AutosHow to beat summer heat and save fuel: Expert tips

How to beat summer heat and save fuel: Expert tips

Proper use of air conditioning can save on fuel.
Proper use of air conditioning can save on fuel.
Images source: © fot. Marcin Łobodziński

9:43 AM EDT, July 10, 2024

Today, it's hard to imagine traveling by car without air conditioning. However, every bit of savings is invaluable in an era of rising fuel prices. Specialists from SAE International have conducted studies showing that clever air conditioning use can bring tangible benefits.

Some people drive in the summer with the air conditioning constantly on and set to one temperature. Yes, during heatwaves, moving in a cabin with a bearable temperature is more pleasant and safer because it's easier for drivers to maintain focus and good reaction time. On the other hand, motorists value the comfort of a cooled car but are also mindful of fuel consumption. Is it possible to reconcile these issues?

Engineers at SAE International (Society of Automotive Engineers) emphasize that proper air conditioning use minimizes fuel consumption increase, while improper use leads to a noticeable increase in consumption. Experts advise how to cool the vehicle's interior efficiently while minimizing costs. Taxi drivers also confirm this.

Many refrain from using air conditioning, fearing increased fuel costs, which can directly affect their income. The average fuel consumption can increase by 0.3 to 0.5 gallons per 62 miles. For small engines, this increase is even more noticeable. One driver of a nearly new Dacia Logan told me that he doesn't use the air conditioning in the summer because his small engine consumes as much as 15 miles per gallon in the city (LPG). Without air conditioning, consumption drops to 24-26 miles per gallon.

SAE International specialists recommend opening windows to cool the car's interior, but only at speeds below 43 mph. In such a situation, air exchange is effective, with minimal air resistance, which does not significantly impact fuel consumption.

However, when the speed exceeds 53 mph, opening windows can increase fuel consumption by up to 20 percent. Studies by the International Society of Automotive Engineers confirm this.

At higher speeds, air conditioning is not as significant a burden, making it more cost-effective to use it rather than opening windows and worsening the vehicle's aerodynamics. Aerodynamics plays a crucial role in fuel consumption at high speeds.

How to use air conditioning economically? Here are some tips:

  • At low speeds (city driving), open windows and turn off the air conditioning.
  • At higher speeds, close windows and use air conditioning.
  • Please turn on the air conditioning only when it is boiling.
  • Do not set the air conditioning to a very low temperature.
  • Park in the shade to keep the car cooler, making air conditioning unnecessary.
  • After starting, open windows but turn on air conditioning only after a few minutes, once the interior has aired.
  • Avoid using air conditioning when the car is stationary.
  • Cool the interior before disconnecting from the charger in cars with batteries (electric and plug-in hybrids).
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