Driving

How to improve your gas mileage: 15 tips to save money at the pump

Improve gas mileage by implementing sensible driving habits and sticking to a routine car maintenance schedule.

hero image

Skies are blue and the sun is warm, but a gray cloud still looms over the U.S. this summer — the national average price of gas reached $5 a gallon. In California, it’s already well past the national average at more than $6 a gallon. 

Let’s put into perspective how much the average American will spend in a year with gas averaging $5 a gallon. On average, a full tank of gas in newer vehicles will take drivers about 350 miles. At $5 a gallon, that’s $70 for each fill-up (excluding tax).

The average American drives 14,263 miles a year. Using these numbers, that equates to approximately 41 fill-ups and roughly $2,853 spent on gas per year. 

Wasting gas is not an option with fuel prices so high. But by implementing sensible driving habits and regular car maintenance, you could improve gas mileage by several cents to a few dollars per gallon of gas. If you’re stretching the time between fill-ups and accidentally run out of gas, check with your auto insurance provider to see if you have roadside assistance to bring you fuel.

Keep reading to learn how to improve gas mileage year-round, or jump to the infographic for a quick review. The data in this article comes from the Department of Energy’s source for fuel economy news.

 Price trends for regular gasoline from 1992 to 2022

1. Drive slower

It’s true that vehicles achieve better fuel economy on highways over city driving, but only to a point. Experts say gas mileage rapidly decreases once a car hits 50 mph, and each additional 5 mph is compared to paying an extra $0.31 per gallon of gas used. Driving five to 10 mph slower than you would normally equates to a 7% to 14% savings in fuel economy.

2. Go easy on the pedal

Along with speeding, rapid acceleration and braking also drain gas quickly and lower gas mileage by 10% to 40% when city driving and 15% to 30% on highways. Carrying slower speeds and easing into braking in stop-and-go city traffic can save anywhere from $0.45 to $1.80 per gallon of gas.

3. Engage cruise control

When you’re able, use the cruise control function to maintain a consistent speed. The reason for this is similar to how acceleration and braking surges waste gas. Cruise control helps drivers save up to 14% in gas mileage.

4. Maintain tire pressure

It’s estimated that underinflated tires waste about 1.2 billion gallons of gas every year. Tires lose pressure naturally due to environmental factors and regular use, so it’s important to check them regularly. It’s OK to rely on tire pressure sensors, but check the pressure manually once a month for good measure.

A vehicle’s recommended tire pressure can be found inside the driver’s door on a sticker or in the owner’s manual. If you don’t have either, a quick online search of your car’s make, model and year will likely turn up the results you’re looking for.

5. Realign your tires

In addition to maintaining proper tire pressure, you should also check tire alignment. When tires are unbalanced, uneven wear occurs. Improper tire alignment is compared to pulling a tire sideways for 102 miles for every 20,000 miles. This, of course, reduces fuel efficiency significantly.

It’s recommended to get your tires realigned and rotated every other oil change — or every 6,000 miles.

 drive-slower-crusie-control-turn-off-engine

6. Avoid idling

Even sitting in an immobile car for more than 10 seconds can waste gas. Depending on the vehicle, idling can eat up a quarter to a half-gallon of gas per hour — an average $0.03 savings per minute for turning off the engine as you wait.

Though shutting an engine off can save gas, be smart about sitting in a parked car for an extended period of time. It’s worth sparing a few dollars in gas to sit with AC on a hot day, as temperatures inside the car can climb 40 degrees within an hour or two.

7. Clean out your car

The weight of a vehicle affects fuel consumption. Heavier vehicles use more gas due to increased inertia and resistance. If you can lower your vehicle’s weight, it could help you save on gas. Each extra 100 pounds can reduce fuel efficiency by roughly 1%.

Clean out your car of unnecessary items. No matter how small, the weight of extra items adds up and removing them could save you about $0.04 per gallon. This includes roof cargo boxes, which also affect a vehicle's aerodynamics and, ultimately, fuel efficiency. Ditching the rooftop storage when not in use is equivalent to saving $0.09 to $0.76 per gallon.

8. Replace spark plugs

Spark plugs are necessary to start an engine. Worn spark plugs can reduce gas mileage by 30%. Manufacturers build spark plugs to last about 100,000 miles. However, it’s common for wear to show much sooner. It’s wise to replace spark plugs early, between 30,000 and 60,000 miles. If you see a sudden decline in miles per gallon, it may indicate it’s time for a replacement.

9. Replace air filters

Dirty or clogged air filters hinder auto performance and indirectly increase fuel consumption, particularly in older vehicles. Mechanics check your air filters at every oil change and will ask if you’d like to replace them. You should only need to get new, clean filters once a year unless you live in a dusty area, like the desert.

10. Don’t fill up with premium gas

Some vehicles require premium gas, but if yours doesn’t, there’s no need to fill your tank with this more expensive fuel grade. The difference in mileage improvement is minuscule — usually less than a mile difference — making the upcharge per gallon unnecessary.

 keep-tires-in-check-schedule-maintenance-park-in-shade

11. Use the correct oil grade

When getting an oil change, the mechanic should inform you of the recommended grade of motor oil for your vehicle. They may also provide an alternative. It’s best to go with the grade that matches your vehicle to improve your gas mileage. This could save you $0.04 to $0.09 per gallon.

12. Replace oxygen sensors

Oxygen sensors are within a car’s exhaust system, monitoring how much unburned oxygen is present. The fuel mixture in a vehicle burns rich when there is a lack of oxygen and burns lean when there’s too much. If failing oxygen sensors do not respond to the fuel mixture burning rich, drivers can experience an increase in fuel consumption.

Routine maintenance by a mechanic should pick up on a faulty oxygen sensor, and it’s something you should replace promptly. Otherwise, oxygen sensors should be replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles.

Fixing this problem could improve your fuel efficiency by up to 40%, saving you $0.18 per gallon at the pump. Not to mention, faulty sensors can lead to harmful environmental emissions.

13. Park in the shade

Gas can evaporate from inside your fuel tank due to factors beyond holes in your fuel lines. After driving around on a hot day, your car’s engine is stifling and preventing fuel evaporation is near impossible. Covered parking is your safest bet. If you find yourself in an open lot, parking in a cool, shaded spot can help your car cool quicker, minimizing the fuel loss. Otherwise, filling up in early morning or at night when the sun isn’t beaming and ensuring a tight seal on your gas cap can also help reduce gas evaporation.

Beyond fuel evaporation, parking in the shade while waiting inside can help keep a vehicle cooler so you can avoid idling with the AC on.

14. Check for brake drag

Dragging brakes occurs when brakes remain partially applied even when a driver is not pressing on the brake pedal. It’s almost like the pedal is a little stuck. This can happen when brake calipers are overly worn. Brake calipers are assessed during annual inspections in most states. They are meant to last for a vehicle’s lifetime, but realistically, replacements are usually needed every 10 years or 75,000 to 100,000 miles.

15. Pay attention to warning lights

Warning lights are programmed into vehicles for a reason — to inform the driver of an issue so it can be addressed and the car can resume its proper performance. If a check engine light suddenly appears on your dash, head to a mechanic or auto parts store to run a diagnostics test. Several potential issues could reduce fuel efficiencies, such as emission or evaporation leaks.

Perhaps the best way to save money at the pump this summer is by cutting back how often you drive your car. Road trips are a quintessential summer activity, but with the state of gas prices, a large chunk of your trip’s budget would be used on filling up. Check out the infographic below for some fun ideas on what to do this summer that require little to no driving.

With that being said, don’t put off routine and seasonal maintenance just because you’re using your car less. Keep your car in good shape and make sure your car insurance policy is up to date should inspections turn up any unforeseen issues.

 Saving money at the pump this summer infographic
Don't forget to share!