How To Get Better Gas Mileage
Use less gas, spend less money, buy more tools.
- Cars 101
- Guides & Gear
Regardless of whether or not money is a concern, people of all backgrounds and financial levels hate going to the gas station. It’s not just the fact that you are, in a way, burning through your cash, it’s the overly loud spokesperson on four-inch TVs, it’s the COVID germs on the keyboard, and it’s the 18 prompts asking about car washes and rewards programs. Less trips to the pump will always be a good thing.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your visits to BP, Shell, Family Express, or wherever else you tie your horse. With normal vehicle care, sensible driving, and reasonable planning, you can worry more about how many miles are left in the trip and less about how many miles are left in the tank. The Drive’s cross-country road-trippin’ editors have tried it all. Here’s what we’ve learned about what works.
[Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 19, 2021, but was updated with new formatting and new information on 05/12/2021.]
What Is Gas Mileage?
Gas mileage, also known as fuel economy, is measured in miles per gallon (MPG) and denotes the efficiency rate at which an automobile is burning fuel.
Tips on How To Get Better Gas Mileage
Maximizing fuel efficiency requires discipline and patience, but if you use these methods, you’ll see results.
Light, Gradual, and Even Throttle Inputs
Stabbing the gas pedal is one of the most sure-fire ways to eat away at your fuel economy. Every time you do this, your car is using large amounts of fuel to try to motivate your vehicle up to speed as quickly as possible. Your fuel efficiency will suffer as a result. Instead, use slow and gradual inputs.
Follow the Speed Limits
Speed limits are put in place to keep things safe, but they can also be good guidelines for helping to protect your fuel efficiency. Gunning it around the city only to repeatedly come to stop signs and lights will hurt your economy, as will driving 65-plus mph on the highway.
Avoid Unnecessary Weight
The basic principle is this: It’s harder to move something heavy than to move something light. The more weight your vehicle is carrying, the more fuel you will need to motivate the vehicle. Simple as that. Save yourself some cash by taking the golf clubs, tool box, and case of water out of your trunk.
Avoid Stop-and-Go Routes
Using your vehicle’s momentum to your advantage is a great way to save fuel. Stopping and restarting that momentum, however, requires large amounts of fuel and is one of the quickest ways to kill your tank.
Reduce Accessory Use
Be mindful of when you’re using car accessories like air conditioning, as they will reduce your fuel efficiency when in use. There are exceptions, however, as using AC with the windows up on the highway is better than no AC with the windows down on the highway.
Avoid Exterior Add-Ons
In addition to friction, your vehicle is also fighting against drag when in motion. By adding things like roof mounts, bicycles on those roof mounts, kayaks, roof tents, or roof storage boxes, you are making it more difficult for the vehicle to cut through the air. Your engine will need to work harder to maintain the same speeds, and it will thus use more fuel to do so.
Maintain Your Car and Follow Its Service Schedule
To maximize your fuel efficiency, your vehicle needs to be operating at 100 percent. The only way to ensure your vehicle’s health is to perform regular service and show it special attention and care.
- Correct Tire Pressure: Your car is in a constant battle against friction and gravity, so you want to make its rolling resistance is as low as possible. That means making sure your tires are properly pumped up so they can easily roll down the road without grabbing the road too much (when you don’t want it to). Underinflated tires can require more energy to motivate, which requires more fuel.
- Clean and Clear Air Filters: Most modern vehicles can adapt the air/fuel mixture to compensate for blocked air filters, but it’s a good idea to regularly check and replace your filters.
- Spark Plugs: To get the most of your engine’s combustion, the spark needs to be strong, the timing needs to be precise, and the amounts of air and fuel need to be exact. If you have poor spark, it could negatively affect how your vehicle drives, as well as its fuel economy.
- Straight Alignment: Your vehicle is constantly taking on brutal forces from the road that could knock things out of their perfect alignments. If something is off, it could create extra friction, which could reduce fuel economy.
FAQs About Gas Mileage
You have the questions, The Drive has the answers!
Q: Does driving slower save fuel?
A: At some speeds, yes, but at other speeds, no. For example, EPA ratings typically prove that a vehicle’s highway fuel economy is better than a vehicle’s city fuel economy. However, once you reach a certain speed on the highway, say about 65 mph, fuel economy starts to degrade due to the energy demands needed to maintain that speed.
Q: So what speed is best for my fuel economy?
A: If we’re talking about the most efficient speed range, you should probably shoot for 50-60 mph.
Q: Does cruise control save gas?
A: In cases when you are driving down a flat straight highway without many cars or interruptions, cruise control will keep you at a steady speed and will maintain a steady fuel flow. This is one of the most fuel-efficient things you can do when driving on the highway, however, there are exceptions. If you have adaptive cruise control and are driving in stop-and-go traffic, your car will constantly be gunning it to try to get back up to that higher speed and will hurt its fuel economy. Separately, using cruise control on hills or mountains could be harmful to fuel economy because it will be gushing fuel to maintain high speed up the hills.
Q: What is Top Tier gas?
A: To be clear, Top Tier is a brand/marketing term, not necessarily a descriptor of the gasoline. Top Tier does not indicate premium gas in any way. From its own website, Top Tier is described as, “a fuel performance standard written by auto manufacturers to assist in keeping the engine cleaner, thus resulting in improved customer experience. Since auto companies are not able to dictate fuel regulations or fuel standards, the TOP TIER™ logo serves as an indication of a station where the fuel marketer is supportive and offers the vehicle manufacturers' request for higher standards in fuel.”
In shorter terms, Top Tier-branded gasoline has a certain concentration level of detergents and additives that have been included with the suggested aim of cleaning and maintaining the engine. AAA approves of the stuff, and it’s available at a large number of popular gasoline station retail brands. Even Costco uses it.
It doesn’t, however, necessarily guarantee you will get better fuel economy.
Q: Does old gas reduce fuel mileage?
A. As gas ages, it breaks down and loses its combustibility, which means it might not function up to its optimal standards. If you have old gas, get rid of it for some fresh stuff. Learn how to remove and transfer fuel with our guide, How To Dispose of Old Gas.
Watch: Motorweek Shows How To Improve Fuel Economy
In this video, you'll see real-world fuel economy testing.
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