How to Improve Your Fuel Economy

Consumer Guide®'s recommendations for getting better fuel economy may seem like no-brainers, but they really can make a difference. Our strategy is a three-prong approach: Alter your driving style, maintain your vehicle, and modify your driving mentality. Combine any of these tips, and you should start seeing an improvement right away.

Alter Your Driving Style
  • S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. Going fast is so tempting. Not only do we do it to keep up with the flow of traffic, but if we can save even five minutes, it seems worth it. But if you're on the highway, driving 60 miles per hour instead of 70 mph will save you 2-4 miles per gallon over the duration of your trip.
  • Take it easy on the throttle. Don't accelerate quickly or stomp on the brakes. Coast to a stop. You'll save on fuel as well as wear and tear on your brakes, which will save you even more money.
  • Shut down. If you're waiting somewhere for a while, like at a train crossing for instance, turn off your engine. Even if it's just for a minute, it can make a difference in your fuel economy, especially if you drive in the city a lot.
  • Don't warm up your vehicle for more than 30 seconds. This is a tough one, especially for us here at Consumer Guide®, where Chicago's frigid winters are a way of life. Thanks to technology, however, most modern fuel-injected cars only really need 30 seconds to warm, and hot air can start blasting into the cabin very shortly thereafter.
  • Windows up. Again, this is tough, especially on pleasant days. But having the windows down creates aerodynamic drag that causes an engine to work harder. On the highway, this can decrease fuel economy by up to 10 percent.

Keeping your tires properly inflated will save you gas.
Keeping your tires properly inflated will save you gas.

Maintain Your Vehicle
  • Check your tire pressure. Making sure your vehicle's tires are set to the recommended pressure can increase fuel economy by as much as 3.3 percent.
  • Breathe easy. Next time you get your oil changed, have the air filter checked as well. Replacing a dirty air filter with a clean one can save up to 10 percent on fuel costs.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in top running order. Read your owner's manual and follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. If it's time for a tune up, do it and you can realize up to a 4.1 percent increase in fuel economy.
  • Buy the right gas. Your owner's manual will list the correct octane gasoline you should use for your vehicle. Purchase whatever is recommended and no more. Premium-grade fuel is more costly and won't improve economy in vehicles designed to run on regular.
  • Lighten up. The less weight in your vehicle, the better your fuel economy. Clean out that trunk!
  • Grease up. Using the manufacturer's specified motor oil, and changing it per factory recommendations, can improve fuel economy as well.

Carrying things around in your trunk might be costing you at the pump.
Keep your trunk empty. Carrying extra cargo
around might be costing you at the pump.

Modify Your Driving Mentality
  • Combine trips. Don't run out two or three times a day. Hit all the stores you need to visit at once, and if possible, go to shopping malls where you can park and walk to several stores at the same time.
  • Let someone else drive sometimes.
  • Get some exercise. If you have the time and your destination is close, walk or ride a bike.
  • Cool down. Gas up on cool mornings. Fuel is denser when cold. Gas pumps measure by volume, so if you pump when it's cold, you get more gas for your buck.
The Biggest Savings

For most of you, altering your driving style and maintaining your vehicle might seem like enough to increase fuel economy. You're likely to see perhaps a 10-15 percent improvement in fuel economy by doing those two things. However, you can save the most money by changing your driving mentality.

Consider this: If you get 16 mpg right now and you follow the steps outlined in "Altering Your Driving Style" and "Maintain Your Vehicle," you're likely to notice a 15 percent improvement in your fuel economy. That means you'll average 17.6 mpg. Over a 12,000-mile year, that's a cash savings of about $200.

By following the steps in "Modifying Your Driving Mentality" you could easily reduce the miles you drive each year by 1000. All else being equal, reducing the miles driven per year from 12,000 to 11,000 will save you $375. Combine the two, and you can reduce your annual fuel costs by $500 or more.

Next, we'll look at what you need to know about buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. We'll look at gas-electric hybrids, as well as conventional vehicles that will allow you to squeeze out the most miles per gallon.