The simple contributing factors to fuel economy

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Example of an aerodynamic car body, courtesy of Mattel Hot Wheels.

An aerodynamic car body helps a car glide down the road, thus increasing fuel economy. (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/Leap Kye/Flickr)

In this ongoing era of green automotive technology, the desire to get there faster while expending as little fuel with as small an environmental footprint as possible has prompted automakers to tap into a very basic formula. In order to achieve fuel economy, there four basic concepts are weight of the vehicle, aerodynamics of the car body, how efficient the vehicle is mechanically and the rolling resistance of tire rubber to road. Popular Mechanics spells these four concepts out in beautifully simple terms.

Keep weight low for greater fuel economy

A lighter vehicle requires less energy to accelerate, assuming the size and power of the engine is constant. The energy required for acceleration is directly proportional to the car’s mass. In addition, a lighter car body makes heavy-duty chassis, suspension and brakes less essential. This also contributes to a lower overall vehicle weight. Not only that, but tires can be smaller on a lightweight car. So long as you remember not to carry around lots of unnecessary weight – large items in the trunk or back seat that don’t need to be there, like heavy tools for instance – your car can be a lean, mean machine.

The aerodynamics of the swift trip

A car in motion has to deal with drag, or air resistance. The power required from the engine in order to move the vehicle forward at a given rate of speed is related to the speed of the car and the aerodynamic quotient of the vehicle. The curves of an aerodynamic car body allow onrushing air to slip easily around and over the frontal area of the car. The shape of an aerodynamic car allows it to glide more easily through the air, rather than producing excessive drag that makes the engine have to work harder to move the car. Avoid blocky cars and you’re making a fuel-efficient move.

Using the car’s energy efficiently

Aerodynamics and weight are important, but so is the internal mechanical function of the car. A vehicle with an electric power train transfers the energy of the engine more efficiently to the tires and hence to the road. Popular Mechanics points out that standard internal combustion engines that run on liquid fuel may be light, but they only tend to convert about 30 percent of the released chemical energy into actual motion. Hybrid cars capture some of that wasted energy, which is why they’ve become increasingly popular on the fuel economy front.

Tale of the tires

The engine creates the energy that powers the drive train, but it is a car’s tires that hit the road with all that generated energy. It is the tires that make the final realization of motion possible. However, friction is created as tires make contact with the road. “The less rubber on the road, the better,” writes Popular Mechanics, in regard to fuel economy. Handling is less sure when the rubber tire’s contact surface is narrow, however.

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Sources:

Popular Mechanics

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