safe winter driving could easily be used as a basic primer for the new hypermiler. They recommend:

  • Group all driving into one session and plan a route that will involve the fewest stops, hills, intersections and the lightest traffic. If possible, public transport is safer and more fuel efficient than driving yourself.
  • Accelerate slowly to increase your vehicle's traction on slippery roads. The use of cruise control is not recommended in the snow, ice, or rain.
  • Come to a slow stop. If you begin stopping early, the car can slow down gradually.
  • Leave plenty of space between cars. This prevents slamming on your brakes and skidding out of control.
  • Drive slowly to allow more time to react to your own car as well as other motorists.
  • Don't stop if it is possible to avoid. Slow down so that you can roll through a light rather than stopping the car completely.
  • Don't speed up hills. Instead, build speed and inertia before the hill and use it to coast to the top. This saves gas and prevents spinning wheels.

Fighting the Cold

While the techniques above will help make driving safer and more efficient in the ice and snow, there is one more issue that dramatically reduces economy in the winter: the cold.

The Canada Office of Energy Efficiency has some great tips for maintaining efficiency in the cold. They recommend:

  • Get a tune up. Winter driving takes a tole on your car and waiting until spring may not be worthwhile. Regular maintenance is the most important thing you can do to your car to ensure your car is as efficient as possible.
  • Warm your car by driving, not idling. Leaving your car to sit and idle wastes fuel and can also be damaging to the engine.
  • If it is very cold in your area, consider a block heater. These plug in engine warmers are a significantly more efficient way of heating the engine compared to idling.
  • Clear snow and ice off the entire car. A car piled with snow is dangerous, but the weight and reduced aerodynamics it causes can also hurt efficiency. Snow and ice build up in wheel wells can rub against the tires, increasing resistance on the wheels.
  • Check your tire pressure. Dropping temperatures reduce the pressure and an under-inflation of just 2 psi can decrease economy by 1%.

These basic techniques can radically increase the efficiency of your car for the remainder of the winter. Perhaps more importantly, they will make your winter driving a bit more gentle on your car, and safer for you and other motorists.

For more information on winter driving, try these sites:

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Guest's picture

I'm amazed at how much drag is created by the snow on my car. I live in the mountains. I usually have to down-shift considerably to stay below 55 MPH on the steep, downhill runs. If the car is covered with snow, it stays below the speed limit when coasting down the mountain in neutral. I estimate that that the snow creates enough drag to slow me down at least 20 MPH, probably more.

Going back up the hill, my hybrid is much happier at 55 MPH than it is at 70 MPH. It has to be totally floored to go 70, but it loafs along at 55. It stands to reason that the car will last a lot longer if not abused. And, it's safer to drive at a relaxed speed.

Guest's picture

The best way to learn winter driving is to find a safe place where you can practise breaking and sliding! Nothing can prepare your for an emergency like trying to break and avoid an obstacle on a slippery surface.