DIY

A/C and Fuel Economy: Can You Have Both?

Apr 20, 2016

Get the most from every gas tank as the weather heats up.

Summer is just around the corner, and soon people will hit the road for vacations, road trips, and weekend getaways. No matter where they go, drivers will debate how to stay cool while maximizing fuel economy. Here are three tips to get the most bang for your buck at the pumps. 

Don’t fight the heat.

The hotter the outside temperature, the harder the air conditioning system has to work to keep you cool. A study by Consumer Reports showed that fuel economy decreased by 1 to 4 mpg when temperatures climbed into the 70° and 80° Fahrenheit range. So as tempting as it might be to crank the A/C on full blast when you wouldn’t dare to run across the blacktop in bare feet, you’ll get a few more miles out of every gallon if you resist.

Keep your cabin filter clean.

Over time dirt and debris can clog your cabin filter. The build-up can inhibit air flow, forcing you to turn up the A/C higher than normal. The unnecessary level of output can put a strain on your A/C system and hurt fuel economy. Alleviate stress by replacing the cabin filter regularly. Check your owner’s manual for recommended replacing intervals. Once per year—or every 12,000 to 15,000 miles—is typical, but if you drive in an area with heavy pollen or on dirt or gravel roads, you may want to change the cabin filter more frequently. 

Watch your speed.

We’ve all had the debate: roll down the windows or turn on the A/C? The answer comes down to how fast you’re driving. Aerodynamic drag increases exponentially with speed. In other words, the faster you drive with the windows down, the worse your fuel economy gets. Popular Mechanics did a study in which they found the transition point to be 55 mph. They drove a car at 55 mph with the A/C running, and the car got 24 mile per gallon. They turned the A/C off and continued at that speed, and the car’s fuel economy jumped to 28 mpg. They then opened the four windows one at a time, and the car lost one mile per gallon per window until they were back at 24 mpg. Bottom line? For maximum fuel efficiency, roll down the windows when you drive below 55 mph. In general, turn on the A/C when you drive above 55 mph.


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Tags: DIY

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