How to make your car more efficient in the winter

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Cold winter mornings make it really hard to get out of bed, don’t they? The icy rain and wind banging on your bedroom window makes your bed feel like the safest, cosiest place on earth, and leaving it behind while you get up and go to work feels like torture. The cooler weather affects your body, making it harder for your muscles to warm up, leaving you feeling stiff and sluggish in the mornings. It’s really hard to get going on a cold day, and you feel like you’re burning all your energy up just trying to stay warm.

Your car feels the same effects too. Have you ever noticed that cold mornings often make your car’s starter motor work a bit harder than usual to get going? Perhaps you’ve also noticed that you seem to be visiting the petrol station more often to fill up in the winter.

Why is my car so sluggish in winter?

Fuel economy tends to be lower during winter, and there are a number of reasons why:

  • Heated windows, heated seats, and your car’s heater fans all use fuel, and you’re switching them all on more now than you do in summer.
  • Warming up your car before a journey by idling uses fuel without you going anywhere which affects your miles per gallon.
  • Your car’s battery performs more poorly in the winter, meaning the alternator has to work extra hard to keep it charged, thus using more fuel.
  • Cold air is denser and increases drag on your car, especially at high speeds.
  • It takes longer for the engine to reach its most fuel-efficient temperature in cold weather, so on short journeys your car is running at less-than-optimal temperatures.
  • Icy roads decrease the traction of your car’s tyres, which wastes fuel.

Increasing fuel efficiency in winter

The good news is there are a number of ways in which you can make your car more fuel efficient during the winter months, saving you money on petrol or diesel, and also making your car kinder to the environment:

  • Park your car in a warmer place: If you have a garage, use it. Storing your car somewhere warmer when it’s not in use means that the next time you come to drive it, the starting temperature will be higher, and it will reach its optimal fuel efficiency sooner.
  • Don’t idle your car to warm it up: Idling your car uses fuel but gets you nowhere, so most car manufacturers recommend idling for no longer than 30 seconds to warm your car up. The engine warms up much faster when the car is being driven, so get onto the road as soon as you can to minimise fuel wastage and maximise efficiency.
  • Switch to winter tyres: The road surface in winter is different to how it is in summer. Ice, snow, and excessive rain make road surfaces more slippery, meaning your car may struggle to gain traction, causing you to over-rev. Winter tyres are designed to gain traction on icy roads, helping you to save fuel and avoid accidents and breakdowns.
  • Combine your trips or leave the car at home: If you regularly pop to the shops or nip round to a friend’s house in your car, it’s a good idea to combine these trips, i.e. visit your friend and call at the shops on the way home. This minimises short journeys and means less driving with a cold engine. Leaving the car at home is your best bet though, and you’ll get some exercise to boot.
  • Remove accessories from your car: If you have a roof rack or bike rack attached to your car they can cause unnecessary wind resistance. Be sure to remove them when they’re not in use as this will help to reduce drag and make your car more fuel efficient.
  • Drive sensibly: This applies in all weather, not just during winter. Accelerate slowly and carefully, and maintain a safe and constant speed where traffic allows. Accelerating uses more fuel than maintaining your speed, so avoid aggressive overtaking or racing away from the traffic lights.
  • Use the right gear: Again, this is a tip that applies in all weathers. Try to change up to the next gear as soon as you can and avoid accelerating harder than necessary. Driving in a lower gear than you need to wastes fuel.
  • Have your car serviced regularly: Although it is not a legal requirement in the same way as the MOT, having your car serviced regularly is the sensible thing to do. Whether you take it to a garage or do it yourself, ensure that the air filters are changed and the oil is topped up or cleaned as a minimum.
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