There are plenty of things you can do to save gas while driving. Check your tire pressure. Remove antennae balls. Drive slower. But, in the real world, we’ve all got limited attention spans. Changing habits is hard work, and few people are prepared to make drastic changes to every stage of their drive.
So, what really matters? Is it more important to use cruise control or take the flag down from the gun rack? Luckily, Consumer Reports has tackled the issue. Their real-world study has some hard numbers and surprising conclusions.
After reading the list, I realized that no one had prioritized our options. So, here are the 5 biggest changes you can make to save gas, with estimates of fuel saving potential:
1. Get your lead foot off the gas pedal (save 5-10 MPG)
If you’re going over 55 miles per hour, slowing down increases fuel efficiency. On their test car (a Toyota Camry) Consumer Reports found that slowing down from 75 MPH to 65 MPH resulted in a 5 mile per gallon performance increase. Slowing down from 75 MPH to 55 MPH saved 10 miles per gallon!
2. Eliminate drag (save 6 MPG)
Engineers hate drag. Every piece of a car that sticks out (from the rear view mirrors to the radio antennae) reduces fuel efficiency and acceleration. The one thing engineers hate worse than drag is customers who modify the cars that they worked so hard on by adding more drag. That’s what happens whenever we attach a car-top carrier, clip a bike onto the spare wheel, or even tie a ribbon onto the antennae. All of these attachments hurt fuel efficiency more than most people realize. So now’s a good time to streamline your car – those truck balls aren’t fooling anybody, anyway.
3. Combine errands and keep your engine warm (save 4 MPG)
Combining errands saves gas in two ways – not only does it prevent driving over the same route again and again, but combining errands keeps your engine from cooling down. A warm engine is at the right temperature for optimally burning fuel. Parking in the sunlight can help to a limited extent, especially if “cold” is your hometown’s default temperature.
4. Maintain a steady pace (save 2-3 MPG)
Accelerating and decelerating constantly can take a real toll on your gas mileage. Going a steady pace makes inertia work in your favor, boosting gas mileage and also preventing unnecessary wear and tear. One of the easiest ways to set your pace is to use the cruise control. Also, try to accelerate gradually up to speed when entering the highway, and coast down to speed when using an exit.
5. Keep tires properly inflated (save 1.3 MPG)
When tire pressure gets low, the tire starts to sag like a limp balloon. This means that more of the tire comes in contact with the road, which, in turn, increases friction. Tires that are underinflated by 10 PSI rob cars of about 1.3 miles per gallon. If you’re not sure what pressure is the right pressure, check the floor well inside of the drivers door. On most cars, the ideal pressure is printed either there, or in the owner’s manual.
If you tally up the gas savings from all these steps, they total 24 miles per gallon. That can be a bit misleading though – each of the fuel saving calculations was done in isolation. Following all of the advice probably wont take your car’s gas mileage from 20 to 44 miles per gallon, but there aren’t many cars that can get 20 miles per gallon while making glaring mistakes.
The scary truth is that gas prices are rising, and there’s not much we can do to affect the price at the gas station. Don’t worry though – our European neighbors are happy to tell us that fuel prices in America are still relatively cheap. The only realistic way that we can cut down on gas related costs is to change our driving habits and use less fuel. Remember when gas only cost less than $3 a gallon? You can get there again, even if the pump is charging $4. Boosting fuel efficiency from 20 mpg to 30 mpg can cut your fuel bill by 33%! Start with the easy, effective steps and incorporate these 5 tips into your daily commute.