Vehicle fuel economy drops in cold weather

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COLUMBIA – The cold weather doesn't just affect road conditions, but fuel economy as well. According to the U.S Department of Energy, driving during cold weather can reduce your fuel economy significantly.

It cites tests that said gas mileage is 12% lower in 20 degrees than 77 degrees for short city trips. For a car that does 20 mpg in the city, that is 2.4 gallons less in the winter. For very short trips - around two miles or less - U.S Department of Energy said it could drop to 22%. That is 4.4 gallons less.

The tests show hybrids are impacted even worse, from 31 to 34 percent lower in the cold-versus-warm temperatures. For a hybrid that normally has around 50 mpg, that can mean 17 gallons less in the winter.

Rita Holbert is from St. Louis, and has an all-electric car that she didn't know goes to gas when it’s cold out.

“The electricity isn't enough to work the heater, so it automatically kicks into gas usage,” Holbert said. “Yeah, I’ll be spending more money.”

When it’s cold, it takes longer for your engine to reach the most fuel-efficient temperature. When you go on shorter trips, as many do, this means your car will be at less-than-optimal temperatures for most of that trip.

Chris Spencer is on a trip to Columbia from Georgia, and although this trip hasn’t affected his mileage, the short distance to work and the stop and go traffic in Atlanta really impacts his fuel mileage.

“Colder weather, a little worse mileage, especially living in Atlanta, stop and go traffic. The slower driving certainly impacts the mileage,” Spencer said. “What can you do really?”

Grant Gould lives in Columbia and said he definitely sees a drop.

“I see like a 1.5 to 2 mile per gallon drop in the winter time," Gould said. 

Darick White lives in northern Missouri and said he sees the drop as well and is worried.

“We are burning more fuel in the winter,” White said. “When they talk about fuel prices and stuff like that, everything going on, it does make you worry.”

He said they try to limit their stops in the wintertime. Since they also own a farm, he said the cold definitely affect their diesel-run tractors.

“It makes it worse because you got the wintertime like this, you have to put heaters on them, you got to warm up the tractor, warm up the trucks,” White said. “We try to use the tractor less.”

The U.S Department of Energy has some tips to help with fuel consumption:

  • Make sure you park your car in a warmer place like a garage
  • Don't use seat warmers or defrosters more than necessary
  • Try and combine shorter trips so that you drive less with a cold engine.

Shawn Reno, Parts and Service Director at Kia in Columbia, said to make sure you get the right gas for your car and to make sure you heat up your car before you leave.

“You want to make sure your car is good and warmed up just for the safety of the car,” Reno said. “If your car has a remote start, you don't want to necessarily leave your car just sitting running for 20 or 30 minutes at a time if it doesn't need to be,” Reno said.

Reno said that would just use up fuel and will affect the overall fuel mileage of your vehicle. Warming up the car is really important but he said those short trips will inevitably take up fuel.

“In the wintertime, I use more fuel then normal, it’s not a lot you can do if you want to take care of your car the best, sometimes you just got to deal with that,” Reno said.

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