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Tips to Increase Your Car's Miles Per Gallon

The current average price for gas is close to $3.00 per gallon here in the United States. Arguments aside about whether this is really that bad compared to the global market, it's still more than I want to pay. Along that line, I've written some tips to help you increase the miles per gallon of your car. These actually work—I increased my average gas mileage from 19 miles per gallon to 25 miles per gallon just by following the tips below.

I should note that these aren't just random guesses at what might help. I have a 2000 Chrysler Town & Country mini-van that has a digital display showing you in real-time your miles per gallon. As I'm driving, I can see second by second how my miles per gallon are changing. It keeps a running log of these numbers and has a second display to show you your average miles per gallon. I have tested each of these tips independently to see if they help or not. (Yes, I'm a big nerd and actually do this kind of statistical analysis for fun. Then again, I'm now getting 25 miles per gallon in a six-year-old mini-van. Who's laughing now?)

Okay, here you go...
  • Don't accelerate quickly. - I used to be a relatively aggressive driver. I would speed up quickly from stops, accelerate into the fast line quickly on the freeway, and so forth. If you accelerate gradually, though, it can really help your miles per gallon. Your car won't be working as hard. You'll be a safer driver to boot.

  • Let your car brake itself. - I wasn't so bad with this one, but I used to often wait until I was somewhat near a stop before braking down to a halt. Anticipate stops ahead of you and just let off the accelerator, letting the car slow itself down.

  • Drive at the speed limit on highways and freeways. - This was the hardest one for me to do. I would consistently drive 5, maybe 10, miles per hour over the speed limit. Last year I wouldn't have cared about this one. Now, my choice is between driving 5 miles per hour slower on highways and freeways, or paying for gas more often. At $3.00 a gallon, I'm now more willing to drive 5 miles per hour slower. And you know what? I find that I don't really get where I'm going any later than I did before. Funny, that.

  • Use cruise control. - This really helps your miles per gallon a lot on long stretches of road. Where I live there is a drive I often have to take that's about a half-hour drive. I tested this out on that drive and was surprised at the difference cruise control made. I tried driving the exact same speed with and without cruise control and using cruise control consistently gave me a 4-5 miles per gallon advantage. If I worked the accelerator myself, even being very consistent and alert to how I was driving, I would get about 24-25 miles per gallon on this highway stretch. (This is using the real-time miles per gallon display, mind you.) With cruise control on, it would increase to 29, and then vary between 27 and 30 depending on the road conditions. Not bad.

  • Don't use the air conditioner. - This can be a hard one in the summer, but with fall settling in, it's not that tough anymore. Every time I turned the air conditioner off, I saw an immediate increase in my miles per gallon.

  • Accelerate before hills. - (If you live in the Midwest, ignore this. What you call a "hill" is what we in Oregon call a "speed bump".) Accelerate before you get to a hill, and then let off the accelerator once you hit the hill. Let your momentum carry you up the foot of the hill. Accelerating before the hill is easier on your car than accelerating on the hill. If it's a big enough hill, you'll still need to accelerate while you're on it, but then you won't have to use the accelerator on the entire hill.
And now here are some things I haven't tested, but are supposed to help.
  • Clean out your car. - A lighter car will get more miles per gallon.
  • Check your tire pressure. - Low tire pressure makes your car work harder. Don't over-inflate your tires.
  • Change your air filter. - A dirty filter will decrease your miles per gallon.
  • Get a hybrid car. - Well, duh. However, hybrids aren't for everyone. If you have long stretches of highway or freeway driving, a hybrid won't give you much of an advantage. They are also less powerful when it comes to hills.
  • Do more in one trip. - Less trips equals less gas.
I'm interested to hear any other practices people have found to increase gas mileage. Every bit helps.

Update: Just to add some visuals, here is a picture I took tonight of my car's average miles per gallon display. I'd say 25.9 MPG isn't bad. :)


If you frequently drive in a place where there are a lot of lights, figure out what speed will get you through a lot of green lights in a row so you don't have to start and stop. In downtown Portland, it is 12.5 mph hour on the east/west streets, and 15 mph on the north/south streets. Most people in Portland seem to know this, so you will move in concert with the rest of the traffic.

However, from the north end of Tigard to the south end of Newberg, there are 18 traffic lights, and they are purposely set to be UNsynchronized, which has made me furious for 20 years.

Another tip: take freeways whenever you can. No lights and a pretty much constant speed.
rnewhouse - Oct 3, 2005 @ 12:01 AM - Permanent Link
These are good tips. My company car's air-conditioning blew last week and I immediately noticed a difference in gas mileage.

I researched Hybrids this weekend and discovered that in one case (a Honda Accord EX), the cost of the Hybrid car was so much more than the same car non-Hybrid that at current gas prices you would have to own and drive the car for 12 years before the gas difference would make up the $10,000 cost difference.
Jackson - Oct 3, 2005 @ 6:33 AM - Permanent Link
Nice tips Dylan & rnewhouse, I'll try to follow them as much as possible.

I figure the fast acceleration and driving at the speed limit will be hardest to follow. I never really cared how much my car eats up and how to reduce it.

With the prices these days it's about time I change that.
CypherBit - Oct 3, 2005 @ 10:49 AM - Permanent Link
Not to be contrary, but some of these rules are not universal, thanks to differing automobile dynamics. For instance, eliminating the additional load of the air conditioning system trying to cool the relatively massive volume of air in a minivan would result in a great savings; in a smaller car with a better coefficient of drag and smaller interior volume, the added drag caused by open windows results in greater gas consumption at highway speeds. Two cars I've owned have stated in the manual that the AC was more fuel efficient at highway speed under almost any conditions. Further, not every car achieves maximum fuel economy at the speed limit. Some cars, esp. performance cars, make their best economy at extra-legal speeds; by your same method, the onboard trip computer, my current car averages 22mpg, but can get up to 30mpg cruising in top gear at 80mph, and i can replicate that consistently. Your points about too rapid acceleration or braking and cruise control are well taken, but can be expanded into a point about keeping a consistent speed. Changing the speed of a mass is a energy expensive task, and far more inefficient that simply maintaining speed.
junyo - Oct 3, 2005 @ 11:34 AM - Permanent Link
I don't think anyone is arguing that the posted speed limit will get you the maximum fuel economy, only that the faster you go, the worse your mileage, so to take it down a notch will help.

This is due to wind drag. The effect starts to show up significantly at highway speeds because it increases geometrically as your speed increases linearly. If you are actually getting 30mpg in high gear at 80, you would see better mileage at 70, holding all other variables constant like what gear you are in.

Performance-tuned cars get worse mileage in lower gears because the gear ratios are designed to deliver higher torque over the range of speed, so you can accelerate more quickly. This requires from the engine more horsepower, which is why more fuel is burned per unit distance.

Best economy at extra-legal speeds? Only if you can't use your top gear without breaking the law. But then, that's not a mini van you are driving, is it?
peterman - Oct 3, 2005 @ 1:01 PM - Permanent Link
Just an update. I added a picture I took tonight of my car's average miles per gallon display. Sorry for the picture quality, but camera phones don't take the best pictures in a car on a bumpy road with the cameraman (me) not even really able to pay attention to where the camera is pointed.
Dylan - Oct 3, 2005 @ 11:54 PM - Permanent Link
All of those are completely valid tips. I did some experimenting with my Jeep a year ago with a laptop hooked into the ECU through OBDII to sample real engine data. In this article I wrote up, Improve MPG: The Factors Affecting Fuel Efficiency, you can see just how significant all of the advice on driving style really is with regard to fuel economy. The best savings come from your own right foot.
vnutz - Jun 26, 2007 @ 3:45 AM - Permanent Link
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Ryan8055 - Jun 18, 2008 @ 6:34 AM - Permanent Link
Great tips. You'd be surprised how much money you'll save over the course of a few months or a year simply by increasing your fuel economy.

A 5% increase for the average family will save more than enough money to pay for Christmas.

I've been involved with some very scientific testing on a fuel treatment that is proven to increase mileage enough to not only pay for itself but also put money back in your pocket. Check it out at www.letsgosyntek.com. Happy Saving!
paulmhutchings - Sep 9, 2009 @ 10:32 PM - Permanent Link

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