Has the Christmas season left your wallet feeling a little light? If so, you wouldn’t be alone.

Gifts and tons of festive food might not be the only thing leaving you short-changed this winter. Did you know that most cars can have noticeably less fuel economy during the winter season? If you keep a close eye on your MPG numbers, you’ve probably noticed a slight dip in efficiency.

What causes this drop in fuel mileage?

winter gas mileage

Cold Street Temperatures

Slippery streets are to blame for some fuel mileage loss. While it may not seem like it, your tires are slipping more than usual. Even the smallest tire slippage over time will have a real impact on fuel efficiency. Braking your vehicle often also results in poor efficiency due to having to accelerate back up to speed.

Modern vehicle engines are designed to reach maximum efficiency over 40 mph, which is partially why highway driving results in much greater MPG than city driving. Since most people will be driving slower on slick road conditions, your car might be below its ideal operating speed, resulting in poorer fuel mileage.

Fuel and Engine Efficiency

Any engine has an ideal operating temperature. Most modern engines operate best anywhere between 180-250 degrees fahrenheit. Of course when the weather is below freezing, it takes much longer for your vehicle to warm up. While your engine is warming up, it is burning fuel at a non ideal rate. The more your vehicle runs under ideal temperatures, the more your fuel mileage will drop. If your daily commute is an hour each way, your engine will run in ideal operating temperatures much longer than a five minute commute; resulting in a less severe drop in fuel mileage.

Winter blend gasoline in Minnesota is also notorious for decreasing fuel efficiency. The special blend gasolines are reported to have more oxygen than the gas used in warmer seasons.

Dense Cold Air

The atoms in substances squeeze closer together in cold temperatures. This makes most substances much more dense in our cold Minnesota winters. While dense air can increase the horsepower of an engine, it will also increase wind drag on your vehicle, reducing fuel economy. The air in your tires will also condense, lowering tire pressure. Having low tire pressure in any weather will reduce fuel mileage due to more tire surface area touching the road.

The oil in your engine isn’t an exception to the rule. Cold weather makes motor oil more dense than usual. Your engine components have to work harder to push through the thicker oil, again reducing fuel efficiency.

What Can I Do?

Reduced fuel efficiency is just part of winter. You should expect a slight drop in fuel mileage when temperatures drop. However, to ensure you’re getting maximum fuel economy out of your vehicle, you can:

  • Check your tire pressure and keep them properly inflated
  • Get a tune-up and winterize your car
  • Use proper winter tires for minimal slippage
  • Drive calmly
  • Design a more fuel-efficient engine

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