Updated on 02.07.12

Practice Good Gas Conservation Habits (37/365)

Trent Hamm

One of the fun things about my wife’s car is that it has a constant readout of the miles per gallon on the dashboard. It lets you know what your miles per gallon over the last five minutes is, the mpg of your entire trip, as well as your estimated miles per gallon right at that moment.

The data it produces is really accurate. We’ve measured this ourselves by checking the gas mileage manually by calculating it from the odometer and gas receipts and comparing it to the data in the car.

It’s often a competition between Sarah and myself to see who can get the best gas mileage over a given trip. Not only is it a bit of friendly competition, the reward for it is that we save money over the course of that trip.

For example, I managed to drive an entire three hour car trip while keeping the fuel economy average over 50 miles per gallon. I did this by utilizing lots of little tricks along the way, and doing so saved us several dollars in gas while only eating up a few more minutes of driving.

Sarah, on the other hand, managed to drive about fifteen miles while keeping the fuel economy average over sixty miles per gallon. She was aided by wind, which was blowing strongly in almost the perfect direction for her route, but it was still quite impressive. It added maybe thirty seconds to the drive but saved her about $0.50 in gas.

If this sounds like hypermiling, you’d be right. Although we don’t go to the extreme measures often advocated by hardcore hypermilers, we do try out the techniques.

The real impact of doing it is that several techniques for improving our fuel economy have become completely second nature for our driving. Here are some of those techniques that you can easily translate to your own driving. They might add a minute or two to your drive, but they’ll save you enough money along the way to make up for it.

Practice Good Gas Conservation Habits (37/365)

Stick close to 55 miles per hour on the open road. This seems to be the sweet spot in terms of speed. If you go much faster than 55, your fuel efficiency starts to decrease. If you get much above 65, it decreases rapidly, somewhere in the realm of about 1% fuel efficiency lost for every mile per hour you’re going over 65.

When going through stoplights, accelerate slowly and coast. Rather than accelerating strongly out of a light, racing up to the next light, and then hitting the brakes, instead accelerate slowly out of a light and when you see the light turning red half a block in front of you, let off the accelerator and just coast until you need to stop. This minimizes your gas usage and gets you to the stoplight with plenty of time to spare.

When going down a hill, lay off the brake. Let your car accelerate a bit naturally, then use that extra acceleration to coast for a while when you get to the bottom of the hill.

When going up a hill, lay off the accelerator. Many people hit the accelerator when going up a hill. Don’t do it. Instead, let your speed go down as you’re climbing the hill, then slowly bring it back up when you get to the top. Often, hills link into each other, so you’ll often use the speed from the previous hill to climb the next one or get your speed back from the previous climb when going down the other side of a hill.

Things I don’t recommend that you might see as gas mileage tips include rolling through stop signs and overinflating your tires. The former is simply begging to get into an accident, while the latter tactic makes it very easy to blow out a tire.

Making a few little changes to how you drive can save you a surprising amount of fuel without adding much time at all to your trip. I’ll happily arrive a few minutes later if I’m saving a few bucks in gas.

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. CNP76 says:

    Is that the inside of the previously featured Neon? Now I know why the guy made that face.

    And if you are going to drive 55MPH in a 65 or 70 MPH area, stay in the SLOW lane at all times!

  2. Julie says:

    Do you keep your windows rolled up with the a/c off during the summer?

  3. Baley says:

    Ugh. I am NOT driving below the speed limit to save even a few dollars. No way! And if you do, get out of my way!

  4. k says:

    The Neon is the best thing to happen to the site in MONTHS!

    They should try to feature it in every story and see how long it can be kept going.


  5. Nate says:

    Generally my time is worth more to me than a few cents in gas. I’d rather get home to my kids a couple minutes early or knock off a few hours off a long road trip. I’ll gladly drive as fast as the speed limit will let me.

    But many of the other tips are good. I always get a chuckle out of people who seem to pass quickly as if they’re annoyed with the fact that I coast up to a red light. Go right ahead and waste gas so you can sit at a light a little longer.

  6. Jackowick says:

    People really need to stop being selfish and dangerous when driving, and yes, I’m talking about the “plow through everyone” speeding drivers. I’m fine with the general “10 mph” above rule of fudge, but there’s two sides:

    You CANNOT get mad at someone doing the speed limit. It does suck sometimes, but it is the law and YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO FORCE SOMEONE TO BREAK THE LAW. THAT IS NOT DEFENSIBLE. EVER.



    Being in the “middle” of the driving rules means I have no friends on the road.

    Finally, if I’m doing above the speed limit and the guy behind starts flashing his beams, I now just flip my rear view mirror. Go ahead and hit my bumper, you just landed yourself a court date for aggravated assault.

    If you find you are running late all the time, that’s not my problem, suck it up and leave earlier.

  7. Mister E says:

    Decent tips, I use all of them save the speed one.

    Please travel at the speed limit and don’t impede the flow of traffic. It’s dangerous, and not worth 37 cents a year or whatever windfall this one earns us.

  8. David says:

    Despite the fact that I know what “gas” means to an American, I still have to read a sentence such as “Practice Good Gas Conservation Habits” twice before realising that it won’t be followed by advice such as “don’t fart in public”.

  9. kc says:

    “…going through stoplights…” is a bad idea, unless you’re driving a magical yellow Neon.

    Or perhaps you meant “accelerating from a full stop.”

  10. Tracy says:

    Heh, I wonder if the extra time it costs in your work commute is supposed to be calculated against your salary when figuring out your pay per hour?

    Or do you get to add the pennies back into your salary? SO MANY OPTIONS!

  11. Steve says:

    #6 & #7 You do realize that the speed limit is a maximum not a minimum, right?

    Oddly enough, if I am doing 65 on the highway, even if the speed limit is 70, I am still entitled to use the passing lanes to overtake slower vehicles.

    And if I am doing the speed limit (or close to it) and someone flashes me or tailgates me, I am more likely to slow down than speed up.

  12. Misha says:

    Being a passive-aggressive driver is just as bad as being a straight-up aggressive driver, Steve.

  13. Jonathan says:

    @Steve (#11) – I do the same thing. If I’m driving the speed limit and someone impatient driver behind me start flashing his/her lights or tailgating me you can be sure I am not going to speed up. If anything, I’ll slow down.

  14. Jane says:

    I get annoyed by those drivers who weave in and out of traffic on a city street to supposedly get where they are going faster. Once in a while it works, but most of the time I just see them at the next stop light. I’ve gotten to the point where if someone passes me on a city street (and you can tell usually when they are aggravated and think I am driving too slow, even though I am usually a few miles above the speed limit), I wave and say, “See you at the next stop light, dude.”

    I will say that I tend to accelerate slowly from time to time at a stop light. I don’t mean to, but I can tell some drivers are annoyed by it. But I imagine I save gas by accelerating a little slower and conversely coasting to the stop light.

  15. Kristin says:

    Any tips on saving gas with manual transmissions? I’ve heard driving in a larger gear saves gas… like using 5th gear when going 40mph on a flat road.

  16. Tracy says:

    Safe driving is far, far more important than frugal driving.

    This includes driving at a rate of speed that’s appropriate for the flow of traffic and the weather/visibility/road conditions.

    As well as not engaging in practices deliberately designed to annoy or upset other drivers (and thus cause them to be less cautious) – on either side of the issue.

  17. Mister E says:

    @11 & 13

    I do the same thing, I generally drive the limit up to about 10 over and that’s about it for me A number of expensive tickets in my younger days beat that lesson into me pretty well. If people tail me at that speed then I assume they want me to slow down.

    But if the weather and road conditions are good and you are driving noticibly under the limit then you are a hazard no less so than the person going too fast.

  18. Mister E says:

    And for full disclosure, I’m driving in KM here so 10 over is a little less than you may have thought.

  19. Sullivan says:

    Well Said Tracy.

    Not to mention, last time I got a speeding ticket, the guy doing traffic school was talking about how you can get a ticket for going too slow. Interestingly though, “too slow” doesn’t necessarily mean below the speed limit. He had a student who got a ticket for going to slow but was actually driving the speed limit. But the flow of traffic was so much faster (it was on I-5 in California and most people haul along there around 80-85…) that the officer deemed her not driving safe. He said he wouldn’t have believed the woman if she hadn’t pulled out the ticket and showed him!

  20. SwingCheese says:

    @19: Haha, my grandpa used to routinely lecture us all on going too fast, and then he was ticketed for driving too slowly. In his case, he was going below the speed limit, but as you said, if you’re impeding the flow of traffic, then you are a danger to yourself and those around you. Though I question the wisdom of ticketing folks for going the speed limit.

  21. Vicky says:

    @Kristin – I drive a 5 speed. 2004 Cavalier – I can get over 40 mpg out of that little guy :D

    I hate the car otherwise, but it’s paid for and is darn good in gas!

    I always shift at 2000 RPM’s, period. When driving on the highway – I drive 55. I stay in the right lane, and I pay attention to people entering/exiting the freeway. This keeps my RPM’s hovering at about 2.5 – which is the sweet spot for my car. For reference, there ARE signs about a minimum speed – and along I4 it tends to be 40!

    When coming to a stoplight, I just put the car in neutral and let it glide.

    Also, driving with your A/C on is better mileage for your car then your windows down – because the windows down creates too much drag. (Yay Mythbusters.)

  22. Other Jonathan says:

    I drive in stop-and-go traffic in LA every day, and I generally try to keep as even of a speed as possible (i.e. minimize both acceleration and braking). This leads to moments when the gap between me and the car ahead of me is larger than typical and moments when it’s less. It always makes me laugh to watch my fellow commuter in my rear view mirror flash his lights, wave his arms about, throw up his hands in frustration, and then zip around me to the right side (since I generally drive in the fast lane) in order to sit behind the guy a few yards in front of me.

  23. valleycat1 says:

    I’m also with #16 Tracy.

    Driving isn’t a competition, nor is the behavior of other drivers to be taken personally.

    Getting somewhere a minute or two faster, or keeping someone else from getting somewhere a tiny bit faster, isn’t worth everyone’s safety (whether from an accident or road rage (I’ve seen a person literally get pulled out the window of his car and beat up when caught in a traffic jam after he’d cut someone off).

    I generally don’t drive over the speed limit, but if everyone else is speeding, & particularly if my speed is annoying the other drivers, I go with the traffic flow. As an example – freeways in Texas and California.

  24. Izabelle says:

    All the tips mentioned by Trent are part of driver’s ed curriculum (which is mandatory in my province).

    They also instruct drivers to slow down a bit when being tailed. It’s not passive-agressive: it’s resisting peer pressure.

  25. Adam P says:

    If you’re in a passing lane and someone is behind you trying to get by, why wouldn’t you move over (obviously once able to do so if there is traffic in the right lane).

    Who cares if they are being pushy or jerky in indicating they wish to pass…so your attitude is to be a pushy jerk back and stay in the passing lane? Ridiculous.

    Let them speed on to their deaths and get over. Deliberately slowing down is just proving them right, that you’re in the WRONG LANE.

  26. Mister E says:

    I was thinking of single lane roads when I said that I slow down for being tailed, not major highways, and certainly never in the passing lane. It’s about not being bullied but also in most cases this provides both an incentive, and a better oportunity to pass around me, or so I’ve always thought.

    If possible I always just move over and let the person by. Going with the flow of the existing traffic is the best, and safest advice there is.

  27. Steve says:

    #25 Just to be clear I habitually drive in the right lane on highways unless I am overtaking (my wife, on the other hand, is another story).

    I saw a great bumper sticker once on a semi – “If I just passed you on the right, you are in the wrong freaking lane!”

  28. Jane says:

    On a four lane city road, is the left hand lane still considered the passing lane? I obviously don’t drive in the passing lane on the highway, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t ride in the left hand lane on a city road, especially if I plan to turn left in the near future.

  29. Michael says:

    Weaving in and out of traffic has made me a lot of money. I’ve had several stock trading insights come from observing traffic and planning how to “beat the average.” Seriously. But, other than that it’s not too valuable and these days I drive like a more typical person.

  30. Julia says:

    All you people saying you slow down when somebody is tailgating:

    That’s fine, but can I suggest moving to the right as well? In other words, get the hell out of the way.

    If there’s more than one lane in your direction, get into the right lane. If there’s only one lane, hug the right side lane line and – yes – slow down, so the jerk behind you can see clear enough to pass.

    Also, if you have more than one vehicle behind you and they can’t pass, pull over. It is illegal to impede traffic. If it’s not safe for them to pass you in motion, you are supposed to pull over so they can pass.

    Simply slowing down so someone is trapped behind you is aggressive.

  31. josh says:

    I invite you all to click on the picture and check out the flickr album for the upcoming days. Day 61 is entitled “If You Have an Unexpected Windfall, Put It in a CD” which has a very artsy picture of a stack of CD-Rs. Seriously?

    Owning a DSLR does not make someone a photographer. A lot of these pictures belong on youarenotaphotographer(dot)com

  32. valleycat1 says:

    We have too many people driving around with guns in their cars for me to have any desire to deliberately antagonize them. I have a friend who was rear-ended (deliberately) when she slowed down & tapped her brakes at a tailgater.

    Get over yourselves.

  33. Josh says:

    Oh days 48 & 49 have great pictures!

  34. kc says:

    In Brittany’s defense, it’s a tall order to take 365 photos, each of which is to illustrate (let’s be honest) a pedestrian topic.

    @valleycat, You’re absolutely right – there are too many nut cases out there; you just might antagonize the wrong sociopath!

  35. Nick says:

    Nice find Josh!

    I can’t wait to hear more about the elderly gentleman in #58 and why he uses simple investing!

  36. Vanessa says:

    There’s a section in the book titled “Love and Marriage.” I’m crushed we won’t be getting any tips for a cheap Valentine’s Day.

  37. Gretchen says:

    Time is money.

    Perhaps you’d like to buy your beloved a new kitchen, Vanessa.

    Or a yellow neon.

  38. kc says:

    Josh, Nick – have scanned the images before. There are some odd ones, for sure. As I said earlier, this is a daunting task for a beginning photographer. Just my humble, but having a professional photographer for a mentor would be much more helpful to Brittany.

  39. BD says:

    @ Adam P. – WELL SAID! People who drive slow in the fast lane, just to block cars who want to pass them, are passive-aggressive jerks.

    If I’m in the fast lane, and someone is hauling @ss up on me, guess what? I move over into the slow lane, because I’m polite, and I’m NOT a passive-aggressive jerk. Here’s the funny thing: There have been times when I’ve moved to over to the right to allow faster vehicles to pass me….and I end up passing by them further up the road, because they’ve been pulled over by a cop for speeding.

    So, you slower, self-righteous, passive-aggressive people, get out of the fast lane, let faster cars pass you, and allow the cops to do their job. You’ll get to see them up the road, pulled over.

  40. jim says:

    Speeding and tailgating are illegal. So you don’t have the high ground if you’re doing that. If other drivers don’t get out of your way fast enough thats your problem not theirs.

    Of course impeding traffic and failing to get out of the fast lane is usually illegal as well.

    Not enabling tailgating speeders may be passive aggressive. But the tailgaiting is outright aggressive and dangerous.

  41. Robin S says:

    Impeding traffic is different from going the speed limit. #30 – I will never pull over to let someone pass me if I am going the speed limit and they are being aggressive about it. I also won’t slow down. I will continue going as close to the exact speed limit as possible until I arrive safely at my destination.

    Next: If I am behind you on a hill and you refuse to accelerate up it, I might run you over. Not out of aggressiveness (though I will also be yelling at you from my car, to be honest) but because my expectation when I am driving is that cars around me will maintain some consistent speed unless otherwise directed by traffic signals. If the distance between you and me keeps changing and I’m going a consistent speed, its only a matter of time until one of us makes a mistake that results in an accident.

    But of course that will save lots of gas, because we’ll both have to take the bus!

  42. moom says:

    The hill tips might work on the kind of hills you have in Iowa :)

  43. Tom says:

    @Jane 28 – I think it is generally understood that for roads with 3+ lanes in one direction, the middle lanes are for “through” traffic – ie, no intention of turning to a new road for some time. As far as driving in the left or right lane, laws vary by locality. I don’t mind riding in the left lane if I can flow with traffic and I have a turn coming up in a few minutes. To the best of my knowledge of my state’s driving laws, so long as I’m not impeding traffic behind me, that isn’t illegal.
    On the topic of aggressive drivers, I try hard to be aware of my surroundings more than the emotions of the drivers around me. I’ll move out of the way if I see someone coming up quick behind me, and if I see someone aggressively changing lanes and darting through traffic, I’ll usually say, “Maybe he needs to get to the hospital”
    I think that’s helped me be a better driver. If I’m worried about how someone feels about my driving, or driving like how someone else thinks I should, then that becomes dangerous.

  44. David says:

    In Alaska, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio and Puerto Rico vehicles travelling at the speed limit may use the left-hand lane regardless of the “normal” speed of traffic. In Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington use of the left-hand lane is limited to passing. In Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Virginia vehicles may use the left-hand lane without passing, but must give way to faster vehicles in that lane. Almost everywhere else, vehicles moving at the “normal” speed of traffic may use the left-hand lane regardless of whether they are obstructing other vehicles. Section 257.634 of the Michigan Vehicle Code is so obscure that no one knows in which lane to drive, and section 21650-21664 of the California Vehicle Code is self-contradictory.

    No wonder that when I first visited the United States, I was told by the gentleman who collected me from the airport at Denver that “no one in this country can drive worth a damn, but fortunately our roads are so wide that we don’t have to.”

  45. Izabelle says:

    “If I’m worried about how someone feels about my driving, or driving like how someone else thinks I should, then that becomes dangerous.”

    So true! For this reason my driving improved significantly the minute I got my license and could drive by myself, without an instructor or my husband critiquing my every move. I have yet to get a single traffic ticket :)

  46. Annie says:

    I live in Maryland and on the weekends Icommute to PA using Route 1. There are two lanes and it seems like most of the drivers drive past 70. If I stay in the left lane and do 70 they flash me to go faster or move out of their way, if I move to the right lane and still keep 70, the other drivers behind me still get annoyed and pass me to do 80 or more. Is there anyone that really drives 55 miles a hour when there is NO traffic. I only see that during rush hour where you are forced to slow down. On 95 forget it, no body seems to drive 55 or even 60. I gave up and now I keep up with traffic. I find it’s safer for me and the other drivers appreciate it. sad to say that. I don’t miss the tailgaiting or flashing lights and I don’t have anyone giving me the finger when they pass me.

  47. Baley says:

    On the freeways I travel (mostly Tennessee and Georgia) there are signs everywhere that say, “Slower traffic keep right.” That does not include anything about whether you’re driving the speed limit or not, but about whether you’re driving slower than traffic around you. So Robin S. and others like her are just being rude AND breaking the laws of the road. I agree that flashing lights and honking and tailgating are also rude and breaking the law. If everyone would just be considerate of others, traffic would flow more smoothly and there would be fewer accidents.

  48. Robin S says:

    When I say “pull over” I was referring to #30’s suggestion to pull off the road to let someone behind you pass you if you are going the speed limit. I do not think it is rude to suggest that someone who is following the law deserves a spot on the road. On a 4 lane highway, of course I wouldn’t hog the “passing lane” if I wasn’t passing anyone, thus “breaking the laws of the road” as you suggest.

  49. tentaculistic says:

    #46 Annie “I live in Maryland and on the weekends I commute to PA. On 95 forget it, no body seems to drive 55 or even 60.”

    Annie, I’m confused why you think people SHOULD drive 55 or 60 on I-95 North from DC, when the speed limit is 65.

  50. tentaculistic says:

    In the Flickr album, my favorite is “Carpool” #39. Her mom and dad look like they’re about to shoot her for making them sit in yet another G-D photo. It cracks me up.

  51. jim says:

    As David points out, the rules do vary in different states. ON top of that it depends a lot on the exact situation in question. Plus I’m sure that enforcement details vary as well. My state law only says that slower traffic should keep right but it doesn’t really expand on what happens if everyone, including myself is speeding. I would generally expect that breaking the speed limit would basically make impeding traffic a moot point. I don’t think the court would agree with the “you weren’t driving fast enough” argument of impeding traffic if you’re also exceeding the speed limit. Right?

  52. jim says:

    tentaculistic, “Annie, I’m confused why you think people SHOULD drive 55 or 60 on I-95 North ”

    I don’t think she said that. She was just asking if anyone actually does drive that slow. Not saying they should.

  53. Izabelle says:

    I took a look at the Flick album and can’t help but wonder if the intern has taken the time to secure all necessary releases. State laws vary, but commercial photography of recognizable entities (ex.: a city bus as the main subject) is often restricted. Judging by the lack of attention to detail so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brittanny Lynne was oblivious to that. It’s a honest mistake that amateurs often make.

  54. Karen says:

    55 in a 70 on the open roads of Texas – you will get shot and most likely cause an accident for going TOO slow

  55. Baley says:

    Robin S, sorry I misunderstood your post! No, I would not agree that if you’re driving the speed limit (or even somewhat under it) that you should pull off the road. You’re right there. I did think you meant pulling into a slower lane on a multi-lane road. Apologies.

  56. Kai says:

    When I’m alone on a mountain road, I slow down on the uphills, speed up on the downhills, and coast around.
    but if I’m on a highway, or there are other nearby cars on my hilly road, I stick to one speed and deal with the slight extra cost in mileage – it’s obnoxious to drive behind the guy who constantly changes around.
    In my area, highway driving speeds usually average 10km above the limit. I often drive about there, but if I don’t want to, I stay in the right-hand lane. If there is no dedicated passing lane, then as soon as I collect more than two cars behind me, I pull over at the next safe point and let the faster people go by. It’s really just a matter of courtesy..

  57. David says:

    Just to run the numbers, in order once again to emphasise the illusion of thinking in miles per gallon: say your car normally does 40 mpg but you manage to get 50 mpg out of it over a three-hour trip. Well, the difference between 1/40 gpm (gallons per mile) and 1/50 gpm is 1/200 gpm, so over a 200-mile trip you have saved one gallon of fuel. I don’t know what the price of gas is in Iowa, but “several dollars” sounds to me like an overbid.

  58. SwingCheese says:

    I just filled up today, and the cost of a gallon of gas in (Eastern) Iowa is $3.29.

  59. jim says:

    Online dictionary defines “several” as “more than 2 but not many” so maybe $3 technically qualifies as “several dollars”.

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