The Effects of Elevation on Your Vehicle’s Performance

Posted on Oct 2, 2022

They say the air is rare up in Santa Fe, but what we--and our vehicles--actually miss is the extra oxygen. Santa Fe is known for being dry and high (7,199 feet, to be exact), and caring for your car in such altitudes will look different than if you were driving at sea level. Being one of the best-rated auto repair shops in Santa Fe, you know that we're passionate about treating our vehicles right. Learn how to avoid putting extra strain on your engine, fuel economy, and tires so that you can drive confidently!

What Effect Does Altitude Have on Your Vehicle?

Slower Engine Performance

How can elevation make your engine perform slower?

To simplify, think of your engine as an air pump. It pulls in air through the intake system, combusts the air/fuel mixture inside the engine, and then releases it through the exhaust system. The internal combustion engine requires oxygen to work. In elevated altitudes, this lack of oxygen means a decreased air density, which can lead to sluggish engine performance.

Even if you've never made it to Everest, you've probably felt the same effects if you've ever hiked in higher climes. The higher the elevation, the harder it can feel to catch your breath. It's the same for your vehicle: since there's reduced oxygen in the air, your vehicle will struggle to "feed" itself.

As a rule of thumb, an engine can lose 3% of its rated power per 1,000 ft of altitude. So if you climb from sea level back up to Santa Fe's locale, you could lose around 20% of your horsepower!

Decreased Tire Pressure

The lower air density in elevated climates means that tire pressure will decrease. Aside from the obvious risks of a blowout, low tire pressure can result in problems such as:

Worsened Fuel Economy: Underfilled tires are more resistant to rolling (similar to riding a bike with low tire pressure). The engine has to work harder to push the car forward during any speed increase, which means your vehicle will use more fuel--and cost you more money. Low tire pressure will harm your acceleration performance.

Worsened Steering and Handling: An underinflated tire causes the walls to flex more than usual, which causes the tread to squirm. This shrinks your tire's contact point with the road, which leads to lessened stability and traction. Even if your human response is quick as a whip, low tire pressure will cause your vehicle's response time to be slower and even sloppy. This, of course, is undesirable at the best of times, but in cases where you're trying to avoid an accident, every second is crucial. Firm tire pressure increases your safety.

Uneven Tire Tread Wear: As mentioned above, low tire pressure can warp the tire's point of contact with the road. This causes uneven tear (often heaviest on the inner and outer shoulders) and will lead to premature (and costly) tire replacement.

Solutions for Driving at High Altitudes

Luckily, high-altitude driving conditions are nothing new, and mechanic minds have figured out some solutions.

Fuel System Additives

A helpful fuel system additive can push back against the effects of driving in elevated areas. Make sure that you select the correct octane of fuel when you're filling up the tank. As a rule of thumb, engines in elevated areas need less octane in the fuel than if they were running at sea level. Ask our experienced mechanics about what fuel additive could be suitable for your vehicle.

Check Your Tire Pressure Regularly

As mentioned above, higher elevation can significantly affect your tires' performance. Ensure your tire pressure is checked regularly to ensure your vehicle performs at its maximum capability.

The MasterTech Guarantee

Don't let atmospheric pressure do a number on your vehicle. You can avoid unnecessary fuel loss, tire wear, and decreased engine performance by taking the proper precautions. We at Master Tech are committed to providing you with the best vehicle maintenance in Santa Fe. Our experienced mechanics can get you fixed up, checked up, or tuned up so you can confidently drive your vehicle. Be road-ready in no time--call us at 505-471-1121 to schedule transparent, effective service today!

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