During the height of the pandemic, when much of the population was working from home, fuel economy was the last thing on people’s minds, but that all changed when the Colonial Pipeline—a major artery that supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel—fell victim to a cyber-attack.
Suddenly, in the Southeast, even people working from home were flocking to gas stations (and in some cases, getting into fist fights) to secure fuel. The regional supply shortage also caused fuel prices to spike across the country, which quickly rekindled America’s interest in fuel economy.
Like many drivers, you’re probably looking for ways to boost your car’s fuel economy in response to rising gas prices. One way to do this is by implementing some of the tips and techniques used in hypermiling—a driving strategy that focuses on fuel economy. Enthusiasts who regularly use these techniques are known as hypermilers.
15 Fuel Economy Hacks
While you might not be willing to sign on as a full-fledged hypermiler, you can apply some of the subculture’s fuel economy hacks to your vehicle and daily commute. Even when there isn’t a fuel shortage sweeping the nation, getting the best possible gas mileage is always a worthy goal.
1. Keep Up On Maintenance and Repairs
Keeping up on routine maintenance and repairs can be difficult, especially when you’re distracted by COVID-related concerns, such as vaccinations and the reality (whether good or bad) of returning to the office.
But if you want to maximize your fuel economy, the first step is to ensure your car is in tip-top shape before getting back to your commute. There are many issues—ranging from dragging brakes to a dirty air filter—that can reduce gas mileage.
To determine when your car is due for maintenance, consult the vehicle manufacturer’s service schedule located in your owner’s manual or supplemental service booklet. It’s also important to promptly repair any problems that you notice while driving.
2. Get Rid of Extra Weight
Are you hauling around gallons of drinking water, boxes of canned food, and other remnants from the onset of the pandemic? Stop it—all of that junk in your car’s trunk is killing your fuel economy. Because more weight equals fewer miles per gallon, you’ll want to jettison any unnecessary items before hitting the road.
3. Drive Responsibly and Intelligently
One of the easiest ways to improve fuel economy is to drive responsibly. That means avoiding aggressive passes, hard acceleration leaving lights, and slamming on the brakes. Experts agree that it’s best to accelerate and stop smoothly.
When traveling on the freeway, you’ll also want to limit your top speed to improve fuel mileage. According to the Federal Website for Fuel Economy: “Each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.21 per gallon for gas.”
Of course, in most places, the speed limit on the highway is well over 50 mph. Because it’s unsafe to drive at a pace that’s significantly under the speed limit, the best tactic is to travel at the limit or slightly under it and utilize cruise control whenever possible to stay consistent.
4. Limit Engine Idling
Another tip is to limit engine idle time. Anytime your engine is running without the vehicle moving, you’re wasting fuel—and getting zero miles per gallon.
The Federal Website for Fuel Economy points out that idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of gasoline per hour. To conserve fuel, the agency recommends turning off your engine whenever the vehicle is parked.
In addition, you’ll want to avoid scenarios, such as visiting drive-thrus, that lead to an increase in idle time. Warming up your vehicle before you start your trip also reduces fuel mileage. During the winter, most vehicle manufacturers recommend letting your vehicle idle for about 30 seconds before driving off gently.
5. Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated
Tire pressure has a direct impact on gas mileage. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance, which, in turn, reduces fuel economy. According to the Federal Website for Fuel Economy, keeping your tires properly inflated can improve fuel economy by as much as 3%.
For this reason, you should always make sure your tires are properly inflated to your vehicle manufacturer’s specifications. You can find these inflation specs in two places: your owner’s manual and a placard inside of your driver’s side door jamb.
Although some hypermilers over-inflate their tires, the practice is not generally recommended. Over-inflated tires can compromise ride quality and increase the risk of failure due to impact damage.
6. Purchase TOP TIER Gasoline
In 2004, TOP TIER gasoline was developed as a higher-quality fuel designed to optimize engine performance. The product features detergent additives that help clean carbon deposits from various parts of the engine. A cleaner fuel system and cleaner engine can eventually lead to a slight increase in fuel economy.
There are select fueling stations that offer TOP TIER fuel. You can find a list of providers on the TOP TIER coalition’s website.
7. Monitor Fuel Economy in Real Time
Having the ability to monitor fuel economy in real time can help you recognize the tweaks you need to make to improve your gas mileage. That’s why many late model cars have a fuel economy meter built right into the instrument cluster.
But don’t worry if your car didn’t come with such a feature from the factory. There are plenty of aftermarket alternatives available for vehicles built after 1996—the year onboard diagnostics (OBD) II became standard equipment. Most aftermarket fuel economy meters plug into the OBD port located under your car’s dashboard.
8. Make Your Car More Aerodynamic
As you might remember from your high school physics class, drag is the force that opposes a vehicle’s ability to move freely through the air. By improving a car’s aerodynamics and limiting drag, less power (and therefore, less fuel) is spent combating headwinds.
A quick Google search will reveal many hypermilers who have gone to great lengths to make their cars sleeker to reduce drag. The good news is, you don’t need to go as far as they have to get a slight boost in fuel economy through aerodynamics.
Instead, you can take small steps, such as removing items (i.e., racks, compartments, etc.) from your car’s roof. Then if you desire, you can purchase a mount that repositions your bike (or whatever else) at the rear of the vehicle.
9. Plan Ahead
When you’re running errands, it seems like you always forget something and have to go back to the store.
Obviously, all of those unnecessary trips have a negative effect on gas mileage. That’s why it pays to plan ahead and make all of your stops in one go. You can also optimize your route so that the overall distance is shorter and uses less fuel.
Additionally, choosing the correct time to travel can improve gas mileage. Try to avoid rush hour traffic that leads to excessive idling and increased fuel consumption.
10. Limit the Use of Air Conditioning
You can save fuel by limiting the use of your car’s air conditioning (A/C) system, even though doing so might be uncomfortable. Most traditional, internal-combustion-powered vehicles rely on an A/C compressor that’s driven off of the engine. Engaging that compressor creates an additional load that reduces fuel economy.
The catch is that rolling down your car’s windows also results in a decrease in fuel economy due to an increase in aerodynamic drag. So if you want to squeeze every last drop of fuel from your car’s tank, plan on wearing your shorts and a tank top while driving during the summer.
11. Use a Block Heater in the Winter
When it’s really cold outside, your car’s engine takes a long time to reach operating temperature. Not only is that extended warm-up period uncomfortable for you—because the heater takes a while to kick in—but it also increases fuel consumption.
Because your vehicle requires more fuel when the engine is cold, using a block heater can provide a slight bump in fuel economy. A block heater pre-warms your engine somewhat so that your vehicle doesn’t take as long to reach operating temperature.
12. Turn On Cruise Control Under Certain Conditions
When you’re taking a road trip, it’s convenient to be able to turn on the cruise control, crank up your favorite song and enjoy the ride. Since cruise control keeps your vehicle traveling at a steady speed, the technology can also improve fuel economy on flat stretches of highway.
If you’re traveling through hilly terrain, however, most experts recommend turning the cruise control off and allowing your vehicle to slow down by approximately 5 to 10 MPH.
It’s also worth noting that many late model cars have a new type of cruise control called adaptive cruise control (ACC). This technology automatically adjusts a car’s speed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead.
According to a 2019 study from Volvo and The National Renewable Fuel Laboratory, ACC can improve fuel economy by 5-7% compared to a vehicle being driven without cruise control.
13. Get Passionate About Maximizing Fuel Economy
If you’re like most drivers, you pay attention to your car’s fuel economy meter (if equipped) now and then, and that’s about it. But if you want to get serious about maximizing gas mileage, it helps to turn the subject into a challenging hobby.
That’s the tactic that one of the best-known hypermilers, Wayne Gerdes, used to get an astounding 84 miles per gallon from his stock Ford Ranger pickup truck. Admittedly, Gerdes is obsessed with fuel mileage—and that fixation (combined with years of experimentation) has allowed him to return incredible fuel economy results.
14. Reduce Your Short Trip Count (and Carbon Footprint)
It’s common knowledge that you can use less fuel by driving fewer miles. Each month, most drivers make countless short trips that don’t necessarily require a car. When possible, use public transportation, walk, or bike to your destination.
One way you can transition into avoiding excessive short trips is to keep track of how many times (and miles) you drive each month to destinations within walking or biking distance (e.g., biweekly Hot Cheetos run = [0.9 mi from home to corner store + 0.9 mi back] x 2 = 3.6 mi per month). Then, come up with a monthly goal (and stick to it!) for walking or using an alternate form of transportation instead of your car.
By making a conscious effort to reduce your short trip count, not only will you save money at the pump, but you’ll also be helping the environment. Another plus is that you may eventually be able to fit back into your “skinny jeans” by choosing to exercise during your daily commute.
15. Consider Making Your Next Car a Hybrid or an EV
Are you tired of paying a ton of money to top off your car’s gas tank? Then consider purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle (EV) the next time around. Although driving a hybrid or EV certainly isn’t cost-free, choosing a vehicle with some level of electrification will generally reduce overall operating costs.
Best of all, you won’t need to visit the gas station as frequently—if you have to visit the gas station at all.