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Hack Your MPG: How to Improve Gas Mileage by 15%

Written by Nickel - 40 Comments

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to experiment with my driving style to see if I could improve my mileage. With gas prices topping $4/gallon, even small improvements can save you a pretty penny.

As for the changes that I made, I didn’t do anything too extreme. Rather, I simply focused on accelerating gradually, anticipating stops and coasting where possible to minimize braking, and minimizing air conditioning usage whenever the outside temps permitted (though this didn’t happen very often during the period in question).

I started this experiment with a full tank of gas and tracked my mileage for two weeks, at which time I refilled the tank and ran the numbers. As I noted when I first talked about this, I’ve been getting very consistent mileage, so I have a solid baseline from which to work. For background, I drive a 2005 Honda CR-V 2WD, and I typically get right at 21.8 mpg for in-town driving.

During the course of the experiment, I covered a total of 265.2 miles, all of which was most definitely “in-town” driving.

What about gas usage? As you can see below, I burned through 10.455 gallons.

This works out to 25.4 mpg. Just to be conservative, let’s round my base mileage up to 22 mpg… That works out to an increase of just over 15% in return for a few relatively minor driving adjustments. Not bad.

Given that I paid $4.019 per gallon, that’s an effective savings of just over $0.52 per gallon. But wait… I paid for the gas with a cash back rewards card which offered 5% off on gas purchases. Thus, my base price was really $4.019 – 5% = $3.82. The 15% mileage boost then takes that down to the equivalent of $3.32/gallon.

(There are plenty of other gas credit cards available that pay you a little something back every time you fill up. Compare credit card offers to find the one that’s best for you.)

A few notes:

Like I said above, I didn’t go to any heroic lengths to achieve this improvement. I just drove a bit more carefully. I should also note that I’m normally a pretty reasonable driver, so it’s not like my baseline mileage was horrible due to lead foot. While I would imagine that the results would vary pretty widely across makes/models, it seems that pretty much any “typical” driver should be able to achieve a pretty nice gain.

Published on June 17th, 2008
Modified on March 26th, 2013 - 40 Comments
Filed under: Automotive, Energy, Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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40 Responses to “Hack Your MPG: How to Improve Gas Mileage by 15%”

  1. 1
    Blaine Moore Says:

    Nice work!

    I’ve been driving an old Buick LeSabre for the past 6 months, and through similar driving habits had managed to coax it up to a little over 30 miles per gallon until a week ago. Now it needs some major repairs and I’m lucky to get more than 15-18 miles per gallon in it.

    I just bought a Honda Fit this past weekend, though, so I only need to drive the Buick one more time and that is to get rid of it. I imagine the Fit is going to get much better mileage.

  2. 2
    Flexo Says:

    Great experiment. It seems to have paid off, and it provided worthwhile savings. Most of the time I’m driving frantically to get to work or get home, almost all on highway with some traffic… so I’ll have to see if I can find some savings for myself.

  3. 3
    Matt Says:

    Excellent post. I have also been noticing that if I am careful with how I drive, I can get an extra 2-3 mpg. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with a Chevy Trailblazer for the time being, so getting above 18-19 mpg in town is basically impossible. If you do a Google search for “hypermiling,” there is a whole subculture of people who are doing exactly what you’re talking about.

    I just wrote a post yesterday about the temptation to fill up with E85 (85% ethanol) instead of regular gas. I don’t know if it’s available where you are, but it is a least 50 cents cheaper than gas in my area. I also saw your old post on how ethanol-blended gas can reduce gas mileage. It turns out that the gas mileage with E85 is 20-30% worse than regular unleaded. Ouch.

  4. 4
    nickel Says:

    Matt: Yes, I’m aware of the hypermilers, but I’m not that hardcore. While I’m willing to buy into some of their approaches, others strike me as a bit dangerous.

  5. 5
    mapgirl Says:

    I drive a stick shift, so I usually coast up to a stop sign always. Because this is my regular driving habit, I just can’t improve my gas mileage any more than it already is, short of doing dangerous hypermiling activity. (I’ve tried some of those things and they proved so scary, I’ll never do them again.)

    About the only other things I’m doing are to be more vigilant about my tire pressure, maintain a cruising speed that’s a lot slower than I usually prefer. (By about 5mph. I no longer sit in the fast lane.)

    The last thing I’m doing is to alter my route to avoid a big hill. I have to make a right turn onto it and usually it’s from a red light. Then I have to charge up the hill, crest it to find another red light, and then midway down the hill, another red light. I avoid this foolishness by driving on a slightly flatter route riddled with stop signs to the next exit. I find that depending on traffic, it’s slightly slower, but less annoying.

    Has anyone else changed their route to save fuel?

  6. 6
    KC Says:

    I’m not a scientific as you, but my results have been so obvious I didn’t need to measure them. I frequently drive from Mempis to Little Rock – all interstate driving. I used to drive about 90 cause its nothing but flat delta farmland. But I’d be having to slow down for trucks, etc. It would usually take the better part of a tank of gas, leaving me just above E when I pulled into Memphis.

    Last time I went I decided to try 65 the whole way. Well I noticed a few things. The most obvious was that most other drivers had slowed down, especially diesel fueled trucks. The other thing is I got back to Memphis on a little over half a tank. I couldn’t believe it. I probably used 5 gallons less gas then I used to. It took about 15 minutes longer (30 round trip), but I saved about $20. My time and safety are worth at least $20/half hour.

  7. 7
    mapgirl Says:

    There’s specialty fuels available to the general public at the Navy Exchange Citgo near the Pentagon. (Their security cameras were the ones on national TV showing the plane crash into the Pentagon on 9/11.)

    I made a trip down there to get ethanol for a friend’s car and later found out a few things. 1. There’s a lot of production line Flex Fuel vehicles out there, just look for a list them on the internet. Mostly SUVs and trucks. 2. Getting a Flex Fuel kit is easy, finding an installer is harder. (I was thinking about it.) 3. Ethanol has less chemical energy to convert into kinetic energy, so you might be sacrificing hp to switch. You might be better off tanking up with regular gas 3/4 of the way and then topping off the last 1/4 with ethanol.

    Personally, I wouldn’t put any ethanol in my car because it eats through rubber fuel lines. (Or more technically speaking, leaches out the hydrocarbons in the rubber, thus destroying it.) I guess 10% ethanol to gas is considered ok?

  8. 8
    Eric Says:

    Great job on the MPG increase. Small changes can make big differences at the pump (and for our environment).

    My older Grand Prix has one of those ‘driving centers’ that calculates miles left on the tank and MPG. I am leaving it on the MPG reading — it is instant feedback for my driving habits.

  9. 9
    Chad @ Sentient Money Says:

    This is a great realistic article. A lot of the hypermileage stuff isn’t very realistic.

    Also, ethanol is a big joke. You don’t save any emissions or money, and the only reason it exists is because the 1st presidential primary is in Iowa. It takes the equivalent energy in 1 barrel of oil to make 1.2 barrels of ethanol. Not efficient at all, considering oil has more energy per gallon than enthanol does per gallon. The sooner we get rid of corn ethanol the sooner we can find a real alternative.

  10. 10
    Greg Says:

    re: mapgirl

    Ethanol also gives less mpg than gasoline…meaning you have to purchase more to go the same distance.

  11. 11
    Angela Says:

    Wow, that is great. Maybe I should pay more attention to how I drive!. Our gas bill last month was $824. I do use a Sears Mastercard that gives me 5% cashback. When I reach my max cash back allowance I should switch to the AMEX you mentioned. I will have to look into that. Thanks for the tips.

  12. 12
    Ryan Says:

    I’ve started to drive like this lately too. I WAS getting 13.6 MPG on a 1996 Ford Explorer but now I’m up to 17 and that can easily go higher if I don’t have to deal with stop signs and lights. It’s sad though that even nowadays, I see SUV’s advertised with just 18-20 MPG. In 12 years they couldn’t increase that?

  13. 13
    mapgirl Says:

    Ryan – No, in 12 years the CAFE standards for light trucks could not get passed by Congress, which is why the State of California tried to make stricter laws than the federal government for light truck emissions.

  14. 14
    "Mo" Money Says:

    I’ve found if I use the “instant mileage” indicator, I will be more consious of my driving habits, and my mileage will improve.

  15. 15
    david Says:

    Man, your gas is about $1.00 less a gallon than mine. I gotta go and fill up there!

  16. 16
    Paul Says:

    Having a manual transmission is a huge plus for increasing your mileage. My current shifting from start goes 1 -> 2 -> 5. The first two gears just to get me rolling (with rpms kept below 3000) and then I cruise in 5th with my normal, in town rpm between 1500 and 2500.

    Perversely, my in-town mileage is now higher than my highway mileage (33mpg vs 27mpg) because my highway rpms are much higher than my in-town rpms.

    I’ve also been using Fuel Frog to keep track of my mileage (www.fuelfrog.com)

  17. 17
    Kimberly Says:

    As a ‘retired’ CDL driver, I’ve got most of this down already. Being smooth takes practice but it’s well worth it. Another advantage to slowing down and being aware of your driving style is your maintenance and insurance costs will go down.
    By being anticipating stops, you are more aware of what other vehicles are doing and can avoid potential problems and your saving wear and tear on your brakes and transmission.
    I have a ‘96 Buick Century that consistently gets a combined 23 mpg. In the 7 years I’ve had this car, I’ve only had to replace the brakes twice, never had a problem with the transmission and just this year had to replace the muffler.

  18. 18
    Jennson Says:

    I’ve been doing this exercise for the past year or so. There are times where I calculate about 35-36 mpg on my ol’ 2001 Saturn coupe and other days where I get closer to 30. I definitely notice the difference in the amount of gas I use because I drive about 45 min to an hour and a half to work a day.

  19. 19
    Clair Schwan Says:

    Good experiment, and you’re right, it pays to be conservative.

    Recently I looked at my mpg and compared it to what the EPA says I should get for my 2001 Saturn SC-2. My fuel economy is way better.

    I have achieved 44mpg on one tankful, and 40mpg on several tankfuls, but usually I am around 38 mpg on the highway.

    My website explains in detail 37 ideas about how to get better fuel economy, buy gas cheaper, avoid using fuel, and other tips about lowering overall transportation costs. I use most of the techniques and have reduced my fuel consumption by about 75% over the last three years.

    Out here on the prairie, we can coast heading east into town. I have traveled miles without using the gas because of a strong wind at my back. We also have serious headwinds as well. In those cases I slow down.

    Overall, driving in Cheyenne is relatively conservative. Few people are in a hurry to burn up that $3.98 a gallon gas, but there are some that still drive like it is 75 cents a gallon. My fuel is $2.91 per gallon, and even at that reduced price, I don’t waste any of it.

    Our fuel economy and our cost of transportation is all based on our decisions about what we drive, how we drive and how we purchase fuel. It can add up to many thousands of dollars each year. None of us have that kind of money to just throw away.

    Clair

  20. 20
    Dan Morton Says:

    This is good advice that always works well – just like my father drove to “make the car last longer” as he put it. And I just thought he liked driving slowly – now I understand.

    A few more mileage enhancing tips.

    1. Don’t drive during rush hour. You spend way too much time standing in traffic, wasting gas, And more time at stop lights, too. Leave early or late to avoid the crowd if possible.

    2. Speaking of stoplights, some cities time their lights on busy streets so that traffic doesn’t have to stop if a certain speed limit is observed. This can be a HUGE gas savings for motorists, so try to find these streets and use if possible. Unfortunately, in Colorado Springs, the planners never heard of such a great idea.

    3. I’ve noticed that my mileage drops quite a bit when driving in inclement weather – rain included. Seems that the extra friction when the streets are wet really makes a difference sometimes up to 20%. Sounds silly, but try to drive “dry.”

    Dan

  21. 21
    Jamie Says:

    Yeah I noticed it too – I have 1997 Toyota Corolla that I used to drive pretty hard (75mph on the highway) and got 30 mpg. I have a 30 mile commute to work. So I tried driving 65 instead of 75. Now I get 33.6 mpg. That’s a savings of about $15 / month! Plus it’s less stressful, and will reduce wear & tear on the car.

    Also – i’m starting to carpool. Every day that I don’t drive saves me $7.12. So if I carpool just twice/week (me driving once), that’s a savings of $30/month. woohoo!

  22. 22
    Romyr Says:

    I take the bus. I have a monthly pass that gets me all around town that costs $31. I guess if I wanted, I could take the bus all around town and get, in theory, as many miles to the gallon as I want. Therefore, public transportation rocks. =D.

  23. 23
    Ed Says:

    I have found that similar techniques have extended my Honda Fit mileage to routinely in the 37 to 41 mpg range, depending on road, weather and highway conditions. I am consistently getting about 37 mpg on city roads (but I live in an “easy city” with out so much traffic) and 40 or more on the highway. Yesterday, on a long stretch of 55 to 65 mph roads we averaged 43 mpg (two half tank refuels at 42 and 44 mpg respectively).

    However, one tank may or may not be a good test case since you assume that the pump shuts off when your tank is “full” but that may not be the case. For example, I recently did an experiment and found that I could add more than one additional gallon into my “full” gas tank – full meaning that the fuel pump stopped dispensing fuel. But by trickling in the remainder, I added just over 1 more gallon! I did this out of curiosity. A high fuel pump flow rate is likely to indicate “full” sooner than a low flow rate nozzle.

    Regardless, I have found that getting 10% to 20% better mpg is possible through improved driving techniques too.

  24. 24
    nickel Says:

    Ed: You’re right about variation across tankfuls. To combat this, I used the same gas stations and I always “trickle” it in until it’s truly full.

  25. 25
    Ragib Says:

    I was getting 22-24 mpg in town on my 91 nissan sentra, (which is what it is supposed to do per the EPA chart). However, after starting to be careful just like you, I got 28 MPG in town in my last fillup. Which is almost the same improvement as you got … I wish I knew this years ago …

  26. 26
    Dan Says:

    This is a great article for the layman! And the beauty here is that there’s no espousing “gas saving devices” or “run your car on water” scams – just plain, old common sense. Using some of these techniques, I’m getting 21 mpg from an old Ford Taurus Station Wagon (with 123,000 miles)! Most excellent!

    Dan

  27. 27
    S Says:

    I started doing this about 2 months ago, and brought my average from 28 mpg to almost 33 mpg (in a 2001 Chevy Prizm). And 33 mpg is just the average. In one trip, I actually got over 38 mpg!

    For people who have a problem monitoring their acceleration (like me, when I get caught up in a really awesome song), try using the cruise control. That’s been my saving grace!

    Congrats!

  28. 28
    T-R-A Says:

    One thing not mentioned—leave earlier for your destination. This affords the “luxury” of not having to drive as fast (and drops the tension of getting to work on time). I usually get 38-40 mpg in my ‘95 Saturn if I wait til the last minute to leave for work (50 miles away). By leaving 5 minutes earlier, I can ease back and relax and add 3-6 mpg to that…

  29. 29
    Virginia Says:

    I’ve been trying the same techniques lately and nursed 30 mpg in city driving with AC out of my 2002 Corolla. That’s what I normally get on the highway.

  30. 30
    mart Says:

    Wow.. Thanks Paul
    I keep all my gas receipts in my car with mileage… The site (fuelfrog) charts your mpg and is great to actually know the infomation.

  31. 31
    Lynn Says:

    These are great tips and really do work, but I needed even more gas savings thanks to having three active kids and living outside of town. This hydrogen generator they featured on San Antonio Living called the H Factor fuel system has shown 30 – 40% improvement on their test vehicles over several months. My mpg has improved 20% in just a couple weeks after having it installed!

    Even better, it improves the way your engine runs and reduces emissions. Fewer ‘orange alert’ days would be great!

    Has anyone else heard of it or tried it out??
    http://hfactorfs.com/workings.html

  32. 32
    frank bennett Says:

    here are some more tips
    Ways To Improve My Gas Mileage

  33. 33
    mpgomatic Says:

    It’s easy to improve your gas mileage when you set your mind to it. Clair hit one of my favorite tricks … use inertia and coast whenever possible. You don’t have to be take risks to take advantage of what’s already engineered into your automatic transmission-equipped vehicle, and you don’t have to throw it into neutral. When you put your brain and your vehicle’s brain (ECU) together, you can easily increase MPGs.

  34. 34
    Joanna Says:

    Let’s just put a stop to the high gas prices altogether. We could boycott the oil companies and stop buying gas but we just can’t do without our vehicles. You can convert your vehicle to a water hybrid. To learn more go to http://stoppayingatthepump.com

  35. 35
    LemonFree Says:

    Just found this product on Amazon a few days ago. If your serious about saving money and your car doesn’t have a built in digital instrument that can give your real time MPG, then you definitely need to get one of these.

    ScanGauge II 3-in-1 Compact Multifunction Vehicle Computer with Customizable Display

    I was fortunate to have a real time MPG gauge on my 1992 VW Passat and it taught me a lot about my fuel consumption. Like Nickel said in the article, a few small changes to your current driving habits can save you a lot of money.

  36. 36
    Leroy Calfop Says:

    Man, I’ve done this for years. I have a 1986 Impala getting about 19.7 mpg. Not bad Huh?

  37. 37
    Gary Stewart Says:

    Is it bad for the engine/transmission (automatic) to coast down hill in neutral? I drive a 2011 Honda fit and average 34mpg using this technique, but I don’t want to hurt the car.

  38. 38
    Gary Says:

    @Gary Stewart… “Is it bad for the engine/transmission (automatic) to coast down hill in neutral?” Coasting in neutral using a modern car with fuel injection will not save any gas. It might actually use more gas. Coasting in gear allows the engine to shut off the injectors, while in neutral the injectors have to run to maintain an idle.

  39. 39
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  40. 40
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