When seeking real fuel economy improvements you must learn the limits of your car or truck. We all know the highway fuel economy numbers posted on the new car sticker seem like a pipe dream. However, the reality of the situation dictates the number remains achievable with some effort. The car manufacturer can't lie about this important statistic.
They provide data and test results to the EPA as proof their automobile remains capable of achieving the lofty number advertised on the sticker. It's your job to squeeze this incredible amount of fuel economy out of this specific car or truck. It's challenging, but as a retired certified master technician with 35 years experience I can help you move in the right direction. My profile is linked on the footer of this page and includes a video displaying my certifications.
In order to achieve maximum fuel economy benefits you must know two important data points. 1) What's the highest number within reason you can expect. 2) The next required number is the current fuel economy of the automobile. As promised, I will help you obtain both pieces of information needed for real fuel economy improvements today.
The government supplies a super cool tool for people selling their automobiles. It allows them to plug in the year, make and model to uncover the originally posted city and highway fuel economy numbers. This prevents false advertising by used-car sellers. Here's a link to the fuel economy.gov tool so you'll have the right number to shoot for. Return to this page and I'll tell you the number one technique for achieving this goal.
I provided the link near the opening of this article to prove that I'm serious about helping you. With that said, I'm also interested in helping myself achieve real fuel economy improvements. As the owner of a 2019 infinity Q50 sedan I'm required to use premium fuel because of the all aluminum 3 L twin turbo engine. So when you cruise past the gas pump and look at the price of regular fuel know that I'm paying a lot more for premium.
The current fuel pricing issues force me to not only find out what type of fuel economy I can expect on the highway, but also what I'm getting now. As you can see in the photo to the right, I should be getting 23 mpg on the highway. My automobile is equipped with an instant fuel economy monitor.
According to this information I am pulling down 18 miles per gallon. If I drive the automobile in a spirited way as the twin turbo allows, I receive around 12 miles per gallon. You can see my motivation for not only writing this article but moving closer to the 23 mpg advertised by the manufacturer.
You can't improve fuel economy without knowing the current miles per gallon. If you're serious about saving money on gas then you must be serious about measuring the data in real time. You can't improve something if you don't know what the baseline measurement is. We'll get into the how to increasing MPG part of the equation in the last section. Here we'll talk about the different ways you can measure results.
Breaking out the paper and pencil can provide some decent information. But it's not real time current driving information. Using the old-fashioned method of recording the mileage at the time of filling the tank provides data by the tankful. We need to know how much were getting right now in real time.
It's true, that I personally like the devices that connect to the onboard diagnostic port or OBD II connector. However, these devices often come in over $100 and that can seem counterproductive when you're trying to save money. With that said, if you're serious about using the information supplied from such a device you could probably save that within a few tank fulls.
If you stick with me through this section I will provide information about a mechanical device that not only provides real-time information, but costs less than $20. Unfortunately, to drive my point home I have to take you back in time, to the mid-70s when the cost of gas took America by surprise. The gas guzzling cars of that time period were no match for the prices at the pump.
The supply fell and the prices surged so quickly that even if the manufacturers went to work immediately on designing more fuel-efficient vehicles they needed a solution now. That solution became a dashboard mounted mechanical vacuum gauge. They called it a fuel economy meter. These large in-your-face devices provided instant data about your current fuel usage. More importantly, you could now use the throttle of the vehicle to keep the needle in the green zone.
These devices used engine manifold vacuum to swing the needle in the gauge cluster. Manifold vacuum is at its highest when the throttle plates are closed. This occurs when the vehicle is at idle with your foot off the gas pedal. Manifold vacuum drops to zero when you smash the gas pedal to the floor for wide open throttle. In this case the needle on the dashboard would point to the red zone indicating you are receiving the worst fuel economy.
Many automobiles provide the driver with average fuel economy and instant fuel economy through driver information centers. Unfortunately, not all vehicles are equipped with this type of technology. It also seems the economy cars are the ones that most often lack driver information centers as an option.
On this page I provide two examples of devices that plug into the diagnostic port of any automobile manufactured from 1996 to current day. These allow quick connections with the included cable and flexible mounting of the display panel so that you can see instant fuel economy while you're driving.
The Scan Gauge II provides this digital information on a compact display panel. However, it lacks the visual incentive of the red and green fuel economy gauges from the 70s provided. The scan gauge is also an expensive option at $150. In fact, the highest price of the three options provided on this page.
However, this device is actually a full fledged diagnostic tool meant to read diagnostic trouble codes and provide real-time data that mechanics would often use to solve car problems. This can be overkill for those looking for fuel consumption data information only.
I prefer the Eco-meter fuel consumption gauge made by Auto Meter for these situations. This device comes in at $105 and is more specialized at providing just fuel economy information. It also provides the red and green visual information that motivates us more than you might realize.
Green means fuel saving, red means gas guzzling, it's that simple. This device also has a more modern look and provides the same flexible mounting options as the scan gauge mentioned above. Next up we have the cheapest option available that provides information just as accurate. In fact, it uses the same technology used in the 70s during the original gas crunch.
The sun Pro mechanical vacuum gauge connects to manifold vacuum. As mentioned above this mechanical measuring device becomes the most accurate representation of current throttle position. And remember, it's throttle position that's most important to maximizing fuel economy. If you only crack the throttle and accelerate at a slow rate and keep the needle in the green during vehicle operation you'll get the maximum fuel economy your vehicle allows.
On the other hand, if you accelerate quickly, because you're in a hurry, the needle jumps into the red zone showing you poor fuel economy and a waste of gas. The sun Pro mechanical gauge comes with a bracket, vacuum line, instructions and plastic fittings to help accomplish proper mounting. However, if you're not mechanically inclined then seek a professional installer.
On the downside this device doesn't provide the flexibility of mounting locations the other ones provide. Also note, that you might have to visit the auto parts store to find different size vacuum line adapters when installing these on some models. With that said, if you can make it work and locate the device in a highly visible area it provides a powerful solution for a small investment.
Remember, in the 70s the fuel crunch meant only purchasing gas on odd and even days coinciding with the last number of your license plate. The factory installed vacuum operated fuel economy gauge helped drivers stretch a rationed commodity as far as it could go. This solution is still viable today.
You see a lot of real fuel economy improvement tips online. A lot of these are completely true and can help push you in the right direction. Things like reducing vehicle weight, rolling your windows up to improve drag coefficient and using cruise control as much as possible all work. However, no one can argue that driving habits have the largest affect on miles per gallon when measuring data in real time.
You heard of the term lead foot, I'm sure. This is an old school term, (like me). I can explain it simply, as you drive like you have a brick attached to your foot. Also described as constantly using excessive throttle position to propel your vehicle forward quickly. Let me introduce you to the term feather foot driving. This is understanding that every time you push on the gas pedal you're reducing the fuel economy of the vehicle.
The harder you push the more fuel you use. The faster you go the more fuel you use. Learn to anticipate traffic conditions that maximize fuel economy and minimizes throttle position. Use an instant measuring device as mentioned above as a visual incentive to reduce throttle position whenever possible. We're not talking about driving dangerous or becoming a hazard to other motorists, we are talking about not driving aggressively and changing habits to improve fuel economy. This is something that we can all improve upon.
Return to the tune up page for more information about how to achieve real fuel economy improvements.