Saturday, October 23, 2004


Stretch that litre

H. Kishie Singh

THE price of petrol has gone up in the last six months and there is a scare of another price hike as international crude oil prices are yo-yoing.

There is not much you can do about oil prices. But there is something you can do to stretch that litre. Winter is almost upon us and low temperatures make it hard on the engine. To start with, the oil thickens. This makes for a difficult start. Make sure the engine oil is of the correct viscosity. The engine will appreciate it, so will the battery.

You should also have the engine in perfect tune. Clean the plugs, and keep the correct gap. In case you have points, they too should be cleaned. The fuel mixture has to be perfect.

Make sure you buy good-quality fuel. Adulterated fuel has a higher flash point, it won't burn easily. The engine might heat up, and the car could perform poorly. All this would cost you money.

Most cars today have a dead pedal on the extreme left of the floorboard. This is a footrest. The clutch is not a footrest. A lot of drivers "ride the clutch" i.e. the left foot stays on the clutch pedal. Avoid this at all costs. This driving style consumes more fuel and wears out the clutch. All this also costs money.

Avoid red lining the r.p.m. counter. Your car will perform best between 2000-3000 r.p.m. The engine does not like to be stressed out all the time. Sometimes yes, but not all the time.

Tyre pressure. This is the most ignored - yet easiest - part of your car maintenance. There is a very strong and direct connection between tyre pressure and fuel consumption. Over inflated tyres offer less rolling resistance and, consequently, better fuel averages. However, the tyres will wear out faster or unevenly, thereby negating any saving of fuel.

Underinflated tyres offer more rolling resistance and immediately the fuel consumption goes up. It is also hard on the steering and suspension.

There is nothing that consumes fuel like a slipping clutch. The engine could be at high rev but the car is barely moving because the clutch is not able to transfer the engine power to the wheels. It may be rectified by a simple adjustment but if the clutch is slipping, change it. This could also mean changing the clutch plate, pressure plate and clutch bearing. Once the engine or gear box is "down", don't try and save money by thinking "the bearing will last some more time". It won't. You will have to "down" the engine again and incur labour charges all over again.

Back to the tyres and wheels. Unbalanced wheels, out-of-round rims, incorrect wheel alignment, worn out bearings and lack of lubrication (grease and oil) will all demand extra energy from the engine and fuel to move the machine.

Brakes that 'grab' will effect fuel consumption adversely. They should be in A-1 condition, as it is the brakes that alone will stop you in an emergency.

Actually, it is quite simple to keep a car in 100 per cent roadworthy condition. It will lower fuel bills and ensure the safety level of the vehicle. Bad tyres, faulty brakes and windshield wipers that don't work will make life dangerous for you and your family.

An engine that dies out on you on a cold dark winter night as you come home from a cocktail party is no fun.

A battery that won't turn the starter on a cold winter morning in Shimla will ruin your holiday. And don't try and push start a car with an MPFI engine. The repair bill could be horrifying.

Fuel efficiency depends entirely on two things, One, the vehicle being in A-1 condition. Two, your driving habits. Two different drivers will get different fuel efficiency from the same vehicle. Reason - good driving habits are money saving habits.

Happy motoring.

This feature was published on October 16, 2004