Updated on 02.06.12

Minimize Your Load (36/365)

Trent Hamm

Depending on the specific model, your car loses 1-2% fuel efficiency for every 100 pounds of extra weight in the car. That’s a surprising amount that can really add up.

For example, let’s say you’re matching the extra weight that a friend of mine (who we’ll call Cathy) carries in her car. She consistently carries (mostly) unused car seats in the back seat of your car, plus she hauls around a box of books in the trunk along with a few other excess items. The sum total of that extra load is about 70 pounds.

That means, depending on the model, Cathy is burning an extra 0.7 to 1.4% in gas just due to this extra weight. Let’s say it’s 1%.

If her car gets 20 miles to the gallon with the weight in it and she commutes, putting 20,000 miles on it per year, she’s burning 9.9 extra gallons of gas per year just due to carrying the extra junk.

Say goodbye to $33 or so a year in just fuel costs, Cathy, never mind the additional wear on all of your car’s components.

Minimize Your Load (36/365)

Even a slight difference of just ten pounds can have a real financial impact. Let’s say you’re driving the same car Cathy is, where you’re getting 20 miles to the gallon and you’re driving 20,000 miles per year. That 0.15% in additional weight is eating up 1.5 gallons in gas per year, costing you about $5 in additional fuel along with slight additional wear on your car.

The message here is clear: get the excess weight out of your car.

How can you do that? Simply make sure that you’re not carrying anything unnecessary in your trunk or your backseat. Evaluate what’s in there and get rid of the things that you don’t need to be carrying back and forth.

I’m constantly amazed at the things people carry in their trunk, from huge assortments of shoes to large gun cases. These things add weight to the car and you pay for that weight directly at the fuel pump and indirectly whenever you get maintenance work done on your car or need a repair done.

There’s only one exception to this rule that I’ve found. If you’re seeing any chance of icy roads, it’s worthwhile to have extra weight in your car because it improves your traction and keeps you safe. I often carry that extra weight in the form of sand bags or rock salt, both of which can help you in a rough winter situation. The extra safety is well worth losing a few percent in fuel efficiency for a season.

Aside from that, you’re only saving money and helping your automobile’s lifespan by reducing the load you’re carrying. If you’re not hauling it around for a purpose, don’t haul it around.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. Steve says:

    Thanks for doing the math on that. Now I know that I can drive around all year with a bunch of junk in the trunk (literally) and all it will cost me is $5. That $5 is worth less to me than the amount of time I would have to spend constantly applying the principles of minimalism to my trunk. Never mind the costs of not having the car seat, exercise equipment, box of thrift store donations, etc in there when I need it, and having to skip an activity or make an extra trip home to get said items.

  2. Baley says:

    Agreed, Steve! And having the stroller handy for the few occasions I find I need it is worth that $5 any day! Though maybe the hubby and I should lose a combined 100 lbs. and save $33 a year.

  3. josh says:

    I had to “lol” at the thought of sandbags in either a Prius or a Pilot (or was in a CRV?). Makes no difference to handling or safety.

  4. jim says:

    Extra weight in the trunk of a rear-wheel drive car can help improve traction but not in a front wheel drive car like most small or mid size cars today. For front wheel drive cars you already have all the weight you need above the wheels via your engine.

    Carrying sand around in any car could come in handy as a precaution in the winter if you get stuck and then use the sand to help give you traction on the snow or ice to get out of a ditch or something.

  5. Mister E says:

    I’m pretty sure that adding weight in the trunk to a front wheel drive car is going to have a neutral, or even negative effect on your traction. Someone please correct me if that’s wrong.

    I do carry a bit of sand to throw under the tires for that little bit of traction if I ever find myself stuck, but the weight in the trunk is of no benefit.

  6. Johanna says:

    The picture is not as bad as it could have been, I guess. But (1) that guy does not look very enthusiastic about having his picture taken – the expression on his face makes it look like Brittany hung around in the parking lot at the local park waiting for some random person to come by and take something out of his trunk. And (2) what’s he doing with the stuff he’s taking out of the trunk anyway? Unless he’s just going to leave it there in that field, he’s going to have to drive away with it again, isn’t he?

  7. Mister E says:

    @ Johanna,

    I think maybe he’s in a driveway in a very rural area?

    And as for his expression, that box looks like it weighs around 10 lbs, how excited do you want him to be over saving $5 a year?

  8. Julia says:

    That’s probably her dad saying “Put that camera away and help me move this stuff”

  9. Telephus44 says:

    Good thing we get 30 MPG and only drive 12,000 miles per year, so that extra 10lbs only costs me $2.

  10. kc says:

    He’s just upset because he drives a yellow Neon.

  11. Michelle says:

    Cathy’s carrying around unused car seats in the back of my car?

  12. Gretchen says:

    At first I thought it was a recently washed car, but now I’m thinking those are paint drips.

    Also, if I had car seats in Cathy’s car, I’d leave them there. Are you going to store them in the house when a kid isn’t in them?

  13. David says:

    Perhaps, somewhere just out of shot, is a lake on which a vast number of ducks are waiting to be fed the 10lb of breadcrumbs that the gentleman has in his rather over-sized Tupperware box.

    One would like to think so, anyway. Because otherwise, the picture would be a rather unimaginative shot of someone taking something out of the trunk of a car to illustrate a post about taking things out of the trunks of cars. Instead, a shot could have been taken of the trunk of a car stuffed with all manner of stuff… corpses tied in sacks, for example.

  14. Jane says:

    I’m mostly with Trent on this, but I would not say that unused car seats count. We have two vehicles, one of which is the family car. The other car has two carseats in it for emergencies. They really don’t weigh that much (cheap Cosco seats), and it would just be a hassle to take them in and out and frankly would defeat the purpose of them being for emergencies. Plus I would worry that if you took your seats in and out that you might be in a hurry and not always install it correctly. The safest car seat is not the most expensive one but the one that is correctly installed.

    But I have gotten annoyed at my husband when I’ve realized that he has been carrying around his golf clubs in his trunk while driving 30 miles each way to work. Or if he left the 40 pound bags of litter in the trunk.

  15. kc says:

    Three corpses = a 6% reduction in mileage. It’s in my Owner’s Manual!

  16. Mister E says:

    So if disposing of 3 corpses tied in sacks equals a 6% annual fuel mileage..

    What we really need here is a gross up showing us how much we’re saving in the form of an hourly rate for the corpse disposal.

  17. David says:

    I am sure it is, which is why you should always beware when a used car is advertised with the words “one careful owner”.

    But a corpse tied in a sack is a considerably more useful thing to have in the trunk of your car (or your husband’s car) than, say, a set of golf clubs or a bag of sand. For example, should you accidentally drive your car off the end of the pier into shark-infested waters, you may be able to distract the predators (by opening the trunk) long enough for you to swim to safety. Sharks eat neither sand nor sand-irons, but…

    More prosaically, should Jane conclude that her husband’s proclivities have reached to the point at which she can no longer tolerate his presence, she has only to place the corpse tied in a sack where the golf clubs were, then place an anonymous call to the police and suggest that they open the trunk.

    More obviously still, should you yourself be in the unfortunate position of having to make a rapid getaway from the scene of a heinous crime, you could leave the corpse on the highway having placed your own identity documents in its various pockets. This will delay the police for longer than it would had you tried the same trick with a set of golf clubs or a bag of sand. Unless they are the Nevada police, when it probably does not matter much one way or the other.

  18. DA says:

    Simply put, Trent has all but given up on this site.


  19. jim says:

    Trent is right. This is practical and good advice. You do not want to carry around a bunch of useless deadweight in your car and this certainly costs extra fuel.
    There are many people who do drive around with a bunch of useless junk in their cars without thinking of the impact on fuel use. Of course if you have a real use for the stuff in your car then thats another matter.

  20. Vanessa says:

    No mention of weight loss? Most of the extra weight we haul around in our cars is on our bodies.

  21. Lilly says:

    Best comment thread ever.

    Now we just need an article factoring the “extra weight” calculations into the decision of whether or not to have another child.

  22. kevin says:

    I think the guy in the picture is passionate about yellow.

  23. Des says:

    I actually like the calculation articles, very Amy Dacyczyn, but things like this don’t really deserve their own article. They should be combined with other a la Mailbag posts. This article could have been written as:

    “Your car loses 1-2% fuel efficiency for every 100 pounds of extra weight*. If your car gets 20 miles to the gallon and you drive 20,000 miles per year, that’s 9.9 extra gallons of gas per year. At $3.35 a gallon, you’ll save $33 a year for every 100 pounds less stuff you carry.”

    Reading through with an editor’s eye, there are a LOT of unnecessary words. I know it is very hard to come up with enough content to write two articles every day. Other bloggers solve this issue by having guest posts and staff writers. Trent has opted to simply allow the quality to decline. Not sure how much longer that can last…

    *Cite source here

  24. kc says:

    On a positive note, we’re a full 9.863014% into this series!

  25. Nick says:

    This series is growing on me.

    I haven’t learned anything from it, but man the comments are great!

    This photo made me seriously laugh out loud. Is he trying to stay hidden (camo) or trying to stand out (yellow)?!

  26. Joanna says:

    #11 Michelle @ 3:40 pm February 6th, 2012
    “Cathy’s carrying around unused car seats in the back of my car?”

    LOL read my mind.

  27. Jennifer says:

    Do you think Trent might tell us it’s cheaper to drive with a minimal amount of fuel in our vehicle as any excess fuel = excess weight which causes a loss of fuel efficiency?

  28. Joanna says:

    Maybe Trent will recommend we generate income on the side by charging our friends who ride in our car based on their weight. Maybe keep a scale around just for that purpose.
    We could also deduct fuel costs from our childrens allowances as they grow.

  29. Ruth says:

    The comment threads on these posts keep getting better and better. LOVE them! And this picture makes me LOL every time I look at it.

  30. Alice says:

    I like the photo!

    I can’t tell if the man is supposed to be reacting to this article and whether he decided to put something in the car or take it out, but it’s interesting to look at. Way better than the past few pics of different pages of the owners manual.

  31. AnnJo says:

    If fuel economy is your goal, ignore Trent’s earlier advice to use the cheapest gas, unless that gas is also good quality. Lower quality gas can allow gunk to build up in your engine, reducing fuel efficiency by far more than carrying an extra 100 pounds in your trunk.

  32. David says:

    I had overlooked the element of suspense to which Alice rightly draws attention.

    Why, if that feller puts that Tupperware box back in the trunk, he will be five dollars the poorer per annum for the rest of his existence, will live a short span in grinding poverty, and die an awful death.

    If only he can bring himself to throw it away, though, he will shortly discover a cure for cancer and the Higgs boson, and never have to drive a bright yellow car again unless he really wants to.

    Mind you, he does look the sort who might really want to. Let us therefore suspend normal procedure and hope for the worst while fearing for the best.

  33. Sandy says:

    LMAO! Oh…this blog – and the comments that follow get more hilarious by the day…..
    I too ( like Vanessa ) immediately thought of the excess 50 pounds that Trent is carrying around – how is that weight loss going?
    Ok, if we are going to go to extremes like this, then I think you should drive around with an almost empty gas tank ( thats around 70 pounds ), an almost empty sump ( that’s around 7 pounds of oil ), and almost empty radiator and window-washer-squirter-thingy ( around 20 pounds of H2O ). Also you could get rid of the back seat ( around 50 pounds ) which would also not allow you to carry around those pesky and heavy passengers!
    Ok, so that’s…..a grand total of 147 pounds! Holy Bazooka Batman! Imagine the savings!!
    I believe you could save even more by sanding off the paint and some of the metal, which might be around 15 pounds worth in total…but that would just be ridiculous.
    Of course this is all going by my small and ancient Nissan Pulsar. Now, if I got rid of that and bought a bigger car… I could save even more money by doing the above, because of its bigger capacity for gas, H2O, oil, back seat etc! Woohoo!

  34. deRuiter says:

    Loads of useful ideas in the comments section. I see a Weight Watchers commercial here, something like “Buy our expensive packaged food, lose weight and save pennies a day on your car’s gas consumption with the new thin, sleek you.” Well, maybe it needs a bit of work work! As for Des #24’s comment about combining posts, years ago in high school I was paid by the local small town paper to report on township meetings. You better bet I added as much verbal padding as possible because I was paid by the word count, not the quality.

  35. Jane says:

    If you get rid of the backseat, it would be easier to carry around the corpses. I do believe Ted Bundy had at least removed a seat in his Volkwagen Bug for ease of killing and body transporting. That probably saved him at least 50 cents a year! That was good money in the 1970s.

  36. Jane says:

    If you get rid of the backseat, it would be easier to carry around the corpses. I do believe Ted Bundy had at least removed a seat in his Volkswagen Bug for ease of killing and body transporting. That probably saved him at least 50 cents a year! That was good money in the 1970s.

  37. Jane says:

    Sorry for the double post and my attempt to correct my spelling. When Trent reads the comments closely, as he usually does, he can certainly delete the second.

  38. Tom says:

    Lower quality gas can allow gunk to build up in your engine, reducing fuel efficiency by far more than carrying an extra 100 pounds in your trunk.

    Don’t forget the weight of the gunk. Double Whammy.

    According to the Dept of Transportation, the average American drives 13,476 miles per year. So we’re already inflating typical driving by almost 50%…

    All jokes and criticism aside, this is sound advice, and a very easy way to save some money without even noticing you’re cutting back. On the topic of safety/preparedness, besides corpses, I’ve also heard some useful things to keep in your trunk are a couple blankets, some water, and non-perishable food if, god forbid, you ever get stranded in your car (ie, a single-car accident in a low-traffic area).

  39. Maggie says:

    The posts today were really funny and I enjoyed reading them. So much better than the negative ones on other days. Keep up the good work.
    I have a good friend who carries boxes of books in her trunk eventually to take to the library donation box. She is always trying to get the last ounce of gas from her car and often cannot drive it but to the gas station because it is so low. I will send her Trent’s message. Maybe she can eke another day or two from her tank if she gets the books out.

  40. Karen says:

    Thanks everyone for the morning giggles of reading the comments

  41. tentaculistic says:

    Ha ha, today’s comment section was pure gold. Fortunately we’re not driving because gold is heavy and that would reduce fuel efficiency, and because gold and corpses just are a bad mix.

  42. Steve says:

    These comments are making my eyes water from trying not to laugh out loud. Good work everyone.

  43. Jonathan says:

    I haven’t been following the comments lately, but when I have on the 365 series I’ve been disappointed at the negativity aimed at the photos. Trent is helping out a beginning photographer, which is an admirable thing. I really hope that she doesn’t read the comments. I suppose if she does the lesson she can take away is if you’re willing to put your work out there, some people are going to make fun of you.

  44. Evita says:

    #44 Jonathan: but most the photos are terrible, poorly lighted, unimaginative, or just plain ugly. How is she going to progress if she gets only positive reviews ?

  45. jim says:

    Evita, what would actually help her improve the photos is if people gave more constructive criticism. Some people are simply being too mean and basically ridiculing the photos and that is not kind nor helpful.

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