By P Sanchez
If you’re running a newer, practical-sized car like a sedan that’s less than 5 years old, it probably has a host of technologies that help it run efficiently and get the most mileage with every ounce of fuel. We’re talking about stop-start technology, complex ignition systems, advance engine management, and maybe even an electric motor to help the car move along.
But according to studies, the average car on the US road today is about 12 years old. Chances are, your car’s electronic fuel injection system is its most advance feature. But that doesn’t mean you can’t retrofit your old car with newer technology that will (in a way) make it run better.
Again, I’m not referring to any of those add-on to the engine gadgets which instantly saves you fuel and money, lower emissions and bring miles to the gallon (I’m looking at you this time fuel line magnet). Those devices have long been busted as scams.
The tech I’m recommending improve fuel economy by largely informing you, the driver, of parameters about your old car so you can respond appropriately and maintain conditions of highest driving efficiency. It sounds like a cop-out but realize that the driver has the biggest influence on the performance of his vehicle and the more informed a driver is, the better his decisions are at driving.
You can’t talk about improving gas mileage without bringing up the need to keep your tires properly inflated (like I did in my previous blog). Checking tire pressure is a straight-forward procedure: you can use a tire pressure gauge if you have one handy, use an air machine at the gas station (which is basically an air pump that can also electronically read your tire pressure), or have your trusted mechanic to check them for you.
The recommended frequency of checking your tires is once a week but if this is too often for you to do yourself (and far too often for trips to your auto mechanic) or you’re completely OCD about decreasing rolling resistance (I know I am) then installing a device that monitors your tire pressure in real time is one solution for you.
Called TPMS or tire pressure monitoring systems, they do exactly what their name suggests. Newer cars may have this tech built-in but for older cars, a number TPMS devices in the aftermarket are available. Installation is simple, the device comes with four monitors that you screw on each wheel’s air valve and a central display device that plugs in your car’s lighter socket. The monitors send the tire pressure data wirelessly to the central device and you get a real time read-out on the tire pressure of each tire.
The beauty of such a system is not just knowing when it’s time to top up on air but it also helps identifying a problem tire, like one that’s leaking faster than the rest which may need inspection or even replacement. The disadvantage of the system is: it’s another electronic device leeching-off electricity from your system, as well as another device taking-up your lighter port. But if you’re all about saving gas or saving your expensive low-profile tires and fat-rims, installing a TPMS is the way to go.
ODB connected HUD displays
Feeding-back system stats to the driver is important that’s why we have gauges on the dash. Newer cars show a host of metrics that help the driver be aware of engine performance, such as vehicle speed, engine speed, mileage of current trip, miles per gallon, how many miles are left in the tank and a plethora of other lights to warn of system issues. And if it’s a hybrid or an electric car, the dash also shows charge/discharge states, battery levels, and available range.
But middle-age cars, all you get to monitor performance with is a speedo, a tach, and the fuel gauge. So what’s wrong with a good old dashboard? Not much because they perform as they should, giving cursory info of the car’s performance at a glance. However, if you need to be mindful of your stats all the time, watching the dash becomes a dangerous driving occupation.
Enter aftermarket Heads-Up Displays or car HUDs. These are devices that are placed on top of the dash, take car performance data via connection to the ODB slot and project the data either to a small see-through glass or directly to the windshield. This means you can monitor your car’s stats without taking your eyes off the road. They can also be a smartphone app paired with an wireless ODB dongle that turns your cellphone into a projector. Aside from dashboard data, these apps allow you to project maps and driving directions too, technologies that are probably not yet baked-in to your old car.
These devices and apps have customizable displays, allowing you to choose which data you want to monitor. Most of them also have limited scantool capabilities. They won’t replace the dealer-grade scantools used in reputable auto repair shops for in-depth diagnostics, but at least they can give you a little more information to work on when you’re having car trouble, compared to the catch-all check-engine light .
If you want better gas mileage but don’t want to be bothered by a barrage of incoming data constantly reminding you to adjust your driving then this next type of device will probably fit your bill. Electronic throttle control (or throttle response control devices) work by changing your vehicles throttle response automatically.
Most of them are palm-size modules with built-in displays that have a long wiring harness to connect to the throttle’s external electronic inputs. Much like with late model cars, they provide driving mode options, like sports or economy modes with a few button pushes, and they work by retarding or advancing the throttle with respect to the gas pedal. It’s a set-and-forget affair that works. Just make sure your expectations are correct: they don’t magically improve on all fronts at the same time. Economy modes sacrifice on performance, Sport modes use more gas.