Maximize Your Mileage: 7 Tips for Fuel System Maintenance

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Americans drive older cars. Or at least they hold on to their cars longer. 

The average age of cars on the road is 11 years. 

That may or may not surprise you. It depends on whether you’re a person who likes trading up every few years or you prefer driving your cars into the ground.

People may drive cars longer today because they’re made better. And not everyone can afford to switch to a new vehicle every few years.

Hanging on to a car for 11 years or longer means you’ll deal with the maintenance issues specific to aging cars. 

The fuel system in your car takes a beating. If you don’t give it preventive TLC, you’ll deal with poor gas mileage and other performance-related issues.

If fuel system maintenance confuses you, we’ve put together seven tips to help you get better fuel economy and a few more years out of your vehicle.

1. Get a Tune-Up

When you blow a tire, you get a new one. If the battery dies, you get a jump. Whatever it is, when it breaks, you fix it.

What do you do when nothing’s going wrong with the car? Get in it and drive, right?

How about getting a tune-up? Please, don’t say “what’s a tune-up?” because that’s just wrong on so many levels. Admitting that you think it’s frivolous or takes too much time is more palatable. 

Tune-ups aren’t that expensive and don’t require much time. Most cars only need one every six months. And a tune-up should only take one or two hours.

In exchange for a few hours and a relatively small amount of money, you get a check of your vehicle’s overall health. Your mechanic might even throw a few tweaks in that can help maximize mileage and extend the life of your car’s fuel system.

You may be overdue for a tune-up if your vehicle:

  • Stalls frequently
  • Won’t start on the first try
  • Has bad gas mileage
  • Makes strange noises

This isn’t a definitive list of warning signs, but it’s a start. Your dashboard usually gives you a few clues too.

2. Don’t Ignore the Lights

Lights can be a good thing — unless you’re Carol Anne, whose mother warned her not to look at the light in the movie Poltergeist. 

But you’re not in a movie and the lights on your dashboard aren’t there to hurt anyone. Warning lights on a car act as red flags and urge you to take care of a potential problem before it turns into an expensive repair bill.

If you’re one of those drivers who think all lights on the dashboard are dummy lights, stop. Some of them, such as the engine light, may indicate a possible problem with your fuel system.

The engine light comes on for several reasons but the most common are:

  • Faulty sensor — either oxygen or mass air flow.
  • Loose gas cap
  • Catalytic converter problem
  • Bad spark plug wires

Can you continue driving without making things worse? Possibly, at least for a short time, but why take a chance?

Don’t be like some people and put a piece of black tape over the check engine light and keep on moving. You might end up sitting on the side of the road.

The things that cause your engine light to turn on can all affect your fuel system.

So can old oil, which brings us to the fuel system saving tip.

3. Change Your Oil

Oil does more than lubricate the many moving parts in your car’s engine. It prevents friction and keeps the engine from overheating. It also catches dirt and other gunk inside the engine.

Old dirty oil makes your engine run less efficiently. You’ve heard the term gas hog? Drive around with the same oil for too long, and your car might turn into one. 

Increased fuel consumption hits you where it hurts, in your wallet. If you make a habit out of regular oil changes, you can save about $0.08 per gallon. But if you choose the wrong grade for your vehicle, you might see a reduction in gas mileage of one to two percent.

4. Change the Fuel Filter

You might not hear it as much today because contaminated fuel isn’t as much a problem as it was several years ago. But if you’ve ever been told you had bad gas in your car, the cause was contaminated fuel.

Fuel contamination happens at either the refinery or at a disreputable gas station where the dealer changed the mixture ratios of mid-range gasoline. Or you have an enemy who pours water or sugar in your gas tank.

Fuel tanks in older cars were also more susceptible to corrosion. Today’s fuel tank design prevents sediment from getting into your car’s fuel system. This protects your fuel system from getting dirty fuel.

Even with better fuel tank design, most car makers provide external fuel filters because they decrease the risk of contamination. Old filters can restrict fuel flow and make the pump work harder.

Replacing your fuel filter every 30,000 to 60,000 miles reduces fuel system issues.

Consequently, if you have an older vehicle, you could have a buildup of sediment and rust in the fuel tank. You can clean a dirty fuel tank and the best time to do it is when you replace the fuel pump. Clean it with this product before installing the new pump to give your engine a few more years.

5. Don’t Lose Your Gas Cap

Have you ever laughed at the guy who drove away from the pump with the fuel door open and the gas cap lying on top of the gas pump?

Don’t laugh because you’ve probably done it yourself. Besides a missing gas cap can activate the check engine light on certain vehicles. So will a loose or cracked gas cap.

Not tightening your gas cap all the way allows fuel vapors to leak out. The result is usually a poor fuel economy.

Check the condition of the gas cap when you change the oil, or at least every 30,000 miles. 

6. No More Crazy Driving

Of course, you’d never participate in drag racing. But you’re probably guilty of driving too fast sometimes.

Besides putting extra wear on your engine, speeding wastes gas. So does rapid acceleration and braking.

If you have a hard time controlling yourself, consider installing a driver feedback device. A recent study suggests that driver feedback devices don’t only prevent aggressive driving but may also help improve gas mileage by about 10 percent. 

7. Get Your Vehicle Inspected

Don’t forget about regular inspections. Tune-ups are great, but they don’t include a complete fuel system inspection.

You should have your intake system, exhaust system, the air cleaner, and your ignition system checked by an auto mechanic. Things like debris clogging up your intake system impact gas mileage.

Regular inspections can save you hundreds of dollars in repair costs. 

How’s Your Fuel System Today?

As you can see, regular tune-ups, oil changes, and attention to the other components of your system can make a big difference in the way your vehicle runs. If you follow even a few of our tips, you should see an immediate improvement in your fuel system performance. 

If this post helped you troubleshoot or encouraged you to be more proactive about car maintenance, that’s great. For more auto repair and maintenance articles, click here.