Running on Fumes vs. Fuel Efficiency


Maybe this has happened to you. You say, “Wow, gas is getting expensive. I’ve got to figure out how to improve my gas mileage.” Then the guy next to you says, “Oh, you mean like by getting one of these?” He proceeds to take out his keys, point them at a shiny, new hybrid or plug-in electric vehicle and presses the fob button to cause the lights to blink and the horn to chirp.


These strengthening exercises in interpersonal patience aside, there are ways to make sure you’re getting the best mileage you possibly can out of your existing vehicle. Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to optimize efficiency in the vehicle you’re currently driving.


Your car’s rated gas mileage makes a few assumptions, like that you haven’t made major modifications to the system that changes the math of how energy is transmitted from engine to tires. And that system is made of parts that degrade over time and require you to stay on top of keeping the car as close to “factory condition” as you reasonably can.

Keep an eye on these maintenance points to keep your car efficient:

  • Use recommended grade of engine oil.
  • Maintain recommended tire pressure.
  • Change spark plugs, oxygen sensor and air filter regularly.
  • Get a professional tune up.

Efficient Driving

With your car in good condition, that leaves only one other major factor in getting the best gas mileage you can: how you drive it.

Your car requires a lot of energy to force it to move – and force it to stop. And the more energy (which comes from fuel) you use to get it to move, the more is wasted in stopping, when your brakes just throw all that energy away in the form of friction heat.

Instead, accelerating slower, and braking in such a way that you don’t have to then drastically accelerate afterwards to get back up to speed, will reduce the amount of energy wasted, and thus, may improve your fuel economy.

In 2006, Wayne Gerdes coined the term “hypermiling” to describe this type of energy-efficient driving, which may not fit every scenario, but may be a valuable driving skill for improving efficiency.

Of course, if you think the best way to improve your gas mileage is to get a new, more energy-efficient vehicle, buying one doesn’t have to be hard. You can apply for financing before you leave your house, and with approval in hand, buy your new car and squeeze every mile you can out of each fill-up or charge-up.

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