The Effect of Bitter Cold on Gas Mileage

by Scott Cornell

    Your car can burn up to twice as much fuel during the winter compared with the summer.

    Jupiterimages/ Images

    Winter weather is marked by things such as snow, ice and cold temperatures. For drivers, it's characterized by a decline in fuel mileage. In fact, in winter, drivers are likely to burn twice as much gas as they do in summer, making filling up more common and therefore more expensive. While snow and icy driving conditions present their fair share of challenges to drivers, cold is another thing. And bitter cold weather perhaps has the greatest impact on decreased fuel economy.


    Your car's engine works most effectively when it's at a certain temperature. But in cold weather conditions, it has to work harder to get to that temperature, especially if it's parked outside, meaning that you'll burn through more gas as it works to reach it. That's why to improve fuel economy, it's recommended that you park your car in a garage, where it's generally a few degrees warmer, or perhaps even purchase a block heater, which works to bring the engine up to optimal temperature before you start your vehicle.


    Like the engine, your car's battery and alternator are also cold, meaning they need to work harder to maintain a sufficient electrical charge. The more your battery struggles, the more gas you'll burn. That's why it's important to get your battery checked before winter, as a healthy battery will ensure your car starts up well. Most automotive retailers offer free battery checks so you can determine if your battery is healthy for winter.

    Tire Pressure

    For every five degrees Celsius the temperature drops, you'll lose roughly 1 pound per square foot of tire pressure. And for every psi that your tires are under-inflated, it's estimated that your fuel economy decreases by about 1 percent. So if your tires are under-inflated by 5 psi, that's 5 percent faster that your gas tank is emptying. That's why it's advised that you check your tire pressure often during the winter, especially in times of rapid temperature drops.

    Other Factors

    Many of us don't like to be outdoors in cold temperatures, which is why we'll often drive to the corner store, rather than walk, in the winter. But doing this is detrimental on gas mileage because on many of these shorter trips, your car's engine doesn't even have time to rise to its optimal operating temperature. Additionally, your gas mileage in cold temperatures is affected solely by the fuel/air mixture in the carburetor, as it must work harder to compress, ignite and convert to heat.

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