Winter weather causes car energy costs to rise

COLUMBIA, Mo. - All of this winter weather could be costing you in ways you might not think.

According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, fuel efficiency drops about 12 percent when the temperature lowers from the seventies to 20 degrees. For short trips to home an work, that estimate drops to 22 percent. That means, a hybrid car producing 45 miles per gallon would operate at 30 miles per gallon in frigid temperatures.

The reasons are simple. Cold weather creates stiffer fluids that produce more friction that the engine must overcome. 

A Columbia mechanic said the rise in energy usage starts in simple mistakes drivers make every day. One of them involves starting a car and leaving it running before hitting the road. Sitting idle, the car uses more gas in the 15 minutes it takes to warm up.

"If you drive it, it will take five minutes (to warm up)," Steve Casey, repair service manager, said. "And then, you get the benefit of that fuel because your car is just not sitting there burning fuel in your driveway. You're actually driving down the road, getting mileage out of that fuel as the car warms up."

Another simple mistake is not keeping tabs on the antifreeze levels in the engine. The fluid protects your engine from freezing in temperatures as low as 40 below, but using old or low amounts of antifreeze can cause severe engine damage.

"If the ambient temperature gets below that, there's a chance that fluid will freeze in your engine," Casey said. "When the fluid freezes, it wants to could cause you to replace your engine."

Batteries use five times more energy and gas to get started in ten degree weather. When extreme temperatures hit, a battery that worked in the fall might not start at all in the winter.

Not having proper tire pressure and enough brake fluid will increase gas usage, as well. Every ten degrees that the temperature drops, a tire loses a pound in pressure. Without the proper amount of air, it increases the rolling resistance of tires.

Drivers at local gas station said they don't notice costs going up in the winter, but they do take steps to take care of their cars. Candace Walk said she normally lets the mechanics check on all of these little things when she gets her oil changed. Without that, she said she would be somewhat irresponsible with her vehicle in colder temperatures.

"I have (my car) in a garage in my house," she said. "The garage doesn't stay as warm as the house, but it's about 30 or 40 degrees."

The suggested remedies - keep the tires inflated properly, park in a warmer place, use the oil the automaker recommends and remove accessories that stick out and cause wind resistance.

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