Driving for Better Mileage

In my previous post on reducing transportation costs, I suggested using driving techniques that can increase your fuel mileage. In this post, I describe the techniques that have saved me a lot of money over time. For example, I get 26 MPG on the freeway in my SUV, and 18 MPG in the city. Although the city mileage isn’t that impressive relative to other kinds of vehicles, people don’t usually think of SUVs getting that kind of mileage at all. To prove that it isn’t just that my vehicle is magically more fuel efficient, other people driving my SUV consistently get about 18 on the freeway and 15 in the city. So it has to be my driving techniques and not the vehicle itself, which means you, too, can get better mileage in your vehicle. Here are some of the easiest methods to use. Remember to always be safe and alert!

Accelerate and Decelerate Smoothly and Slowly

Instead of tromping on the gas or brakes, accelerate and decelerate smoothly and slowly, both on the freeway and in town. This also means looking ahead to see what’s going on. If you see brake lights in the distance, or if a traffic light down the road is yellow, start slowing down right away (but slowly; if it is safe to do so, lift your foot slightly from the gas pedal instead of starting to brake).

If the brake lights mean a highway slowdown, you are better prepared to come to stop and you save fuel by decelerating smoothly.

If it is a traffic light, it might cycle completely through yellow to red to green by the time you arrive, in which case you spare some fuel by not having to come to a full stop. But even if you need to stop, you will have saved some fuel by not continuing to keep your foot on the gas pedal until the last minute.

If you are at a full stop, when the light changes to green again, take a second before you accelerate again (and accelerate smoothly; not need to jackrabbit out of there). When taking that second before you start up again, look around to make sure that there aren’t any last-minute light-jumpers; the life you save could well be your own. Also, accelerating smoothly instead of tromping on the gas pedal saves fuel.

When braking, keep in mind something I read long ago: every time you step on the brakes, you are magically changing fuel into brake lining dust (and thereby worsening your fuel efficiency). And I will add that it also reduces the life of your brakes; add up a lot of unnecessary braking and you will be replacing your brakes a lot more often than you need to—and that’s an easily avoided cost.

Turn Off the Engine if Idling for Longer Than a Minute

If you are idling more than a minute, turn your engine off. Turning your engine on takes a bit more fuel than just running it, but if your engine is going to be idling for longer than a minute, you offset the cost of starting up again by the fuel you save from just sitting there with your engine running.

Drive Smoothly; Don’t Change Your Speeds a Lot

Maintain a smooth, steady speed, rather than speeding up and slowing down a lot. I.e., don’t speed up to 55 mph, then slow down to 50, then up to 55 again.

Related to this: if you maintain a speed by pressing your foot on the gas pedal for a few seconds, then lifting your foot off for a few seconds, then pressing down again, etc., consider learning how to keep a smooth, steady pressure on the gas pedal to maintain the speed you want.

Cruise control on the highway is an excellent option for maintaining a constant speed, though you still need to pay attention and be ready to respond to any situation. (Also, if your car has an overdrive, use it. You’ll notice your fuel mileage goes way up.)

Driving the speed limit will save you some fuel as well.

Keep Your Car and Tires Maintained

A well-running engine is more fuel efficient than one that is not. And tires with the proper pressure are safer, and might save you a bit of fuel as well.


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