Gas prices are high right now. That pickup truck, luxury SUV or sports car you bought during the pandemic may feel like a mistake every time you fill up. Unfortunately, things will probably get worse before they get better.
The myriad of global factors driving up oil prices are here to stay in the short to intermediate-term. And the natural reaction to a fuel crisis — buying a more efficient car — is simply untenable right now, at least for most Americans.
Manufacturers can’t build enough cars to meet demand with the chip shortage, spiking up both new and used car prices. And that’s especially true with plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. All-in on getting an F-150 Lightning? You’ll either be paying an outrageous dealer markup or checking back in with Ford in 2024.
The silver lining here is that there are a few relatively painless ways to use less gasoline. They won’t lessen the sting when you have to fill your car. But they can significantly improve fuel economy, lengthen the time between trips and, overall, make you a better, safer driver.
Drive less, if you can
The easiest way to save on gas is not to use a car. We know, we know: easier said than done ...
Not using a car works well in Brooklyn, where you have accessible amenities and ample public transportation. It won’t work in many other areas, where infrastructure and zoning were designed with the personal automobile in mind.
But any car trip you can cut out counts. If you can, fix up that old bike in the garage for short trips on weekends. Or walk the kids to school. At the very least, try to buy everyday essentials in bulk, which will lessen the number of trips you need to make throughout the month.
Use eco-friendly routing on Google Maps
Typically, you use Google Maps to get somewhere as quickly as possible. But last year, Google added eco-friendly routing to Google Maps. This routing will still show you the fastest way from A to B, but it may also show you a route that will save on fuel (if it’s not also the fastest) and detail the potential fuel savings for you.
Stop speeding on the highway
Settle down, Sammy Hagar. Engines operate more efficiently at speed when cruising along in high gear with minimal effort. And you cross a threshold around 50 mph or so where going faster requires progressively more effort and burns more fuel. (This is why America made a nationwide switch to 55 mph highway speed limits during the oil embargo in the 1970s.)
Of course, it's not safe to drive 55 mph if the speed limit is 75 mph. But going 65 mph in a 65 mph zone will be much more efficient than driving 85 mph. Try cruise control if you don't already; not only will it prevent speeding, it helps to reduce the number of minor accelerations and decelerations that plague fuel economy.
Stop driving so aggressively
Rapid acceleration can be fun. And cars today are quicker than they have ever been. But flooring it from a dead stop is the least efficient way to drive.
First off, it uses a lot of fuel. It also puts a significant strain on the engine, which is pushing to extraordinarily high revs. You may own a car where it is tremendously fun to take off like a hooligan, but you don’t need to do that every time you’re out buying paper towels.
Don’t idle your car
Simple principle here: It requires gas to run the engine, and if you’re running the engine while stopped, you’re getting 0 mpg.
Do you need to use the remote start to precondition your climate just so before heading off to work in the morning? Probably not.
Turn off the car while your partner is picking up their prescription. And stop hitting the button to disable the car’s auto stop/start function.
Ration your air conditioning usage
Okay, this probably isn’t the message you want to hear with summer arriving. But running the air conditioner is a major drain on fuel economy.
You’re siphoning energy from the engine to run the cooling unit. On certain summer days, you’re going to need it. But if it’s 74 degrees out, you don’t need the climate system blaring to keep it 68 in the car.
Parking in the shade and opening the windows (at low speeds) can do a lot to keep the cabin cool.
Get your gear off the roof when your adventure is over
Roof racks are great. And that awesome rooftop cargo box or rooftop tent can make your outdoor adventure easier and more pleasant. But anything sitting up there on the roof will create drag and affect the car’s fuel economy.
It’s also adding weight to the vehicle, which forces the engine to work harder and affects fuel economy. Use your adventure gear on your adventure and find a place to store it when you’re not.
Clean out your car
Extra weight puts more strain on the engine and affects fuel economy. We don’t recommend you take this principle to race-car-level extremity and start stripping down the interior. But you can get rid of things that don’t need to be there: books, hockey equipment, the kids' stroller. Those miscellaneous items you aren’t using add up.
Saving fuel can be as simple as running an errand in the evening rather than mid-afternoon. Traffic will be lighter, so you won’t spend as much time idling. It will be cooler outside, so you don’t have to use the climate control. And you probably can afford to spend that extra 2-3 minutes using the eco-friendly route.