(Updated on March 11, 2022)
Fuel prices are skyrocketing to record highs this year. Although we have little control over the gas prices, we can control how much fuel we burn with some quick and easy maintenance tips.
Why Is My Car Using So Much Gas?
Some vehicles are inherently thirsty. This is often true of larger displacement engines and vehicles with AWD. Even if you follow every tip on this list, your V12 Lamborghini Aventador still won’t sip fuel like a Prius.
The Environmental Protection Agency tests each vehicle sold in the US for its city and highway mileage. You can compare your car with the EPA’s figures to see how you stack up. If you’re falling behind the EPA’s fuel economy estimates, you may want to take a look at this list to see what you can improve.
How to Get Better Gas Mileage
Here are some quick and easy things you can check that may drastically improve your fuel economy.
1) Check Your Tire Pressures
Check your tire pressures about as often as you visit the gas station. Make sure your tires are pumped up to the recommended spec on the driver’s side door jamb. You can go a little over the spec, but you trade fuel economy for ride comfort and center tire wear. Do not exceed the max pressure rating on the sidewall.
The Ryobi 18V air compressor is very inexpensive and works perfectly for airing up your tires quickly. It is quite nice to have on road trips, too.
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You’ll need an 18V battery and a charger to go with it if you don’t already have one.
2) Replace Your Engine Air Filter
Dirty engine air filters restrict air into the combustion chamber, which reduces fuel economy.
Check your engine air filter. If it’s been a while and it’s dirty, replace it. They’re cheap and usually pretty easy on most vehicles.
3) Increase Your Following Distance
Increase your following distance. Look as far down the road as you can, so you can see what traffic is doing before you get there.
Unnecessary braking burns a lot more fuel. Coast or engine brake where possible, and drive more steady like you see (good) commercial truck drivers do.
4) Don’t Speed
Going faster on the highway drastically reduces fuel economy in most vehicles. Generally, the lower you can keep the engine RPM while cruising, the better.
5) Remove Heavy Items and Accessories
Take off unused roof racks and cargo carriers, and remove heavy items you don’t need in the vehicle. Roof racks and cargo carriers create aerodynamic drag, which slows the vehicle down. This gets worse the faster you drive.
Heavy items take more engine power to lug around town. If you don’t need them, leave them at home for additional savings at the pump.
6) Address Engine Codes
If your check engine light is on, get the codes read. Most auto parts stores do this for free.
Address any issues you find, especially if they are related to misfires, fuel trims, variable valve timing, or the O2 sensor. These issues can make the car run with a richer air fuel mixture, which uses more gas.
7) Replace Your Fuel Filter
Check your fuel filter. If you have over 100,000 miles on the vehicle with no record of the fuel filter being changed, it might be a good time to think about doing this.
8) Don’t Buy Premium (Unless You Need It)
Don’t buy premium unless your car requires it. The owner’s manual will tell you what octane your car needs.
Many modern cars recommend premium, but can run on regular. The engine on these vehicles will adjust to the lower octane. Your vehicle will make slightly less power, but the fuel will be cheaper.
Vehicles that can run lower octane fuel should specifically indicate this is safe in their owner’s manual. Do not run regular gasoline in a vehicle that requires premium.
9) Use Cruise Control
When you’re on the highway, it’s pretty easy to vary your speed slightly. That variance causes the car to slow and accelerate, which burns more fuel than maintaining a constant speed.
Turning on cruise control will let the vehicle take over throttle control. Typically, the ECU is a lot better at maintaining a set speed efficiently than your right foot.
10) Turn Off A/C, Roll Up Windows
Air conditioning has a minor impact on fuel economy, and you will get better MPG if you opt not to use it. Note that the defroster may use the A/C intermittently as well, even if the A/C light is not illuminated in the HVAC system.
Rolling down the windows creates aerodynamic drag, which requires the vehicle to use more energy to maintain the same speed.
That said, there is a speed crossover point where using A/C draws less power than the gas mileage you’d lose when rolling the windows down. For a typical sedan, this is around 68 MPH. For a truck or SUV, it drops to about 50 MPH.
So if you’re driving faster than those speeds, A/C is the better option. But anything slower, roll down those windows.
11) Replace Your Spark Plugs
As spark plugs age, they may not ignite the fuel as quickly or efficiently as they used to. When this happens, you’ll notice a drop in fuel economy.
Most spark plugs are pretty cheap and easy to replace, so this is another thing you can check while you’re in there.
12) Buy Low Rolling Resistance Tires
Not all tires are the same. Some tires are better for cornering grip, some are better for rain, and others are better for getting the best possible fuel economy.
Buying fuel efficient tires could save you as much as 1-2 MPG, which adds up to a lot of money over the life of the tires.
13) Buy a Car Specifically for Commuting
Many people put miles on their cars with only one or two people in the vehicle, and very little luggage. This is often done commuting to and from work.
Making a long commute in a large truck or SUV is a huge waste of money. They cost more to maintain, the tires are more expensive, and they burn much more fuel.
If you have a long commute, consider buying a cheap economy car such as a Honda Fit, a Toyota Corolla, or perhaps even an electric vehicle. While you pay a bit of money for the vehicle upfront, you will realize huge savings down the road.
You don’t have to buy a new one, either. Used economy cars in good condition can be found for $5,000 or less. You could even consider buying a motorcycle, which can get 50 to 80 miles per gallon.
There are many ways to get better MPG and save money at the pump.
If you haven’t already, check out FuelEconomy.gov, a US government site dedicated to fuel savings. They also have resources on hybrids, electric vehicles, and alternative fuels you may find interesting.