Monday, January 10, 2011

Getting the best gas mileage

How do I get the best gas mileage?

This is a question I’ve had quite a few people ask me over the years, and more so when the gas prices start to escalate. The first thing I’ll say is your car or truck will not vary much from the original mpg (miles per gallon) that it was originally rated for when new. If your SUV is rated for 17mpg hwy, don’t expect you can get 23 if you drive nice. So before you assume your vehicle gets horrible gas mileage, check the ratings and see how it compares, it still may be horrible, but normal! I would also suggest you calculate your own figures by dividing the miles driven by how many gallons you used. This will give you the most accurate figure instead of going off your cars computer display; you might be surprised at the difference. One more thing I’ll mention is; gas mileage drops on all cars during Wisconsin winters, this is normal. It takes a lot more fuel to start and run a cold engine; they really don’t become efficient until it comes up to operating temperatures. 

So here is a short list of things you can do to make sure your optimizing your vehicles mpg potential.

1.       Be smooth! When you’re driving try to keep a steady speed and minimize gas pedal movement. Keep a good distance from the vehicle in front of you so you can anticipate changes in speed. Don’t come screaming up to stop lights and jamb on the brakes at the last second. Coast as soon as possible. The sooner you take your foot off the gas the more you will save.

2.       Try to maintain your momentum. Most of the gas you burn is just getting your vehicle off a dead stop or accelerating; once you’re rolling it doesn’t take much to keep it going. So anticipate stop lights and people slowing down in front of you. Also avoid fast starts, accelerate smoothly.

3.       Slow down. I know this is a tough one but study after study shows doing the speed limit does save gas. I guess you have to weigh the cost of saving a couple minutes by speeding and aggressive driving, or saving gas. You can’t have it both ways.

4.       Tire pressures. Your tires are all that connects your car to the road, and when they roll they create friction. Tires low on air will create more friction and in turn it takes more energy (gas) to overcome that friction. Some studies show that for every 1 psi your tire is down it will cost you .3% in gas mileage. So keep those tires inflated to their proper pressure. Most cars have the recommended pressure settings either on the driver’s door jamb or in the glove box. Also look for energy efficient tires when replacing them, they have lower rolling resistance and are usually lighter in weight.

5.       Air filter. The engine in your vehicle, in the simplest sense, is a big air pump. Air goes in, mixes with fuel, gets burned and goes out the exhaust. If your air filter is dirty the engine has to work harder to get the air it needs, is less efficient and, you guessed it, burns more fuel.

6.       Idling. For every minute your car idles you could have driven a mile (give or take), and as long as your engine is running it is burning fuel. Keep the idling to a minimum or shut your car off when you can. 

7.       Clean engine oil. Your engine as hundreds of moving parts, and anything that moves creates friction. Clean engine oil will reduce that friction and make your engine more efficient. Synthetic oil will reduce that friction even more, but I am not convinced the extra cost of synthetic oil is worth it. So keep your engine oil changed at regular intervals.

8.       Lighten up. How much extra stuff do you carry in your car? Open your trunk and take a look, every extra pound takes more energy to move.

9.       Tune-ups and regular maintenance. Follow your vehicles schedule for tune-ups and fluid changes. This all keeps your vehicle in perfect running order and will give you the best shot at top efficiency.

Now there are quite a few products out there you can buy that boast an increase in fuel economy. Anything from pills you put in your gas tank to magnetic products you wrap around your fuel lines. Don’t waste your money, they don’t work. The mileage your engine gets is due mostly because of the physical design, working in conjunction with the engines computer management system and the friction you car creates going down the road. The technologies involved are too numerous to list and beyond the scope of this discussion, but believe me when I say that car manufactures  have pretty much optimized all the mpg their going to get out of modern engines, and there is no “hidden” secret that will override all that technology, if anything it will probably screw it up.

Well, I’ve hope I’ve given you some practical ideas you can use to increase your gas mileage. It takes a little discipline but over a year’s time it could add up to some significant savings. 


  1. Jeff, great tips for sure. I have experienced an increase in my MPG when I do what your post suggests but using better driving habits and I also turn off my van when I wait at the bank or at the car wash, crazy sounding i know but if I can save just a gallon of gas per fill up, that is like saving about 15 to 20 cents a gallon and who wouldn't drive half way across town to save that at the pump? The good news is that you don't have to! Look forward to more posts!

  2. Great post, I always have to shake my head at these people passing me in their trucks at 75+mph with the aerodynamics of a brick. I know you're point here is gas mileage, but, ( in your opinion), isn't it worth the extra $ for synthetic for the reduced wear and extreme climate changes?
    It's great having an expert you can trust giving ups these tips! Looking forward to the next one!

  3. The use of synthetic oil is a hot subject, and I will cover this on my blog at some point. In short I will say that it has it's place. Some vehicles even require synthetic to maintain the warranty. If your going to use it for better gas mileage it is not cost effective. The other point of reduced wear and climate change really depends on the frequency you change it. Modern "regular" oil is pretty good, with excellent protection characteristics. So, to use synthetic or not? I'll just say "to be continued"

  4. Indeed, nothing aggravates me more when I'm stuck in traffic with my manual trans car and I'm trying to keep my distance to save the clutch, brakes and dead stop start fuel consumption and all these yahoos are trying to move around me. Oh well, let them do it I guess, somebody has to keep Jeff in business:)