What can I do to improve my vehicle’s fuel efficiency?

improve your car's fuel efficiency

If you’re a car owner, it shouldn’t be news to you that gas prices are constantly fluctuating, and when they fluctuate higher, it can feel impossible to get a handle on your fuel budget. But saving money on gas isn’t just about current market prices—how you drive can greatly impact your car’s fuel efficiency.

We’ve put together a few tried and true tips on changes you can make to your driving habits to help you save big over time on your fuel costs, as well as a few FAQs on fuel efficiency in general.

What are the easiest ways to improve fuel efficiency?

Obey the speed limit

Unless you’re a race car driver, there’s no need to break the speed limit no matter where you’re going. In addition to obvious safety risks, speeding significantly decreases fuel economy. Gas mileage begins to decrease rapidly as soon as you breach 50 mph. According to Consumer Reports, increasing your speed from 55 to 75 mph is roughly the equivalent of moving from a compact car to an SUV in terms of fuel efficiency. So, if you’re on a highway with a speed limit of 65 mph, consider whether it’s worth hurting your fuel economy by going 75 or 80 mph. And of course, speeding is also a huge safety concern and illegal, so for the good of other drivers, your record, and your fuel efficiency — slow down!

Maintain your vehicle

Neglecting your vehicle is a sure way to hurt your gas mileage, so regular car maintenance and check-ups are important. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, fixing a car in need of repairs or has failed an emission test can improve its gas mileage by 4 percent. And, if it has a serious problem – such as a faulty oxygen sensor – fuel efficiency can improve by as much as 40 percent. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to get your vehicle checked at least once a year.

Properly inflate your tires

Believe it or not, a slight drop or increase in tire pressure can potentially impact your car’s fuel efficiency. Check out this explanation from The Zebra:

If you don’t maintain your tire pressure, your tires won’t roll as efficiently, which in turn makes your engine work harder to get the tires moving. Over 4 million gallons of gas are wasted each day due to low tire pressure.

To get the most out of a tank of gas, check your tires at least once a month to see if your tire pressure is at the recommended level, which you can find both in your owner’s manual and on your tire pressure safety label. According to the Sustainable America:

Fuel efficiency is reduced by 1% for every 3.0 PSI that tires are below recommended levels. This means that the average driver can save at least $65 a year on gas and save 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere just by keeping their tires properly inflated.

Buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle

If you drive an SUV or pickup truck, you may want to consider searching for a car that is more fuel efficient. The Department of Energy said a car that gets 10 more miles per gallon can save you around $818 per year. This could also allow you to save on insurance, so if you do choose to purchase a new fuel efficient car be sure to search for cheap car insurance quotes.

Limit your AC usage

While it’s important to always remember that it’s dangerous to let your car get too hot — especially for the elderly, small children, and pets — you don’t need to have your AC on full blast all the time. Consider driving with the windows down or installing window tint — which can reflect up to 78% of heat from the sun.

Use cruise control on the highway

Turning on your vehicle’s cruise control settings when you’re on the highway is a great way to improve fuel efficiency. Before turning on cruise control, it’s important to make sure conditions appear safe — as long as the roads are not slippery, and traffic around you isn’t too heavy, using cruise control is a good idea. Not only does cruise control ensure minimal speed fluctuation to save gas, it’s also a great way to make sure you’re abiding by the speed limit and driving safely.

Take off that extra weight

As a general rule, the heavier the car, the less fuel efficient it will be. The Zebra reports that despite lighter cars running more efficiently, car weights have been increasing since the 1970s, a trend with potentially negative environmental impacts. If you’re looking for simple, straightforward ways to reduce your vehicle’s weight, considering clearing unnecessary items out of the trunk, the back seat, and your vehicle’s compartments. Doing so can make a significant difference — studies have shown that reducing the amount of extra weight your vehicle is carrying inside by 20% can provide an 8.4% boost in gas mileage.

Plan out your trips in advance

If you know you have a lot of places to go on a given day, spend some time planning out efficient routes to reduce unnecessary driving time. Your vehicle’s engine operates more efficiently as it warms up, so it makes sense to make one or a few long trips rather than many short ones — if you have multiple errands to run, consider consolidating them into a single drive, while planning out the quickest route between stops.

Consider walking if you don’t really need to drive

Before you make a trip, seriously consider whether or not you actually need to drive to get there. If your destination is within walking distance, walk! It’s a perfect way to save fuel and get some extra exercise in at the same time. If you’re a walker, be sure to read up on our Work From Home Discount, as we believe that if you’re driving less, you should be paying less.

How far can I get when my low-fuel light comes on?

Seeing the low-fuel light flash onto your dashboard can make your heart sink — but fear not. That low-fuel light doesn’t always equal an emergency. In fact, most vehicles can drive about 30 miles after the low-fuel light comes on. However, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to your fuel level and make sure it doesn’t get dangerously low.

Can I run my car on empty?

While your car will stay running long enough for you to drive to the nearest gas station and fill up, it’s generally not a good idea to drive on an empty tank. In fact, doing so can be dangerous and damaging to your vehicle. Your car’s fuel pump — which runs the fuel from the tank to the engine — relies on the gasoline tank to maintain its temperature, so if your tank is on low, then your fuel pump is at risk of overheating and giving out. Save yourself a repair in the future and keep an eye on your fuel levels!

Is premium gas worth it?

The short answer is yes, but only if your manufacturer recommends it. Now for the long answer. Only about 18% of new cars sold in the U.S. actually need premium gas. In fact, a recent study from AAA found that Americans are wasting about $2.1 billion on unnecessary premium gas.

“Drivers see the ‘premium’ name at the pump and may assume the fuel is better for their vehicle,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “AAA cautions drivers that premium gasoline is higher octane, not higher quality, and urges drivers to follow the owner’s manual recommendations for their vehicle’s fuel.”

“When it comes to gasoline, ‘premium’ does not mean ‘better’ if your vehicle doesn’t require it,” continued Nielsen. “Drivers looking to upgrade to a higher quality fuel for their vehicle should save their money and select a TOP TIER™ gasoline, not a higher-octane one.”

The higher octane in premium fuel is important for engines with high compression ratios or turbochargers—these engines need the right grade of fuel to prevent fuel system and engine deposits, which significantly reduce fuel efficiency. So if that doesn’t sound like your car’s engine, you probably don’t need premium gas. If you find yourself thinking, “Well, I know my car doesn’t need it, but it must be better for my car, right?”—think again. That same study from AAA proved there’s absolutely zero benefit to using premium gas in a car that doesn’t need it. The only thing you’re helping is your local gas station (and big oil companies) make a little extra profit off you!

That’s why it’s important to do your research online and/or talk to your mechanic, local dealership, or call your car’s manufacturing headquarters to find out what fuel your car actually needs. Because if you’ve been spending extra money on unnecessary premium gas, switching to regular will immediately help you save on fuel efficiency!

Save money by improving more than just your fuel efficiency

Saving money by improving your fuel efficiency is a fantastic way to spend less on your car. Another great way to save on car costs? Save on your car insurance by getting a quote with Elephant. Our process is free, simple, and super quick. There’s nothing to lose, other than higher payments you’re currently spending on your car insurance!

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