Trimming Your Fuel Consumption: A Few Tips To Increase Your MPG

According to the department of energy, in 2008, the United States consumed roughly 137 billion gallons of gasoline. Of course, not all of that was used by your car (although I suspect the guy down the street from me is using more than his fair share) but let’s face it, anyone who drives a petroleum-fueled vehicle is a part of this problem. Gasoline has always been an odd thing to me. We take for granted that it will just be there, and be relatively cheap at that. We fill our tanks and drive off, but for the most part, never really think beyond that.

But of course there are ramifications to our petroleum addictions. Natural settings are destroyed and turned into oil fields. Young men and women are shipped across the world, and die protecting these oil fields. Pristine waters are ruined by oil tanker spills. Children the world over suffer from asthma attacks brought on in part by exhaust fumes. The list goes on and on, and beyond a small minority making a lot of money, it’s not a very good looking one.

So it seems like the least we can do is work towards using a little less, and eventually weaning ourselves off of oil completely. For now, maybe we can all start by consuming less and learning to make the petroleum we have go a little farther. You may have heard some of these ideas before, but if you are like most people, a little reminder never hurts.

  • Let go of your lead foot. Face it, gunning the engine to speed up and get to that next light where you’re still going to be waiting, isn’t doing anyone any good. Every time you pound on the gas pedal, you use more fuel than you need since the engine is working harder to quickly move that mass of metal you are riding in. Take it nice and easy, slowly get up to speed and slowly hit the brakes, maybe even coasting a bit in between. Studies show you can save up to 20% of your fuel by driving this way in city traffic, and as an added benefit, you won’t spill your coffee!
  • Kill the AC. OK, if you are living in the middle of the desert, this may not be a possibility, but let’s face it, not everyone needs the AC on all the time. When you hit that button, the engine needs to start driving the compressor, which requires more energy, which uses more fuel. Open those windows and let your hair down from time to time. Also, try to park in the shade so you don’t need the AC as much to begin with.
  • Inflate those tires. Remember when Obama said if everyone would simply check their tire pressure and make sure it was spot on, we’d save a heck of a lot of oil? Well, that may have gotten a few laughs, but it turns out he was right. Tires are designed to have a certain rolling resistance, and work best when properly inflated. Think about a tire that’s going flat.A lot more rubber is hitting the road right? Well, that translates to friction, which means the engine needs to work harder, which means, you guessed it, more fuel. Properly inflate your tires and you’ll see an increase of 1-2% in your gas mileage. Spread that across the nation and you’ve got a fair amount of conservation.
  • Drop the weight. Do you really need all the stuff you are carrying around in your trunk? Of course not. You shouldn’t be buying that case of bottled water anyway right? So why not clean out the car and shed a few pounds. Generally speaking, for every 100 pounds of weight, your vehicles mpg will decrease by 1%. Don’t have 100 pounds in the trunk? No sweat, 20 pounds will do and over time, will still add up. So ditch your collection of Victorian era bowling balls and leave it in the living room where it belongs.
  • Properly maintain your car. I know, we all do this right? Wrong. How many of you have checked your air filter recently? Fuel filter? Oil Filter? Timing? I could go on and on and I don’t even know my way around an intake manifold. Proper maintenance will keep your vehicle running efficiently and give you a crack at efficiency right off the bat. Think about just your air filter. If the engine needs to suck air through a sock that’s got 50,000 miles of road gunk on it, it’s going to have to strain to do so. Check these little guys regularly and keep your car happy.
  • Don’t think of your car as a climate controlled musical environment. How may times have you seen someone sitting in there car, windows up, engine running, talking on their cell phone? It’s shocking. Turn your car off and go sit under the tree over there, the one with the nice overhanging shade and the grass all around it. Yeah that one. Go ahead. It won’t hurt.
  • Turn your car into a planter bed. Probably the best piece of advice I can throw out there. DON’T DRIVE! Seriously. It’s the number one way to save on fuel – just stop using it in the first place. Now I know this isn’t the easiest thing for everyone out there to do (but if anyone has planted their Hummer I’d love a pic), but surely we can all make a concerted effort to drive less if not stopping completely. One thing I offer up in the seminar I teach is to take a map and draw a half-mile radius around your house. Then pledge to not drive anywhere within that radius unless you are coming or going to or from somewhere else. What this will do is significantly cut down those quick trips to the store that are so bad for your mpg. It’s not a major shift, but it will have an impact.

But the real answer to all of this, as far as I am concerned, is for all of us to get and ride a Conference Bike like the one in the video below. Come on, you know you love this. Just think, it’ll keep you in shape, slow us all down a bit, and make for better communication between friends and neighbors. Just look at how happy they all are! Conference Bikes, that’s the ticket.

Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”


Keironn P.
Past Member 8 years ago

Maybe we can all start using and learning to use less oil, we go a little further. You've probably heard some of these ideas before, but if you're like most people, a little reminder never hurts.
memory card reader

Heather B.
Past Member 9 years ago

Thanks for the good advice, Dave. Loved the bike.

Aimee O.
Aimee Osmulski9 years ago

good ideas, though as u said-some easier done than others

Randolph D.
Randolph D9 years ago

Hey, I love that movie, 7 Bikers for 7 Brothers. So Dave, you want people to be mindful of their driving habits? Good luck with that. I would be happy if they just get rid of their cigarettes and cellphones to focus on driving.

I've had this radical idea for a while: What if the gov't subsidizes fuel saving devices for everyone's car? If the US Gov't can provide $50 subsidies for digital TV converters for every household, why not fuel saving devices? The rebates for New fuel saving cars are there, but it seems to me that viable fuel saving devices for older cars are even more vital than digital TV converters for older TVs.

Car mechanics have told me a number of times that there's not much can be done to increase mileage in an older car, but they're not scientists or engineers. For example:

megan m.
megan m9 years ago

ahaha! holy moly, are those bikes for real?! I'd only ride one if I were driving. Now... to find a sidewalk wide enough....

I'm sure we could even use those things out here in the desert. I could probably rig up a beach umbrella or something for "UV protection".


Pam H.
Pamela H9 years ago

Oh dear, that video is pure Corn Lol.
But getting back to the serious issue of our fuel addiction. I drive a small manual ('stick' to Americans) sedan and my son asked me why I don't get the revs up before I change to the next gear. That's fine when you need to, like when you're going uphill, but if not, it's not necessary and a waste of fuel. I'm in no hurry to get to the next stop light. I gently sail up to the person next to me who bolted off from the previous lights, with more fuel left in my tank, more rubber left on my tyres and more linings left on my brakes because there's no need to jam on the brakes so hard if you take your time. I think when we get into the car we really should leave our egos at home. We don't gain anything by getting in front of the one car ahead, in the big picture. It's not a competition or a race. If we're not in a real emergency, walk, ride, get a bus, or drive at a calm, even pace, and we will save so much more fuel worldwide.
I was astounded, while walking to my local shops, to see a man climb into his 4x4 and drive across the street to the shops then later drive back across the street with his loaf of bread. I have seen him do this on two occasions, it is not a busy street and he is quite able bodied. These are the people we need to reach.

Valeria G.
Valeria Grundy9 years ago

And woe to anyone going in the opposite direction of the conference bike. Road hog much?

Most of these things, I already do, which is nice to know. I do drive to the grocery store (the only place I go within a 1/2 mile radius, I believe), but I try to do all of my shopping for the next 1 to 1.5 weeks in one trip. Then I only make one trip, but I don't have to worry about food spoiling on the walk back (or me freezing, which is the other option here). The rare times I do want just one thing from the store, it's usually something like chips that doesn't spoil and I'll walk to the store for it.

Jennifer E.
Jennifer E9 years ago

In high school I remember a teacher telling my (science?)class that the depletion of fossil fuel would happen in our lifetime. I'm in my early 30's and left wondering if alternatives will be in place when this happens. *Another way to conserve is to only drive when and shop from home when/if you can.

Jeffrey B.
Jeffrey B9 years ago

I dunno Neil H.
I hear Europeans shut it off at a light but I wouldn't kill the engine while the car is in motion. You need the engine for power steering and power brakes. Couldn't rolling down a hill in neutral could be dangerous?

Neil H.
Neil H9 years ago

One really big gas saving tip: If you are going to be waiting for more than 7 seconds, turn off the car. The average fuel injection engine uses the equivalent of 7 seconds of gas to start an engine. For older, carburated engines, its about 30 to 45 seconds of waiting. Going down a big hill? Turn off the car. Rolling up to a red light? Turn off the car. My 99 buick century used to get about 16 miles to the gallon, now it gets about 25, just by turning off my car more.

One note: Don't turn the key ALL the way off, as that might lock your steering wheel. Just turn it off enough to shut down the engine. Oh and put it into neutral first.