Top 21 Tips to Get Better Gas Mileage
Did you know the first cars ever made had terrific gas mileage? It’s true! For example, the Model T got 21 miles to the gallon. But efficiency dropped like a rock as cars became larger and faster. National fuel standards didn’t even exist in the U.S. until 1973.
Gas mileage affects the health of your car, the health of the planet and the health of your wallet at the fuel pump. Fortunately, getting better gas mileage doesn’t require a ton of automotive know-how. A few small, simple actions can increase your car’s fuel economy tremendously.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Gas Mileage Basics
- 1. Maintain Proper Tire Pressure
- Stick Gauges
- Dial Gauges
- Digital Gauges
- 2. Keep a Driving Log
- 3. Use Synthetic Motor Oil
- 4. Use the Right Type of Fuel
- 5. Drive at Steady Speeds
- 6. Streamline Your Ride
- 7. Use Fuel Additives
- 8. Check Your Air Filter Regularly
- 9. Avoid Driving (or Just Cut Back)
- 10. Maintain Your Fuel Filter
- 11. Cool it with the A/C
- 12. Buy a Smaller Vehicle
- 13. Don’t Drive in Traffic
- 14. Understand Your Vehicle’s GVWR
- 15. Consider Other Fuel Options
- 16. Keep Your Tires Balanced
- 17. Rotate Your Tires
- 18. Keep Your Car Clean
- 19. Stick with Stock
- 20. Refuel in the Morning
- 21. Regular Maintenance
- What are the Benefits of Improved Gas Mileage?
- Which Tips Should I Use?
- Final Thoughts
Gas Mileage Basics
Gas mileage is the number of miles a car can travel on a set quantity of fuel. U.S. automobiles measure fuel economy in miles per gallon. For example, 25 mpg means the vehicle uses one gallon of gas to travel 25 miles. The average gas mileage of cars is about 25 mpg (although electric and hybrid vehicles average between 40 and 50 mpg).
Gas mileage varies from car to car and even trip to trip. A variety of factors both obvious and obscure affect your car’s gas mileage. While each vehicle will have a maximum level of fuel efficiency, a few simple tips and tricks can improve the gas mileage of any car:
1. Maintain Proper Tire Pressure
Underinflated tires are the number one cause of poor gas mileage. Even tires in perfect working condition will lose pressure over time. Maintaining appropriate pressure levels is an on-going process. Fortunately, it’s also easy and inexpensive.
Air pressure levels naturally decrease due to time and temperature:
- Tires drop about one psi per month
- Tires lose one psi for every ten-degree drop in outside air temps
Underinflated tires require more effort to keep rolling. The engine needs to work hard to maintain a consistent speed. When the engine works too hard, your gas mileage suffers.
Check your tires at least a month. Also, check the pressure following any sudden temperature drops. Three types of pressure gauges are available:
These pen-shaped gauges are portable and easy to use although they’re not always easy to read.
These gauges use a dial for increased accuracy, but their bulky shape makes them less portable than the stick.
A digital display gives the most accurate reading of all, but they’re also the most expensive option.
For the most accurate reading, check the pressure in cold weather. Hot weather can lead to a falsely high reading.
Inflate your tires to the specific level recommended by the manufacturer. Your owner’s manual will have this info. You can also find it on the data plate in the driver or passenger door jamb.
Filling your tires is usually simple. Foot-powered air pumps are easy and fast if the tires only need a small amount of air. Larger jobs are better suited for a home air compressor or the air pumps at your local service station.
2. Keep a Driving Log
Keeping accurate records of your vehicle’s fuel efficiency is the best way to see which tips have the biggest impact. But no two cars have the same rate of fuel consumption. Create a driving log to keep track of your car’s specific gas mileage.
You can record info in a smartphone app or even just a small notebook you keep in the glove box. Record the following on each trip:
- Mileage (use your car’s trip odometer)
- Length of time (include time stopped at lights, traffic, etc.)
- Approximate weight load in the car
- Type of road you’re driving on
- Anything noteworthy about the weather
Tracking your mileage helps you establish a baseline for your car’s fuel efficiency. As you implement other techniques on this list, you can compare gas mileage across similar driving situations.
Don’t forget to track fill-ups at the pump, too. Record how much gas you put in your vehicle and when. Also, record the mileage.
Compare the current mileage with the mileage from the last time you refueled. Divide the miles driven by the gallons of fuel you put in the car to see fill-by-fill gas mileage.
Your car will have an average mpg calculated by the manufacturer using both street and highway fuel consumption. The best gas mileage for your car is how much more highway gas mileage is over street mileage.
Your specific gas mileage will likely be higher or lower than the number given by the manufacturer. That’s normal. You just want to make sure your car’s specific mileage is close to the average. A significant difference might indicate mechanical problems with your vehicle.
3. Use Synthetic Motor Oil
Avoid standard (also called “conventional”) motor oil. It’s the type refined from crude oil. Even after refinement, conventional motor oil will always have additives and contaminants. Standard motor oil is the original type of motor oil. It’s the cheapest option.
Synthetic motor oil is a bit more expensive per bottle, but it’s far better for most vehicles. Created in a laboratory, it has a uniform molecular structure which contains no impurities. Synthetic oil results in less friction on your engine, which in turn improves gas mileage.
Be sure to change your oil according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Fortunately, while synthetic oil is a bit more expensive up front, it lasts about three times as long as conventional motor oil. Synthetic oil lasts between 5,000 and 20,000 miles. Consult your owner’s manual for specifics.
4. Use the Right Type of Fuel
Most cars and trucks use unleaded gasoline, which both runs cleaner and is better for the environment compared to leaded.
Unleaded gas is measured in octane values. The octane value is the number you see on the pump such as 89, 90 and 91. The number represents the amount of octane in gasoline.
Octane helps the fuel withstand compression before igniting. It’s the gas burn base for the fuel. The higher the octane, the slower the fuel burns. The slower it burns, the less is required to power the engine.
The lower the octane level, the cheaper the gas. You’ll save at the pump for sure, but you might not save overall. Because higher octane gas burns slower, you don’t have to refill as often. The improved gas mileage of high octane could be a better value overall.
Vehicles are designed from the ground up to perform best with a specific type of gas. Always use the octane level recommended by the manufacturer. If low octane gas is recommended, you’ll get no benefits from going higher.
5. Drive at Steady Speeds
How you drive greatly affects gas mileage. Avoid short bursts of speed whenever possible. Be especially careful about “jack-rabbit starts.” That’s where the driver stomps on the accelerator to get moving as fast as possible after a complete stop.
Instead, accelerate moderately at all times. Allow the transmissions to shift into higher gears at a smooth, even pace.
If driving a stick shift, shift up early. Don’t allow the tachometer to get too high. Downshift when you need to accelerate quickly to avoid lugging the engine.
When on the road, drive defensively. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t just focus on the car in front of you. Instead, focus on all traffic further down the road. Spotting potential hazards early allows you to break slowly. Slamming on the brakes wastes fuel. Of course, defensive driving isn’t just great for gas mileage; it’s also the best way to stay safe.
Drive like a truck driver. Ever noticed how semis stick to the right lane? Consistent speeds with minimal shifting saves fuel.
Cars use the most fuel when they’re accelerating from a slow speed. They use significantly less fuel when moving at a steady speed. Try to maintain a steady pace when driving on the highway. Cruise control is helpful if available in your car.
6. Streamline Your Ride
Roof racks are not a friend of good gas mileage. Avoid storing bikes, luggage or other objects on the roof of your vehicle. Doing so produces wind resistance which slows the car down. The more wind resistance on the car, the harder the engine needs to work to move it forward.
The objects on the top of your car don’t even need to be large or heavy to create unwanted wind resistance. Even a lightweight bicycle provides enough wind resistance to affect your gas mileage. Attaching bikes to the rear of your vehicle, where the car’s body provides a barrier, reduces wind resistance.
Towing a trailer affects gas mileage, too. Any high0profile trailer which extends above your car will create wind resistance. Smaller trailers blocked by your car’s body don’t have this issue, but the extra weight will affect gas mileage.
7. Use Fuel Additives
You can find a huge selection of additives at any auto parts store. They’re liquids you pour directly into the gas tank. Additives claim to clean your engine, improve driving performance, prevent breakdowns and otherwise benefit your vehicle – but are those claims legit?
Yes and no. Unless you’re buying from the shadiest corners of the internet, fuel additives are unlikely to hurt your car. But not every fuel additive is worth the money. Only choose those which directly benefit your vehicle.
Many additives have very specific purposes. For example, if you drive a classic car which runs on leaded gasoline, certain additives help maintain that type of engine. Other additives allow you to use unleaded gas. Only use a niche-type additive if it specifically applies to your vehicle. Otherwise, damage can result.
Other additives can be used in just about any car. You’ll find additives with a variety of general uses such as:
- Cleaning the fuel injectors
- Removing carbon deposits from valves
- Removing water and condensation from the gas tank (dry gas)
Plus, you can also find additives to protect your car from the weather. Use winter additives to protect your car from cold seasonal temps, and summer ones for the warmer months.
If you’re looking for additives which clean, choose products containing polybutene amine (PBA). It’s a chemical which helps remove deposits from various engine components like carburetors, fuel injectors, and intake valves.
Additives are simple to use. Fill your car with the appropriate fuel type. Then pour the additive into the tank. Use the entire bottle. Be sure and cap the bottle before throwing it away. The additive will mix with the gasoline and disperse throughout your car’s system.
Always follow the directions. Not all additives work the same. Certain additives can damage your engine if used multiple times in a row. Never use more than one additive at a time.
Also, never add other substances such as motor oil to your gas tank. These “old mechanic’s tales” are likely to damage your car.
8. Check Your Air Filter Regularly
Internal combustion engines need three elements to operate:
- A spark from a spark plug
The air mixes with the fuel and is then ignited by a spark. The process repeats continuously to power the engine.
The air filter helps keep the inflowing air clean. It filters out dirt, pollen, and other road debris. Simple but effective, most modern air filters are made from thick paper folded in an accordion shape. They attach to the intake manifold.
Air filters naturally become clogged over time. The gunk blocked from entering your engine builds up on the outside of the filter. Buildup impedes air flow into the car. When too little air reaches the engine, fuel consumption goes up to compensate.
Fortunately, changing your air filter is quick and easy. Check out our Complete Guide to Changing Your Car’s Air Filter for step-by-step instructions. Changing your air filter regularly helps reduce fuel needs, which saves you money at the pump.
Change your filter whenever it’s noticeably dusty or dirty. Ideally, you want to swap in a new filter before it’s disgusting. Check your filter every 12,000 miles or once a year, whichever is first. Not sure what type of replacement filter to buy? Our 2019 Guide to the Best Engine Air Filters is here to help!
9. Avoid Driving (or Just Cut Back)
Are you driving more than you need to? Most people are. Limiting your driving also limits your car’s fuel usage. Fortunately, reducing daily driving isn’t nearly as inconvenient as you might think.
If you live in a major urban center, owning a car might be more trouble than its worth. Parking alone can cost a fortune. Relying on subways, taxis, Uber, Lyft and other methods are easy and inexpensive.
Of course, getting rid of your car isn’t always necessary or even wanted. But you can still reduce drive times by carpooling whenever possible. Many people also have a light rail or train station within a short drive of their house.
Aside from reducing gas mileage, carpooling or taking public transportation allows you to read, rest or otherwise relax while someone else does the driving.
10. Maintain Your Fuel Filter
Fuel contains various levels of debris, impurities and other gunk. Higher octane, premium fuel has fewer impurities than cheaper gas, but they still exist. The fuel pump prevents these impurities from reaching the engine.
Fuel filter locations vary by vehicle make and model. It’ll be located somewhere along the fuel line. Common spots include inside the engine compartment or underneath the fuel tank.
Fuel filter problems can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms mimic many other car issues. Watch for one or more of the following:
- Engine stuttering and stalling
- Power loss, especially during acceleration
- Erratic idling speeds
- Difficulty starting
Changing a damaged fuel filter isn’t a job for beginners. Filters are often hard to find. Plus, they’re often connected to the fuel pump and other components, which can be complicated to remove. In many newer cars, the fuel pump is located inside the fuel tank, meant to be serviced only by an automotive professional.
When the filter starts to clog, less and less fuel can reach the engine. The engine then struggles, requiring more and more fuel to operate. Gas mileage decreases along with the condition of the fuel filter.
If you notice any indications of a problem with your fuel filter, have it checked out right away. Poor gas mileage is just one potential problem. Catastrophic engine damage can also result.
11. Cool it with the A/C
Air conditioning provides cooling relief when driving on hot days. But don’t overuse it. Running the A/C requires extra work from the engine, which in turn worsens your gas mileage.
However, there’s a balance between running your A/C and leaving your windows down. At high speeds, the increased wind resistance from open windows typically reduces fuel economy more than the A/C would. For maximum fuel efficiency:
- Keep the windows up and the A/C on when driving on the freeway.
- Lower the windows and cool off without A/C when cruising around residential roads.
12. Buy a Smaller Vehicle
Now, we’re not suggesting you should buy a new car just to improve gas mileage. However, if you’re in the market for a different ride, fuel efficiency should be a top consideration.
Generally, the smaller the engine, the better the gas mileage. Smaller engines are made for smaller vehicles. The lighter a vehicle, the less fuel is required to operate its engine.
Beyond the weight of the vehicle, also consider the chassis type. A passenger car chassis has better fuel efficiency than truck chassis.
However, the gap in gas mileage between cars and trucks is growing closer each year. When SUVs became popular, early models had fuel efficiency ratings between 15 and 20 mph. However, smaller, more fuel-efficient SUVs are increasingly common. You can find SUVs which get 20 to 25 miles to the gallon – although they’ll likely be more expensive than a car with similar fuel efficiency.
13. Don’t Drive in Traffic
Admittedly, this tip is easier said than done. Avoiding traffic entirely isn’t possible. But you’ll still want to plan your route around traffic as much as possible.
Maintaining a steady speed on the road burns less fuel than stop-and-go driving. You’ll save gas by taking routes which are longer but less congested. Stick to side streets and other less traveled roads whenever possible.
14. Understand Your Vehicle’s GVWR
Weight impacts gas mileage in a big way. To accurately measure your vehicle’s fuel efficiency, you’ll need to understand these two concepts:
- Gross Vehicle Weight GVW
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating GVWR
The Gross Vehicle Weight is the actual weight of the vehicle at any given time. If a car on the lot were put on a scale, the number on the scale would be the GVW. If you filled the vehicle with people and packages, the GVW would increase. A vehicle’s gross weight changes based on what’s inside.
The GVW doesn’t have a major impact on gas mileage. Larger vehicles have larger engines, which are designed to deliver power efficiently. Instead, gas mileage is affected more by the GVWR.
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the vehicle’s weight limit. It’s a consistent number set by the manufacturer. The GVWR considers the base weight of the vehicles plus accessories, cargo, and passengers.
Never load a vehicle beyond the manufacturer’s listed GVWR. Ideally, avoid getting close to the limit for any prolonged period. An occasional trip during a move is fine. But loading up your vehicle with large amounts of weight each day strains the engine and drops gas mileage.
15. Consider Other Fuel Options
If you’re in the market for a new car, consider diesel, electric or hybrid vehicles.
Hybrid vehicles use two types of power. An internal combustion engine drives an electric generator to power an electric motor. You still fill hybrid vehicles with gas. But you don’t need to do so nearly as often.
Hybrid vehicles automatically switch from the combustion engine to the electric motor depending on how you’re driving. Generally, the electric engine produces torque and turning power while gas power maintains high speeds. Using electric power, even just some of the time, dramatically improves gas mileage.
Electric vehicles are growing increasingly popular year after year. Electric charging stations are available throughout the country, allowing vehicles to travel further from home than ever before. Electric vehicles use no gas so gas mileage isn’t a factor. However, you’ll travel further on each charge by following the weight-related tips on this list.
Diesel fuel powers diesel engines (naturally). Most commercial and large vehicles have diesel engines, although diesel-powered passenger vehicles are also available.
Diesel engines get great gas mileage. They’re about 25 to 30% more efficient than gasoline engines. But there are some downsides. Diesel used to be significantly cheaper than gasoline, but prices are fairly equal these days. Also, diesel engines don’t accelerate as fast as gas ones.
Diesel and hybrid often have similar fuel efficiency. If you’re not sure which is best for your needs, consider where you typically drive. Hybrids get the best gas mileage in stop-and-go city driving while diesels do better during highway driving.
16. Keep Your Tires Balanced
Wheels and tires aren’t perfectly circular. Their center of gravity rarely matches the assembly center of the vehicle – and this unevenness can cause the tires and wheels to spin unevenly.
Signs of a balance problem include vibration, shaking and swaying when driving. Issues will be especially pronounced when driving at highway speeds.
Wheel balancing involves readjusting the weight around the wheels. You can’t balance your tires at home. Instead, you’ll need to visit a service center. A professional mechanic uses weights and high-speed balancing systems to correct uneven rotation. Generally, your tires should be balanced every 6,000 miles.
Balance issues wear down tires, impair steering and downgrade gas mileage. More fuel is required to supply the extra energy needed to turn uneven tires. Additionally, vibrations also consume energy. Balanced tires provide maximum energy efficiency.
17. Rotate Your Tires
Cars disperse weight differently across the front and back wheels, which means tires wear down unevenly. How they wear down depends on the type of car. Front-wheel-drive vehicles push power to the front wheels. Rear-wheel-drive engines power the back wheels. Powered sets wear down faster than the non-powered ones.
Rotating tires means moving the wheels from the front to the back and vice versa. Wheels might also be switched to opposite sides. Rotating wheels balances out wear. Tires rotated regularly last longer and have better traction.
Worn tires require more engine power than tires in tip-top shape. Rotating your tires improves their traction, which in turn improves your car’s gas mileage.
Rotating your tires can be a D.I.Y. job. Simply move each tire to an appropriate new spot on the vehicle. Of course, removing tires yourself can be time-consuming. Consider having a professional rotate your tires. In most cases, rotations are free from your dealership or the store where you bought the tires.
18. Keep Your Car Clean
A few receipts and other minor litter inside your car won’t affect your gas mileage. But larger junk can slow you down. Go through your car and remove any objects you don’t need. The goal is to make your car weigh as little as possible.
Every car should have a roadside emergency kit with a small jack, spare tire, road flares, and other essentials. Otherwise, keep your car as clean as possible.
The smaller the car, the more significant extra weight can be. For example, 50 pounds probably won’t impact the gas mileage of a vehicle on a truck chassis. But that same 50 pounds will dramatically impact the fuel efficiency of a smaller car.
Don’t forget to clear off any snowpack. You brush away the snow on your windshields and hood. But do you take the time to wipe away the snow on the roof of your car, too? It’s heavier than you think. Plus, driving around with snow on the roof can be a safety hazard.
Of course, nobody likes brushing snow off their car. Check out the Best Snow Brush for Your Car to make the job easier.
19. Stick with Stock
Custom wheels and high-end tires improve the handling and style of your car. But they might not be doing any favors for your gas mileage. The wider your tires, the greater the rolling resistance, which affects the energy required for forward momentum. The extra energy translates to increased fuel economy.
Many people consider the improved traction of wider tires to be worth the lower fuel economy. As long as you’re driving around the city, you probably won’t notice a major difference. But it will be noticeable during long distances. Consider switching back to your stock wheels and tires before heading out on a road trip or other long drive.
Our guide to the best all-season tires will help you find tires which combine tight handling with great fuel efficiency.
20. Refuel in the Morning
For the absolute best value, visit the gas station in the early morning before the sun can warm the ground.
Petroleum products expand in the heat. Unfortunately, gas pumps charge by volume. When the fuel expands, you’re putting less of it in your car percentage-wise, even though the price remains the same.
Cooler temps keep the fuel dense. If you fill up in the morning, after the ground has been cool for eight hours or so, you’ll get the best value at the pump.
When fueling up your vehicle, only remove the gas cap when you’re ready to insert the nozzle into the tank. Fuel vapors escape whenever the cap is off. Avoid wasting fuel, and help reduce environmental damage, by keeping the cap closed as often as possible.
Don’t be afraid to shop around for the best deal. Apps help you stay up-to-date on the prices at gas stations in your area. Many grocery stores also offer discounts for members.
Drivers often wonder whether it’s better to pay slightly more at a gas station nearby or drive a bit for lower prices. Unfortunately, there’s no great answer. If you can avoid stop-and-go traffic when driving to a distant station, and the prices are significantly lower than what’s closer, you could save. But consider the costs carefully before setting off on a long journey for cheap fuel.
21. Regular Maintenance
Stay up-to-date with regular vehicle maintenance. A professional mechanic can identify small issues and prevent them from turning into major problems.
Many simple maintenance needs can be taken care of at home. Most people have no problem checking their vehicle’s:
- Oil levels
- Tire pressure
- Air filter quality
Visit a mechanic at the first sign of trouble. Note any strange noises or sensations when driving. Also never ignore warning lights on the dash.
Most automotive service centers will diagnose your issue and give you a free quote for repairs. The earlier you can repair an issue, the cheaper those repairs tend to be. Keeping your vehicle in optimum running condition helps maximize its fuel efficiency.
What are the Benefits of Improved Gas Mileage?
The benefits of monitoring gas mileage are definitely worth the effort. Here’s why:
The most obvious benefit is for your wallet. Improving your car’s gas mileage saves you money. Think of all the times you fill up your car. Imagine saving even just a dollar or two each time. The savings can add up big by the end of the year.
Additionally, improving your gas mileage helps keeps your vehicle in great shape. Poor gas mileage is often caused by a problem such as worn tires, a dirty air filter, poor quality fuel or similar issue. Fixing the problem improves not just gas mileage but also the condition of your car.
Finally, improving your gas mileage helps the planet. Excess emissions damage the environment. An efficient engine reduces harmful emissions.
Which Tips Should I Use?
Feel free to use any or all. Not every tip on the list will apply to you. That’s okay. Run through the entire list and see what works best for your situation.
Track your gas mileage. Note when you start using different techniques to determine their effectiveness. If one technique doesn’t seem to save much fuel, try others on the list.
There’s no one magic way to improve your car’s gas mileage. Instead, great gas mileage is often the result of implementing a variety of tips and techniques. Even the smallest, simplest actions can have a big effect.
Improving your car’s gas mileage can help you save a lot of money. Plus, you’re also helping protect the environment from harmful gases. Use the tips above to reduce your vehicle’s emissions and improve its gas mileage today – the planet, and your wallet, will thank you!