How to Get Better Gas Mileage (And Other Questions About Fuel Economy)

If you’re looking for ways to tighten your monthly budget, there’s an unexpected place you can look: Your garage.

No, we’re not telling you to sell your car (although that’s certainly an option). Rather, it’s time to take a closer look at the way you drive and take care of your vehicle. As gas prices climb, both of these habits can make a bigger impact on your wallet than you think.

And if you’re looking for affordable car insurance, we can help with that, too.

WHAT IS GAS MILEAGE?

Gas mileage (also known as miles per gallon or MPG) is measured by calculating the number of miles that a vehicle can travel using a single gallon of fuel. Fuel economy is another term that’s commonly used. It’s often referred to in relation to improving fuel efficiency — which means using less gas when you drive.

HOW CAN I FIGURE OUT MY VEHICLE’S MPG?

Since 1977, auto manufacturers have been required to publish some form of miles per gallon metric on new car labels. For modern vehicles, this includes ratings for city, highway and combined MPG values.

In general, vehicles tout better gas mileage during highway driving rather than city (i.e. stop and start) driving. But the combined MPG rating, which represents 55% city driving and 45% highway driving, provides a quick and easy way to compare the fuel efficiency of gasoline vehicles — which is especially helpful if you’re shopping for a new car. You can find these values for your current vehicle through a quick internet search.

If you want to measure the real-world gas mileage of your car, it’s easier than you might think. Follow the steps below from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy:

  • Step 1: Top off your tank. Fill your tank all the way up, then record the current mileage from your odometer (or set your odometer’s trip meter).
  • Step 2: Run it out, then record your numbers again. Once it’s time to fill up again, record the new odometer reading as well as the number of gallons it took to refuel.
  • Step 3: Subtract your readings. If you used the trip meter, you can skip this step. If not, put those elementary math skills to use and subtract your first odometer reading from your second to see how many miles you traveled on one tank.
  • Step 4: Do a little division to determine your MPG. Take your figure from step three and divide the number of miles you drove by the number of gallons it took to fill your tank. Your final number is your MPG for that driving period.

WHAT’S CONSIDERED “GOOD” GAS MILEAGE?

Getting good gas mileage means that you can travel further using less gas.

As a general guide, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designed a fuel economy rating that evaluates vehicles on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best). These numbers can also be found on new car labels. For the 2020 model year, vehicles earning a 1 rating return an MPG of 14 or less, while a score of 10 requires 44 or more MPG.

But there are a lot of other variables that factor into this ‒ from the type of vehicle you drive to the way you drive it. And all of these can add up when it comes to how much you end up spending on gas.

WHAT CAUSES POOR GAS MILEAGE?

Regardless of what kind of vehicle you drive, all of these factors can negatively impact gas mileage:

  • Speed: The faster you drive, the more fuel your vehicle burns up. This includes how fast you accelerate, too.
  • Idling: Keeping your car on for it to warm up or cool down, queuing up at a drive-thru or waiting to pick your kid up from soccer practice can all decrease your vehicle’s fuel economy.
  • Aerodynamic drag and excess weight: Driving too fast or traveling with a rooftop cargo carrier? These can increase wind resistance, which causes your vehicle to use more gas. And towing any kind of trailer or hauling too much in your trunk, bed or back seat also requires more fuel.
  • Poor maintenance: From underinflated tires to an unattended engine issue, failure to consistently “tune-up” your vehicle can cost you a lot more at the pump. It also can create potential safety risks.
  • Quick trips: A quick run to the supermarket on Monday. Stopping by the bank on Wednesday. While it may be convenient to run these errands one at a time, it can wreak havoc on your fuel economy. Quick, short trips like this from a “cold start” eat up fuel, because your engine needs to warm up before it can run efficiently.

HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY GAS MILEAGE?

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy and Consumer Reports offer several ways that you can improve your MPG:

  • Drive more efficiently.
    • Follow the speed limit, and drive sensibly ‒ not aggressively (e.g. quick accelerations, hard stops, etc.).
    • On the highway, don’t speed up and slow down (unless you need to for safety). Once you get up to speed, stay there. Use cruise control when possible.
    • Remove the unnecessary extra weight, avoid idling and take the cargo box off the roof of your vehicle (unless you really need to use it) to help even more.
  • Keep your car in shape.
    • Make sure your engine is tuned, keep tires properly inflated and use the right grade of motor oil.
  • Plan and combine trips.
      • Spend less time sitting in traffic by avoiding rush hour on daily commutes.
      • Run all your errands on one day rather than taking multiple short trips during the week.
      • If you have an especially long commute, ask your employer if you can work from home a day or two per week.

How NOT to Drive in Winter Weather

Winter driving has its challenges. But throw an inexperienced — or inconsiderate — driver into the mix, and your daily commute can get much more difficult.

It’s always aggravating when other drivers put you at risk. Getting stuck behind a driver who is spinning their tires or not paying attention isn’t just annoying… it’s dangerous.

Winter driving calls for quick decision making, patience and a little bit of know-how. Below you’ll find ways to spot a rookie winter driver — and how to avoid looking like one yourself:

Here are six common mistakes of winter drivers:

  • Tailgating: Usually, drivers tailgate because they want the car in front of them to go faster. This is never OK, especially in the winter months. It takes longer to come to a stop in the winter, so you should always put more distance between you and the car ahead. Impatience on the road rarely pays off – tailgating just puts you and others at risk.
  • Speeding: Speeding can get you into trouble quickly. Make sure you’re never driving faster than what is safe for the conditions. In snowy or icy conditions, that probably means driving below the speed limit. The faster you’re going, the more likely you are to lose control or slide into another car. Expect traffic to move a little slower in the winter and allow extra time to get to your destination.
  • Getting stuck: Driving through deep snow may sound like fun, but chances are it will leave your tires spinning. For your own safety, know when to stay off the road altogether and drive carefully to avoid losing traction in the first place. After all, getting stuck is easy – getting out isn’t.
  • Ice on the windshield: If your car has snow or ice on the windshield, it can be tempting to save time by letting your wipers or defroster remove it as you drive. But driving without full visibility is like driving blindfolded. Use a snow brush or ice scraper to clear your windshield entirely every time you get behind the wheel.  (And don’t just clear a little “window” you can see through!)
  • Snow on the roof: If you’ve ever driven behind someone with snow on their roof, you know it can be an accident waiting to happen. If your car is covered in snow, take the time to clear your roof before you tackle the windows. You’ll keep snow from falling in your field of vision and from hitting the drivers behind you.
  • Driving with high beams on: This can be frustrating in any condition, but some people think that high beams will increase your vision during whiteouts or heavy snowfall. In fact, fog lights and low beams will do much better.

Top Fall Driving Hazards (And How to Handle Them)

Fall is a favorite time of year for many.  Changing leaves, plaid shirts and pumpkin spice everything is just a start.  But we also get shorter days, falling leaves, and that first frost of the season.

Drivers should be mindful of these changes, as this can alter your driving in ways you might not expect.

RAIN AND WET LEAVES

As the weather cools down, the rain picks up. Combine that with lower temperatures and you’ll find your tires may have less grip than they did in the summer months.

To start, always drive cautiously in wet conditions – that includes driving slower than you would on a dry road. And be on the lookout for wet leaves, which can be as slick as ice.

It’s also important to check your tires to ensure they have enough tread. Insert a penny into your tread with Abraham Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you insert the penny all the way and all of Lincoln’s head is still showing, that means your tread has worn down and it’s time for new tires.

Driving too fast for the conditions or cruising on worn tires can lead to hydroplaning.

DEER COLLISIONS

Deer are most active from October to January, especially during the dusk and dawn hours. If you’ve ever seen the aftermath of a deer collision, you know it can do severe damage to your vehicle.

Avoid deer on the roadways by slowing down during peak hours, paying attention to road signs and using your high beams to increase visibility when possible.

EARLIER SUNSETS

The days get shorter in the fall, so you’ll find yourself driving in the dark more often. This is another peak time for accidents.

Make sure you’re staying alert during nighttime hours. Be on the lookout for pedestrians and turn your headlights on during dawn or dusk hours. Keep a safe distance from other vehicles and know when to swerve if there’s an object in the road.

SCHOOL CHILDREN

The kids are back to school. The house is quieter. But if you drive just before the school day starts or after it ends…you’re in for lots of crosswalks and bus stops.

Since more kids are walking and biking to school, you’ll need to stay alert around schools and neighborhoods. Be aware of bus safety and school drop-off procedures as well. And if you’d like to avoid the risk altogether, consider finding a new route to avoid these high-traffic areas.

It’s always important to be prepared. But even the most cautious drivers can find themselves face-to-face with something unexpected.

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