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Why Does Gas Mileage Get Worse in the Winter?

It’s no secret that the fuel economy of any given vehicle will be worse in the winter. It’s not just about the extended warm up time, as some might think. While it’s easy to blame it all on Old Man Winter, there’s a range of specific reasons why we experience lower MPGs at this time of year.

As luck would have it, I’m driving a 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid this week. When the news hit the wire today about Consumer Reports failing to hit the official gas mileage estimates, I took it all with a grain of salt. They had similarly poor results with the Prius C earlier this year. Part of the reason why they fared even more poorly with the C-Max may have to do with the time of year. (I’ll address the Consumer Reports issue in a subsequent post.)

Environmental conditions can play havoc with fuel economy. Natasha At Ford hit on the key points that apply to all vehicles in the wintertime on the Ford C-Max Hybrid Facebook page:

  • More idling to warm up a vehicle
  • Low tire pressure – a 10 degree drop in ambient temperature equates to a 1 psi drop in tire pressure
  • Increased tire rolling resistance
  • Engine takes longer to reach maximum operating temperature
  • Lubricant viscosity of engine, transmission, and differential fluids affected
  • Gasoline formulations and additives to aid vaporization can reduce available energy
  • Higher electrical loads for lights, heaters, defrosters may increase draw on engine
  • Denser air when cold causes aerodynamic drag

Colder weather is notoriously tough on vehicles that use hybrid technology, be they Fords, Toyotas, or Hondas. The systems are designed to fully warm up before allowing you to maximize the vehicle’s electric drive train components.

Here’s a handful of tactics that may help you recover some of those missing winter MPGs:

  • If you have a garage, clear out the junk, and keep your car in it overnight.
  • Use a block heater in colder climates.
  • Try to park in the sun rather than the shade during the day (the opposite of what you want to do during the summer).
  • Consider using different (synthetic!) fluids.
  • Consider using a grille blocker.
  • Be even more vigilant about tire pressure.
  • Use your HVAC system sparingly. Seat heaters are the way to go.
  • Minimize idle time (as always).

- by

A big tip of the hat to Craig at Cmaxchat.com!

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4 comments ↓

#1 Jason Lancaster on 12.11.12 at 12:42 pm

Gas formulation is a bigger factor than many people think, at least in my experience. The drop in fuel economy once the “winter blend” hits the gas station is significant for truck owners, even here in Denver where the winter is suprisingly warm sometimes (not uncommon to have 60 degree days in winter months).

#2 pedro fernandez on 01.31.13 at 12:39 pm

Better still, move to Florida and don’t have to worry about freezing your beehind! But then you use more gas with the A/C on all the time, better still move to North California, oh wait, they’ll tax you to death over there. I give up!

#3 Dane O on 02.01.13 at 3:47 pm

This ponders the question… is it better to drive a cold vehicle or is it better to let the vehicle warm up. I mean I am not talking about letting it sit for a couple minutes… some folks will start their car up early then get ready leaving it idling for 30mins + so when they get into the car they have “warm car”. I’ve always heard, it’s better to drive easily, don’t accelerate too hard, drive slower, brake easier, to warm your car up… Which is better??

#4 Bill L on 03.14.13 at 7:47 pm

Consumer Reports? They wouldn’t know a controlled test if one slapped them in the face.

Their reputation as a good source of objective and valid information is HUGELY undeserved.

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