43+ Tips for Improving Fuel Economy
Maybe you're researching tips for improving fuel economy to save money on gas. Maybe you're ready to decrease your ecological footprint. Or maybe you're interested in "hypermiling" for the challenge of getting the most out of our vehicle as possible.
Whatever the reason, the outcomes are the same. You will save money. You will lower your emmissions. And you will get the most out of your vehicle..all by learning how to increase your fuel mileage.
Many people refer to the practice of improving your fuel mileage as "hypermiling". Some even take it to the level of sport by implementing more and more techniques, some not so safe, some probably not so effective, but many very effective strategies to increase their mileage by 30%, 60%, even doubling it!
Now my husband and I travel full-time in a 5th wheel pulled by a veggie oil converted truck. We know a thing (or ten) about driving, about vehicle care, about fuel efficiency, and about hypermiling all for improving fuel economy.
Below are all the tips and tricks we know actually have an impact on your vehicle's fuel efficiency.
Improving Fuel Economy by Not Driving At All
This may seem like a no-brainer, but the best way to decrease fuel consumption is by not driving at all.
How often do you drive when you could walk, bike, carpool or take public transit? Or maybe you go for a drive for the fun of it or to relax - could you go for a walk instead? When you really assess your driving habits, you'll most definitely find that the biggest changes you can make are in lifestyle changes.
In her guest article on car-free living, one woman explains how her family of 5 made the transition to living without a car completely. Maybe you're not ready for that big of a step, but she has many tips and ideas to get you thinking creatively about how you can decrease your own car use.
Also, be sure to look at what kind of vehicle you actually need. Most of us don't actually need an SUV for getting around town. On the rare occasions when a pickup is needed, it might be borrowed or rented instead. If you have two vehicles, choose the one that gets better mileage whenever possible (or if they are similar, choose the one that is warmer from recent driving).
And perhaps you might even consider bigger changes, such as moving to a more central location, tele-commuting full- or part-time, etc.
If public transit doesn't travel the whole way for you, or perhaps part of your trip is not walk- or bike-friendly, you could combine the two: Ride your bike to the bus stop, then hop on for the second half of your trip, or even drive and park in a Park & Ride lot.
The next step in improving fuel economy is all about proper vehicle maintenance:
- Get a tune-up and oil change as needed - It's important to have all your engine working in good condition and kept clean. Used oil also weighs more, which makes a small impact. A tune-up is generally recommended about every 20,000 miles and an oil change every 3,000 miles, but check your manual. We do a similar "checkup" with every season, cleaning out anything we won't need (like snow chains during the summer months) and checking our AC or heater units.
- Check your tire pressure and balance regularly - Properly inflating your tires makes a huge impact on improving fuel economy. Underinflated tires can decrease efficiency by up to 10% by creating extra drag between the tire and the road. Properly balanced tires have a similar impact. NOTE: Some extreme hypermiling advocates actually overinflate their tires to create even less drag. BAD idea! Overinflated tires lead to blowouts, loss of control of your vehicle and makes for a bumpier ride.
- Keep your air filter clean - Air filters should be changed, on average, every 12,000 miles. Dirty filters constrict the air flow to the engine, making your engine consume more fuel as it works harder to run.
- Change your fuel filter - Check your vehicle's manual to know when it's suggested to change your fuel filter. And experiment. You don't want to change it too early; then you'll be spending money on filters, instead of fuel. But you may find that changing it a little earlier than recommended is needed for your particular vehicle.
- Get your brakes checked for brake drag - After some time your calipers can work themselves uneven, which causes your brake pads to rub on your routers and causes friction. It's not as common, but it is one reason to maintain your vehicle well.
- Clean your fuel injectors - The injectors spray fuel into the cylinders. If they get clogged or gumped up they won't spray evenly which affects the way the cylinders fire. It may be worthwhile to look into injector cleaner, an additive that you can add to your fuel tank which keeps the injectors clean and does help, as far as improving fuel economy.
- Grease your wheel barrings - Properly greased wheel barrings prevent any friction as your wheels turn, which creates drag and decreases fuel economy.
If you're really interested in doing everything possible for improving fuel economy, or especially if you do a lot of traveling, you might consider a few easy modifications to increase fuel mileage:
- Install an after-market air filter - After-market air filters can lessen the restriction of the air flow to the engine, which helps the engine run smoother and more fluidly to increase fuel mileage. Search your vehicle's make and model to find the right air filter for your needs.
- Research engine control modules - These electronic performance modifications come as programmers or chips, and tells your transmission to shift at different points, smoothing out the shifting; adjusts your fuel maps, which changes the flow of fuel and regulates its efficiency; and changes your ignition timing, all improving fuel economy.
- Consider converting to a manual transmission - Manual transmissions get better mileage than automatic since you control when to switch the gears. Obviously converting to a manual transmission is a bigger undertaking, but keep it in mind when shopping for a new vehicle or replacing an old transmission.
- Look into new body modifications - Some drivers, especially those who travel long distances, have added body modifications, such as a grill block, skirt, tail cone or truck bed cover, to make the vehicle more aerodynamic, thus improving fuel economy.
- Other body modifications - Body modifications can also be about things you remove: perhaps your vehicle has a dual alternators (do you need two?) that can be removed. But mostly look at things such as antennaes, fins, and roof racks up top, bike racks (these are best put on the back instead of the roof), etc that aren't being used and all add to the drag of your vehicle. Also, look at cleaning out your trunk or the back of your truck to make your vehicle lighter.
- Use a fuel monitor - These monitors, sometimes built-in to your vehicle dash or added after-market - can give you feedback on your driving practices and let you know what's working for and what isn't. You may also find it beneficial to track your fuel consumption via receipts, and mileage you record to watch for trends.
Simple Commuting Choices
After assessing your actual driving needs and making any necessary changes or performing necessary maintenance, it's time to look at simple things you can do for improving fuel economy easily.
- Skip the "warm up" - Many people think that warming up is necessary or more efficient, but idling for more than 30 seconds (and usually less) is rarely more efficient. Your vehicle (engine and tires) will warm up faster when you begin gently driving it.
- Let someone else drive - If you are an aggressive driver or "lead-footed", improving fuel economy may mean letting someone else (who is lighter on the gas and accustomed to hypermiling practices) do the driving instead.
- Avoid rush hour traffic - Getting stuck in stop-and-go traffic is obviously going to kill your fuel economy. Avoid traffic when most people or on their way to work or on their way home whenever possible, perhaps even by adjusting your own work hours if necessary. Likewise avoid stopping to get gas when the pumps are likely busier, which will increase your idle time as you wait.
- Avoid bad weather - It may not always be possible, but whenever it is, choose to avoid driving in rain, snow, high winds, etc which will impact your driving, as well as traffic. Some hypermilers, however, look for tailwind to "push" them along if they are headed in the same direction. Something else that has a small effect is driving during warmer times of day, such as mid-day instead of earlier morning, since cold tires and a cold engine are less efficient.
- Leave early to take your time - Being in a hurry is going to make it much harder to put many of the following tips for improving fuel economy into place. Plan a little extra time into your drive and leave earlier so that you have no need to rush.
- Skip short trips out - They say most accidents happen within a mile of your home. You could probably bet much of your gas is burnt there too. Making a "quick trip" to the store for something is inefficient. Keep grocery lists so that you don't forget anything and have less need to run out and save those trips for the next tip for improving fuel economy.
- Combine trips - Fuel efficiency is best when your vehicle is warmed up. And stopping at five stores on one outing will use less fuel than going out five separate times (and covering the same stretch of road five separate times). Solution: Hit the grocery store at the same time as the laundromat and the bank all on your way home from work (but during off-peak hours). And when possible head to the furthest destination first, so that you're warmed up before stopping and starting over and over again.
- Choose stores based on location - Instead of heading west to the bank and then back east to the grocery store, find a bank and store that are in the same parking lot, so that you are really heading in one direction and can walk across the parking lot to get to each from your parking space. Another tip is to do any shopping or pickup any heavy items on the way home, instead of as your first stop so that you're hauling less weight.
- Skip things like drive-thru windows - Even if you're the only one waiting at the bank or Starbucks, you'll spend unnecessary time idling and use more fuel than if you shut off and start back up again.
- Listen to mellow music - It may seem insignificant, but high energy music gets you moving, driving faster and more aggressively. Calmer music helps you to slow down and drive easy; just one simple step in improving fuel economy.
Fuel Efficient Driving on the Highway
Driving on the highway is something we personally know a lot about, as we travel full-time. These tips make the real difference in improving fuel economy, with the first being the most important:
- Slow down - It used to be that all highway speed limits were 55mph. And it's been shown that our national speed limits have a direct correlation to our dependency on foreign oil, since we used far less. Driving 55-60mph is our sweet spot, although some vehicles may perform better at slightly higher or slightly lower speeds. However, the faster you go the more drag you create and so the most efficient is never above 65mph and rarely above 55mph (unless you're coasting at that speed, such as after a hill). It helps to find others, such as large trucks, that are traveling at a similar speed, so that you don't stand out.
- Use cruise control - sometimes - Cruise control is great on flat roads or if you're breaking a habit of having a lead foot or your speed is usually erratic. But for hilly roads, when you can coast down and use the momentum for the next hill, it may actually get in your way of improving fuel economy.
- Reduce drag from windows - Rolling your windows down or opening your sunroof likely creates more drag than using your AC or opening your air vents for the fan. Another option is to turn your AC for a short time, then switch to circulating the air and back to the AC when necessary.
- Tips for towing - Obviously, avoiding towing is the way to go. But when you do tow, try to keep your pace even to keep your momentum up, since accelerating after slowing down is the most difficult. And accelerate before you get to the hills, since the hill will slow you down and accelerating on a hill while towing is going to kill your efforts for improving fuel economy.
- Encourage others to pass you - It's safer to encourage passing than to expect others to brake for you when you're traveling at slower speeds. You can do this by staying in the right lane, even hugging the right side of that lane, using your right turn signal or 4-way flashers or even inching into the shoulder if it's safe to do so to encourage the other driver to pass you.
- Sometimes it's better to travel with traffic - Not always, but there is something to be said to traveling within the wind tunnel many vehicles traveling at the same speed create, so keep this in mind in stable driving situations. This may also help to decrease crosswind conditions, which also helps in improving fuel economy.
- Use overdrive - This shifts your transmission into its highest gear as soon as possible, which is more beneficial for improving fuel economy. It's also better for your engine, especially when towing.
Improving Fuel Economy in Town
The stop-and-go of city or suburban driving is where we spend the most fuel, so most hypermiling tips can be found here.
- Find the best route - When it comes to improving fuel economy, your route matters a lot. Maybe this means a smoother, more even route with less hills, less stops, less traffic, less construction (or bumpy roads in need of construction), or without momentum wasters, like stops at the bottom of hills. You may even travel a little farther but save fuel because the conditions are better to increase fuel mileage.
- Learn your route - Are there certain times where you can hit all the red lights? Can you make note of just the right spot to cruise to a stop (traffic permitting)? Learning your route will help you in improving fuel economy over time.
- Choose the middle lane - The fast lane means driving faster than normal. But the slow lane may mean lots of slowing down for cars turning right or buses stopping. Generally, the middle lane is the one to be in, but always choose whichever one includes a steady pace.
- Time your approach to stops - Whether it's a stop sign ahead which might lead you to stop-and-go waiting for others to take their turn, or a red light almost ready to change, time your approach by coasting in to minimize the amount of braking you do, which burns through your fuel faster.
- Accelerate slower - Gasing it when the light turns green burns more fuel than necessary. Instead allow yourself to let off the brake and slowly accelerate up to speed. How much you can do this will depend on the traffic conditions, of course.
- Shut down the engine when feasible - Some people do this anytime they are stopped for more than a few seconds. But this can cause hazards in traffic and possibly lead to burning more fuel on starting the engine if you weren't waiting long after all. But at very long lights, or in situations such as traffic accidents ahead where you're at a standstill, shift into neutral and turn the engine off to save fuel.
- Watch the traffic lights timing - Many lights have pedestrian signals that will let you know if your red light about to change green, meaning you can coast in without having to slow too much if yours is about to change. This can be dangerous if you're waiting until the last moment to brake, though, so be wise. Safety is always worth more than a few extra cents in gas.
- Leave space ahead of you (and look ahead) - The less space you have between you and the vehicles ahead of you, the more you're going to be braking, maybe braking hard and wasting your momentum. Putting space between you and the next car gives you the ability to simply let off the gas when those ahead are applying the brakes. Looking several cars ahead allows you to do the same thing if traffic is slowing down. This also helps you avoid a fender bender. If someone moves into that space, simply let off the gas to create a little extra room between you again.
- Encourage others to pass you - As mentioned above, encouraging other drivers to pass is not only safer for you, but helps them to increase fuel mileage by not braking for you.
- Wait for the right time to start - Don't start your engine if you're going to be waiting for traffic to pass before you can pull out. Also, get yourself arranged in your vehicle first by getting the kids settled in, your bags arranged and seat belt on and your mirrors adjusted before turning the engine over to reduce idle time.
- Park with fuel efficiency in mind - Avoid parallel parking, with so much maneuvering needed. Consider parking in a spot not too close to entrances/exits, which may be hard to get out of without excessive idling, but as close to the point you pull in as possible to drive less through the parking lot (which includes lots of stopping and waiting on pedestrians and other drivers). Choose a spot that allows you to pull through. When we can't pull through my husband always choosing to back in with a warm engine, versus back out with a cold engine (and possibly more manuevering around blind spots and oncoming traffic).
- Park according to the weather - Keep to the shade on hot days, use a window cover and crack a window or park within a garage so you can minimize your AC use. (You may want to avoid driving on super hot days all-together.) On colder days, park in the sun with your windows rolled up to allow the sun to warm inside your vehicle or park inside a heated parking garage, both which allow you to use less heat and warm your vehicle engine faster.
- Drive fluidly - Imagining yourself driving more fluidly, instead of with jerky starts and stops, is a good way to train yourself to drive with improving fuel economy in mind. It's also better for your vehicle and for others drivers around you (causing less accidents). Drivig courses, especially defensive driving courses, may help you to increase your confidence if jerky driving is a problem for you.
There are literally dozens more hypermiling techniques and discussions for improving fuel economy to be found online, some of them more effective and safer than others. For instance, I prefer to drive without shoes to give me better handling over the gas and brake, while my husband swears by diesel engines (and then converts them to run on veggie oil). Other more dangerous tips may include tailgating to travel in a large trucks wind current, hard braking or cutting through corner stations, all things that are illegal and shouldn't be used.
And perhaps one of the most important things you can do is to address any road rage, or anything that might have you driving erratically, distracted or have you feeling as though you need to rush or keep up with the traffic around you. Things such as stress, overwhelm, lack of confidence or time pressure behind the wheel are likely to lead to some habits that decrease your fuel efficiency.
Whatever you read or decide to try, use your common sense and follow safety first when improving fuel economy. Saving a life is more important than saving a buck.
Also, make improving fuel economy a personal challenge: Set a goal, and once you achieve it see if you can raise the bar with more tips to improve fuel mileage. You might even up the ante by comparing your success with others or competing against them in some way to see who can save the most money on gas.
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