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Back to School: Saving Fuel in the Last Days of Summer

August 24, 2015 - 1:14pm


When waiting to pick your kids up from school, turn off your car instead of idling in the parking lot. <em>Photo from Kristy Keel-Blackmon, East Ten, NREL 6324897</em>

When waiting to pick your kids up from school, turn off your car instead of idling in the parking lot. Photo from Kristy Keel-Blackmon, East Ten, NREL 6324897

With school starting in many areas of the country, summer is coming to an end.  However, that doesn’t always mean that the hot weather is gone.  When picking up or dropping off your kids at school, practice, or any number of after-school activities, keeping them comfortable is crucial to a complaint-free ride. However, staying cool can reduce your car or truck’s fuel economy.  To keep your passengers comfortable without spending extra at the pump, here are some ways to make sure you’re saving money and fuel.

Eliminate parking lot idling

Under very hot conditions, the car’s air conditioning (AC) can reduce a conventional vehicle’s fuel economy by more than 25 percent.  Idling your car in the school parking lot while blasting the AC to keep cool uses even more fuel.  To save money and reduce pollution, turn off your car and roll down the windows.  Better yet, you can just step out of your car for some fresh air!

Cut the pre-trip cool down

If you’re coming back to the car on a hot day, you don’t need to idle the car while you cool it down.  A few simple measures like parking in the shade or using a sunshade will prevent the car from getting nearly as hot.

Once you’re in the car, driving with the windows open for a short time to purge the hot air before starting the AC will actually help your vehicle cool down faster than idling would. 

Know when to use the AC for maximum efficiency

While air conditioning can be hard on efficiency, sometimes it’s the best option available.  At lower speeds driving around town, rolling down the windows is the most efficient choice.  However, because having the windows down increases wind resistance, it’s not very efficient at highway speeds.  When rolling down the freeway, it’s best to turn on the air conditioning at a temperature that keeps you comfortable, but not cold.  

You don’t need to be a student to know using less fuel, saving money, and producing less pollution is smart, from the beginning of the school year to the end.  Learn more about what you can do to save all year round on, the federal government’s official source of fuel economy information.  The specific sources behind these tips are on the Fuel Economy in Hot Weather page.