Recently Darin at EcoModder dug up a Car and Driver article from the middle of the US gas crisis in 1974. It may be a little dated, but considering recent gas price increases these kinds of DIY hacks are becoming relevant once again.
The material prices may be a little different, the cars may be a lot different, but surprisingly little has changed in terms of fuel economy and gas prices. The Car and Driver article is interesting because not only is it old, but it’s still relevant today.
As someone who has been around ecomodding for a while, I can vouch for the efficacy of many of these modifications, and have done some of them myself. So, if you’re really interested, I encourage you to get out there and do some yourself. None of them are engine modifications, or particularly difficult, so don’t feel intimidated by them. Some of the biggest fuel economy gains can come through aerodynamics and rolling resistance modifications.
Read about the modifications after the break.
Car and Driver made a total of six modifications to their Ford Pinto, increasing highway cruising fuel economy a whopping 25%. Here is a quick run down on the mods and the theory behind them:
- Front air dam: You can see this hanging down from the bumper in the first picture. The purpose of an air dam is to divert air from going under the car, which is generally very unaerodynamic. This modification reduces drag and is very commonly employed by people whose cars have “dirty” undercarriages.
- Grill block: The radiator creates a surprising amount of aerodynamic drag, and covering it up is usually okay as long as you monitor your engine temperature so that the car doesn’t overheat. Most people can do either a full or a partial block without running into trouble.
- Rear spoiler: Spoilers come in all shapes and sizes. Usually they exist for show or to increase traction, but in certain circumstances they can be used to improve airflow behind the vehicle, which accounts for a surprising amount of aerodynamic drag. It will take a bit of knowledge and engineering, but in this case the spoiler improved fuel economy 7%.
- Smoother front end: As you might guess, the front of the car, being the first part to come in contact with the air that’s being pushing out of the way, is very important to good aerodynamics. Usually cars are designed with style in mind and not aerodynamics, so changing your car’s nose to a more aerodynamic shape will help it cut through the air more easily.
- Reduce engine load: Back in the day everything was belt driven, meaning the engine had to do quite a bit of extra work to power things like the radiator fan. Nowadays, with things like electric radiator fans, power steering, and A/C, this isn’t such a problem. However, it is important to keep in mind that the A/C will kill your fuel economy if you use it too much come summertime.
- Lower rolling resistance tires: This can actually get to be pretty expensive, but it is one of the things that vehicles like the Honda Insight employ to help deliver fantastic fuel economy. Manufacturers and legislators are even trying to make LRRs standard in order to affect an across the board increase in fuel economy in one place most people wouldn’t look.
All these modifications came together to give increases that looked something like this:
Pretty impressive for not too much work, eh? There are a lot more simple things you can do to increase fuel economy, but this article was certainly one blast from the past that is still applicable today.