What Will Help Improve My Fuel Economy?

Reader Question

Hi Austin, been a reader of your site for many years now and I have a question for you. I have a 2007 Ford F250 pickup with the large V8 engine and an automatic transmission. As you are aware, the cost of unleaded fuel is pretty high and I have been trying various attempts to improve my fuel economy. My friend told me to take the transmission out of gear and place in neutral when I am sitting at a stop light or when I am coming to a stop. Will this help?

Dan. R

Hi there Dan,

Yes, I definitely feel the pinch of $3.75 a gallon gasoline myself. I have been getting a lot of questions about how to improve fuel economy lately, so perfect timing on your question.

Let me first say, I am not some brainy number crunching type of guy that will take the time to figure out how to improve fuel economy by .092%. I don’t have the time to do that, nor would that “improvement” really be of much concern to me…and my readers/customers. I can comment on your friend’s suggestion, and that would be…it would be a waste of your time for the minimal improvement you MIGHT get. It might just wear out your hands and might actually do more harm to the transmission that it would improve fuel economy.

Let me tell you what really DOES NOT seem to help that much:

1. Turning off the air conditioner ( I live in Houston, no way I am going to do that!) My personal verdict – not worth the effort and discomfort.

2. Placing the transmission in neutral when at a stop – my personal verdict – not worth the hassle.

3. Installing high performance spark plugs – my personal verdict – not worth the added expense UNLESS your spark plugs are totally worn out and need to be replaced anyway. It might not hurt to try it.

4. Putting the tailgate down on a pick up – The TV show Mythbusters proved this can actually hurt your fuel economy, although slightly. The liability of having something blow out, and the overall look of driving with the tailgate down would also deter me from doing this as well.

5. Using a fuel injector cleaner type of additive to your gasoline. Again, if you NEED to clean your fuel injectors…sure, why not try it but I have yet to see a magic bullet additive you can add to your gas tank that really does much good.

6. Installing a new computer chip which changes some transmission and engine settings. I have seen these chips increase performance and even some horsepower improvements although fairly slight but have yet to see any significant improvement in fuel economy. Doing this has a trade off somewhere, so improving performance might increase fuel consumption. I have found that changing just about anything that was set at the factory pretty much will decrease fuel economy to a certain degree.

So, what DOES help improve fuel economy?

1. If your vehicle is due for a tune up (spark plugs, spark plug wires, fuel and air filter basically) then YES this should help to restore the fuel economy back to what it was originally but not more than it was originally.

2. Proper tire pressure – in my opinion probably the biggest killer of fuel economy is improper tire inflation. Just like trying to ride a bicycle with a low or flat tire, it takes more effort to pedal.

3. Improper engine oil weight usage – using the wrong WEIGHT of engine oil can have an impact on fuel economy. Too thick of engine oil and the engine has to work harder than it should. Check the manufacturer’s suggestion and stick with that, although, this will not make the fuel economy better than it originally was from the start. But if your fuel consumption has decreased, it would be something to check out.

3. A dirty air filter (part of a tune up and regular maintenance) is just like trying to ride a bicycle at 20 mph with your mouth closed. The engine needs enough air to breath properly, too little air flow internally and it has to work harder. Working harder requires more fuel. Change your air filter regularly. Although again, this will only restore fuel economy back to what it was to begin with.

4. Check engine light ON? – If your check engine light comes on that means your onboard computer has detected a problem and has stored a code in memory for your mechanic to investigate. Often the problem is one of the many sensors on the engine. A faulty sensor (like an oxygen sensor) can have a negative impact on fuel economy.

5. Drive the speed limit (or the old speed limit I should say)! I know this is not rocket science, but I am baffled as to why we have increased the speed limits here in the states to 70mph+ in many areas. The faster the engine spins around the more fuel is needed. If we as a nation really wanted to be more energy independent why did we increase the speed limits…which burns more fuel. 55 MPH, is fast enough and will greatly improve your overall fuel economy…and really, you won’t get to your final destination that much faster at 70 MPH anyway. In my opinion, raising the speed limit pushed us as a nation farther away from energy independence.

6. And the BIGGEST improvement in fuel economy is….drum roll please…. drive an efficient vehicle! Before you scoff at me, hear me out. You really can’t have your cake and eat it too. Do you want a big V8 engine that has a ton of horsepower and can do 0-80MPH in 7 seconds, or pull a load of 3 tons up a muddy hill in the rain as you see in the new truck TV commercials? If you want THAT, or think you really need THAT, then fuel economy is not part of the overall picture.

My personal opinion…we need to check our egos, as a nation, all of us. We are constantly shown TV commercials of flashy new vehicles with BIG engines and lots and lots of bells and whistles attached inside as creature comforts (heated seats, satellite radios, TV screens etc. etc.)and all those comforts take energy to operate. Can we not watch TV for 3 hours as we drive to grandma’s house anymore? Do we feel like a “geek” driving a smaller more efficient vehicle, and need the big $50,000 SUV to empower our ego?

A V6 engine in a truck is plenty of power for most people, and was pretty much standard in the 1980s during the oil crisis. Do you remember how small the cars in the 80s were? I see a few 1980’s vehicles on the road and I am shocked at how small they look to me now. Nowadays it’s totally common, if not almost expected, to see a parking lot full of SUVs at the grocery store…because we need all that horsepower for groceries?

Yes, a SUV is nice if you have a large family or routinely carry 7-8 people around–don’t get me wrong. Could that SUV be powered by a smaller V6 engine with no problem…sure it can, but mentally would the public buy into it? Ford has a new line of trucks called the Eco class, and it is powered by a V6 turbo charged engine. Wow, what “new” technology that is…we had the same V6 engine back in the 80s so its nothing “new” just a good marketing ploy.

I am not harping on you Dan, but honestly we as Americans want it all, then complain when we have to actually pay for it! We drive huge vehicles into town to work, then out to the suburbs where we live, sitting in stop-and-go traffic for long periods of time and we wonder why our fuel bills are so large.

The take away here is, the bigger the engine and the vehicle the more fuel it takes to power it. There is little you can do to alter that in any significant way that will not cost more money than what you would save in fuel efficiency.

Ok Ok, enough of my rant…if YOU have a suggestion or something that you have tried that actually increased your fuel economy please leave your comments below. Thank you!

Austin Davis

Facebook and Google +1 “Likes” greatly appreciated 🙂

Posted in: Fuel Mileage

10 Comments on "What Will Help Improve My Fuel Economy?"

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I almost never leave a response, however i did a few searching
    and wound up here What Will Help Improve My Fuel Economy?. And I do have a couple
    of questions for you if it’s alright. Is it just me or does it seem like a few of these remarks come across like coming from brain dead visitors? 😛 And, if you are writing on other social sites, I would like to keep up with everything new you have to post. Would you list of all of all your community sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  2. Guru says:

    Wow, this article is very informative. Now I know where to go to when I have questions regarding these things. Keep up the good work!

  3. Ed says:

    A well maintained car will save you a lot of fuel consumption added with the way you drive. Stop and go especially with if you have to syop the engine so often will burn a lot of fuel. On the other note, I found it more gas saver to drive a late model car, less than a year or so. I drove a 2011 Mazda M3 for 300 miles straight and only consumed 1/4 of a full tank. A full tabk is roughly about 16 gals on this car. I drove the same distance back with my 1993 Mustang with a full tank and my empty fuel indicating light came on 15 miles before I reached my destination and have to stop for gas to continue driving,

  4. Ken Doll says:

    I agree with most of what is written here. For 12 years I commuted about 20 km in a Honda Civic VX coupe and got 50 to 60 mpg from 1992 to 2004. I then bot a GMC Suburban to tow a 34 foot travel trailer.The gas mileage on that was a verified 20 mpg. Then I upgraded to the 5.7 l to a 6 l. GMC HD pickup and gas mileage dropped to about 15 mpg. To improve the mileage I installed a reusable and cleanable cloth air filter, E3 spark plugs, synthetic oil and a Superchips programer, and have boosted the mileage to about 17-20 mpg. , not great but overall I go about l00 kms further on a tank (132L).

  5. Joe says:

    Well said Fred.

  6. The reason that higher speed causes increased gas consumption is air resistance. Even if the civil law doesn’t get you the laws of physics will. We should designate the right lane on expressways as “55 mph”.

  7. MBA Tom says:

    With all due respect I think you missed the point and failed to answer Dan’s question. Dan needs to figure out what his current miles per gallon is and what his vehicle is capable of (epa rating highway and city). With this data he can track actual mpg and strive to achieve the Obtainable Ratings and test all the different methods he would like to try.

  8. Nathan says:

    Damn, Austin. You sound like a Rush Limbaugh wannabe. Some guy asks you a serious question and you go off on him, become sarcastic and get on a soapbox of “what’s wrong with the world today”. Another thing to consider as being “wrong with the world today” is that it’s hard to ask questions or make a statement without someone going off on you! You make some good points. Be nice.

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