Fuel efficiency tips for drivers this winter

A winter settles in, there are some bad habits that can deplete your tank quickly as the weather gets colder.

The national average for the price of gasoline per gallon has gone up $1.31 from a year ago, and cold temperatures and winter weather can impact the fuel economy significantly, Fox Weather says.

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According to Fox Weather, when the temperature drops, it increases the viscosity of engine oils, and other fluids increasing engine friction and requiring more time to reach normal operating temperatures. It also reduces battery performance, so the alternator must work harder to keep the battery charged.

In addition, AAA says cold air can also reduce your tire pressure, and using your defroster and heater put more strain on your engine, burning up fuel faster.

Fox Weather has a number of tips that can help keep your fuel use efficient during the winter:

- Check the level of antifreeze protection in your cooling system. If inadequate, it can cause coolant to freeze in the radiator during vehicle operation and lead to overheating. Coolant that freezes solid expands around 10% in volume and may cause cooling system or engine damage that can be costly to repair.

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- If your battery is more than three years old, have it tested by a service professional to ensure it can provide adequate cranking power in cold weather. 

- Make sure your engine is filled with the recommended motor oil. Most modern cars use multi-viscosity oils, and the first number in the rating is typically 0W, 5W, or 10W – which means the oil remains "thin" and flows more efficiently at lower temperatures.

- Check your tire pressures to avoid underinflation. Pressures typically decrease by one pound-per-square-inch for every 10-degree drop in outside temperature. Improperly inflated tires will impact fuel economy because it creates more resistance for the vehicle.

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- If you drive a diesel vehicle, consider using a cold-weather fuel additive to prevent the formation of wax crystals that can plug the fuel system. The vehicle must be driven for a short time to circulate the additive throughout the fuel system before frigid weather sets in. The additive will not work if installed after the fact.

More tips for helping your gas mileage in cold weather

- If possible, park in a garage – a heated garage is even better. This will help retain engine heat longer and protect the car from icy winds that accelerate heat loss.

- Preheat the cabin for hybrid or electric vehicles while plugged into the charger.
Avoid excessive idling and warmup. A vehicle warms up more quickly when being driven but avoid hard accelerations until the engine is warmed up.

- Combine trips whenever possible. Short trips that require cold engine starts are the least efficient and, in the winter, it takes longer for the vehicle to warm up.

- For hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, it may be more efficient to use steering wheel and seat heaters than to heat the entire cabin. Read your owner’s manual for vehicle specific recommendations.

- Because of the increased aerodynamic drag in cold air, when it comes to carrying items on an exterior vehicle rack, roof-mounted racks decrease fuel economy much more than rear-mounted racks. When not in use, remove roof mounted ski racks and cargo carriers. This is also true for those who keep extra weight for winter traction. When not needed, remove all excess weight.