As gas prices continue to rise, the auto industry is in full force touting the benefits of car maintenance. Many repair shops even have personalized “fuel saving” services. While car maintenance is really important, does it really save gas? Before answering this, let’s take a step back and look at car maintenance today.
The first question we need to ask ourselves is: what does my car need (according to the manufacturer) to be considered “maintained”? Today’s cars no longer have distributor caps, rotors, tips, 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 flushes and transmission services are not required until 100,000 miles, if they are needed at all. However, even if we perform all of the above services, will they increase fuel efficiency? Probably not. Unless your vehicle is misfiring (ie not running on all cylinders), your gas mileage is probably fine.
So what part of car maintenance negatively affects fuel economy for the average driver of a late-model vehicle? 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 become clogged after a considerable amount of driving and can then restrict airflow, which will not allow your fuel to burn efficiently. This can also cause excessive carbon buildup, which can lower your miles per gallon. The good news: Air filters are cheap ($15 to $30), easy to install, and typically only need replacement every 30,000 miles.
Excess Carbon: There is another car maintenance service that “can” help with gas mileage. It’s called fuel system cleaning service. Some repair centers call it auto fuel injector maintenance or fuel injection service. Simply, chemicals are added to your fuel system through a variety of ports to clean out excess carbon deposits on your valves, pistons, and intake manifold. This naturally formed carbon (in excess) is not good for your gas mileage. The excess carbon absorbs gasoline, which would otherwise be used to fuel your vehicle. However, before you run out and spend the $150 or more 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 buildup. You wouldn’t wash clean clothes, would you?
When you see those “fuel saver” services for $100 to $300, they 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 my tire pressure recently?
If you can answer yes to these questions, you’re probably okay. Buying cheap, no-name gas once in a while is fine. Replacing the air filter and adjusting tire pressure is common sense. Also, if you’re driving like grandma, pull out onto the freeway and press the vertical pedal on your right foot “to the floor” until your vehicle accelerates to speeds you’re not entirely comfortable with. Then repeat a few more times. This will help remove excess carbon – for FREE – minus the cost of fuel. Be careful. Watch out for the cops.
In short, follow your manufacturer’s guidelines for car maintenance, not those designed by those who will benefit most. Use name brand fuel, adjust tire pressure from time to time, fit an air filter, according to your car’s recommended interval, and don’t be afraid to drop the hammer from time to time.