As cold weather is rapidly approaching, you may be wondering if your vehicle is more fuel-efficient during the summer or the winter. Determining the fuel consumption of an automobile can be a difficult task. With so many factors to consider for seasonal driving, we have researched and compiled the answer for you.
You can expect a vehicle's overall fuel consumption to increase during winter weather conditions. This type of weather can impact fuel consumption due to:
- Driving and other atmospheric conditions
- Idling time
- Tire pressure changes
- Drivetrain style
- Type of gasoline
- Use of additional electronic functions of the vehicle
- Battery performance
- Driving speed variances
With all that to consider, the good news is that some variables within your control will help you reach optimal performance. Before we can get to that, you need to understand why these factors impact your vehicle's consumption of fuel during winter. Please keep reading, and we'll also provide additional tips to maximize your fuel economy this winter.
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Cars Consume More Fuel In Winter
Driving and other atmospheric conditions
When the roads are full of ice and snow, there is an increase in the resistance needed for the tires to rotate. This is because the tire must work harder to push ice and snow aside to maintain the necessary friction. This extra resistance causes the car's engine to work harder too.
Winter weather also brings about temperatures that chill the air. Since cold air is denser than warmer air, the wind resistance or the aerodynamic drag on the vehicle also increases. Highway speeds can increase that resistance by up to 1.3 percent. As the resistance increases, greater fuel consumption results.
If you've ever used the remote start to warm up in the morning before work, you're not doing the vehicle (or your vehicle's fuel consumption) any favors. There is no benefit to leaving your vehicle running for more than 30 seconds or so before driving it. It may be nicer to get into the car when it is warm but remember that when you idle your vehicle, you are getting zero miles-per-gallon.
Tire Pressure Changes
Colder weather brings about fluctuating changes in the tire pressure. According to Consumer Reports, due to the denser air that comes with lower temperatures, the tire will lose approximately 1 PSI for every 10°F drop in temperature. Much like the increase in resistance mentioned above, the lower tire pressure increases the resistance of the tire roll, leading to an increase in fuel consumption.
Some vehicles have a drivetrain, such as a 4x4 or AWD. While these drivetrain styles help control the vehicle during inclement weather conditions by increasing traction, the drivetrain build itself is heavier. It causes an increase in the energy used to operate the system. More energy required results in an increased need for fuel.
Type of Gasoline
Gasoline grades are changed depending on the season and your geographical area. When the weather is warm, gas is more likely to evaporate from the fuel system. Because of this, the volatility of the gas must match the season. In winter, the blends of gas contain less energy than their summertime counterpart. This also contributes to an increase in fuel consumption.
Use of additional electronic functions
In the wintertime, additional functions in the vehicle are used more frequently, such as the window defroster, heater, steering wheel heater, heated seats, and heater fan, among others. This contributes to additional energy consumption from the engine. The harder the engine works, the more fuel it consumes.
Cold weather can impact the vehicle's battery performance. If you've ever noticed, leaving your car outside on a windy, frigid evening often results in a vehicle that will not start the next morning. When the performance of your battery suffers, it can lead to extra work forced on your alternator to keep the battery charged. More strain on the alternator connected to the engine requires your engine to work harder.
Driving speed variances
Due to the nature of the weather in the winter months, safe driving often results in slower driving or driving at inconsistent speeds. In these types of conditions, speeds below 30 MPH can negatively influence the fuel economy of your vehicle.
At what speed are cars most fuel-efficient?
For maximum fuel efficiency, the ideal zone is generally between 40 MPH to 60 MPH depending on the size of the vehicle. The average passenger (small to medium size) vehicle will reach optimal fuel economy speed around 50 MPH.
How can I improve my gas mileage in the winter?
Now that you understand how climate and seasonal driving styles can impact your fuel consumption, here are some things you can do to help improve your gas mileage in the winter:
Park In A Sheltered Location
Park in a garage to shelter your vehicle from the brunt of frigid air. A carport also helps block some of that chilly wind, especially if other cars are parked beside. If you do not have access to these options, you could park your vehicle close to a building or out of the direct path of the chilly wind.
Monitor Tire Pressure
Consistently check your tire pressure, especially during the times when the temperatures are changing. Checking tire pressure often ensures that they remain at the recommended pressure for optimal fuel consumption.
Lighten the Load
Remove any unnecessary accessories or gear that increases resistance. For example, remove a roof rack in the wintertime, especially if not used as frequently. Removing them will make the vehicle more aerodynamic and aid in saving fuel.
Minimize the use of idling. If you start your car in the morning before leaving for work, don't let it idle for too long. The longer it sits using fuel, the less miles-per-gallon you will get on the road. Learn more about idling here: Do I Need To Warm Up My Car Before Driving?
Minimize Use of Electric Features
Limit the use of window defrosters, seat warmers, and other electronic accessories to reduce the amount of energy required from the engine. For more tips on how to keep your car cozy while you drive, please read: How To Keep The Windshield From Freezing While Driving?
Does a car use more fuel when the AC is on?
The AC will also demand an increase in engine power, similar to any other electronic features. The more power the engine requires, the more fuel is required to run it. Ultimately, using the AC will increase the overall fuel consumption of the vehicle.
Winter weather does prove to impact the level of fuel consumption of your vehicle. Just remember some things can be done to keep your vehicle in great condition and to function at optimal levels. Stay proactive by using the tips we've provided above to help keep your vehicle in tip-top shape and ultimately getting better fuel economy all winter long.