Car Maintenance: Will It Really Help Gas Mileage?

As gasoline prices continue to rise, the auto industry is in full swing touting the benefits of car maintenance. Many repair shops even have personalized “fuel saver” services. While car maintenance is really important, does it really save gas? Before we answer this, let’s go back and look at auto maintenance for today’s cars.

The first question we must ask ourselves is: what does my car need (according to the manufacturer) to be considered “maintained”? Today’s cars no longer have timing caps, rotors, points, and a variety of other ignition components, so they are maintenance-free. Many vehicles now come with extended service parts like 100,000 mile platinum spark plugs and lifetime fuel filters. Oil change intervals have been extended to 5,000 miles or more. The 3,000 mile oil change is ancient history. Coolant rinses and transmission services are not necessary until 100,000 miles, if at all. However, even if we do all of the above services, will they increase fuel efficiency? Probably not. Unless your vehicle is failing (that is, it’s not running on all cylinders), your fuel mileage is probably fine.

So what part of car maintenance negatively affects fuel economy for the average late-model vehicle driver? Three things: tire pressure, air filters, and excess carbon.

Tire pressure: Adjusting tire pressure is free and is the best maintenance service you can perform to maintain maximum fuel efficiency. It’s that easy.

Air filters: In fact, air filters can get clogged after a considerable amount of driving and can then restrict airflow, not allowing fuel to burn efficiently. This can also cause excessive carbon build-up, which can lower your miles per gallon. The good news: Air filters are cheap ($ 15 to $ 30), easy to install, and typically only need to be replaced every 30,000 miles.

Carbon excess: There is another car maintenance service that “can” help your gas mileage. It’s called a fuel system cleaning service. Some repair centers call it automatic fuel injector maintenance or fuel injection service. Simply put, chemicals are added to your fuel system through a variety of holes to clean excess carbon deposits on your valves, pistons, and intake manifold. This naturally-formed (excess) carbon is not good for fuel consumption. The excess carbon soaks up gasoline, which would otherwise be used to power your vehicle. However, before you run out and spend the $ 150 + to perform this service, there is one important consideration: the service will only work for vehicles that need it. In other words, yes, things work, but your vehicle may not have any excess carbon build-up. You wouldn’t wash clean clothes, would you?

When you see those $ 100 to $ 300 “fuel saver” services, they will likely include an air filter, tire pressure check, and a fuel system cleaning service. If you are wondering whether or not your vehicle needs it, ask yourself the following:

1) Do I constantly use quality gasoline? 2) Have I replaced my air filter at least every 30,000 miles? 3) Have I checked the tire pressure recently?

If you can answer yes to these questions, you are probably fine. Buying cheap, nameless gasoline every now and then is fine. Replacing the air filter and adjusting the tire pressure is common sense. Also, if you drive like grandma, hit the road and press the vertical pedal on your right foot “all the way down” until your vehicle accelerates to speeds you are not entirely comfortable with. Then repeat a few more times. This will help remove excess carbon, CARBON FREE, minus the cost of fuel. Be careful. Beware of the police.

In short, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintaining your car, not those designed by those who will benefit the most. Use brand name fuel, adjust the tire pressure from time to time, fit an air filter, according to the interval recommended by your car, and don’t be afraid to drop the hammer every now and then.