8 Things You Can Do to Increase Fuel Efficiency and Save Money on Gas

Changing your driving habits and keeping up with car maintenance can make a difference.

I don't need to tell you that gas prices are high. While electric car owners are rejoicing at their good fortunes, and hybrid owners aren't experiencing the spike in prices quite as hard, gas car owners are definitely feeling the burn. But you don't have to accept inflation as a lost cause—there are ways to save money on fuel, both by taking proper care of your car and changing your driving habits.

stack of us bills and gas pumps
Olivia Barr

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, poor driving habits alone—aggressive speeding, braking, and rapid acceleration—can lower your gas mileage by roughly 15 to 30 percent at highway speeds and 10 to 40 percent in stop-and-go traffic.

Here are eight things you can do to save money at the pump, both during times of peak gas prices and everyday.

01 of 08

Don't Drive Aggressively and Follow the Speed Limit

Perhaps you've heard that driving the speed limit keeps you safer, reducing your risk of losing control of your vehicle. But driving the speed limit—and less aggressively—is "perhaps the biggest change a person can make to improve their fuel economy," says Ronald Montoya, senior consumer advice editor of Edmunds, an online consumer resource for automative inventory and information. To practice more fuel-efficient driving habits, glide to the traffic light instead of rushing to it only to slam on the brakes. Pick a lane and stick with it. And when you're on the highway, try to use your cruise control, as it will optimize your driving speed.

"These habits require patience and budgeting of your time to arrive a little later than normal," says Montoya. He adds that these choices may only contribute to an increase of a couple miles per gallon, "but altogether they could add up to a significant difference."

02 of 08

Use the Correct Oil and Change It at the Right Time

"Performing an oil change and using the correct oil can improve fuel economy," says Montoya. This is because oil lubricates the moving metal pieces inside the engine of your car, and having too little, too much, or the wrong type of oil can all impact how efficiently the engine runs.

For oil changes, it's important that you follow your manufacturer's recommended intervals, rather than the sticker in your windshield, or the interval that you used on your last vehicle. You can find the maintenance schedule inside your owners manual—where you can also find specific recommendations for the type of oil to use. The manufacturer designed the manual specifically for the year, make, and model of your vehicle, and its specific requirements—so following this will ensure that you're making the right choices for your car.

03 of 08

Change Your Air Filter

When you press the accelerator, your vehicle ignites a mixture of air and fuel. It needs to be a very precise ratio of air to fuel and all of that air filters through the engine air filter. The approximately $15 filter collects dust, dirt, pollutants, and anything else in the air to prevent damage to the engine. If the filter isn't changed when it fills up, it starts preventing the right amount of air to filter through, which can impact the fuel economy of your vehicle. This issue is most applicable to older vehicles, as newer ones are typically better optimized so that a clogged engine air filter makes little impact.

04 of 08

Make Sure Your Tires Are Properly Inflated

Properly inflated tires are critical to safely operating your car, and as an added benefit, directly impact your fuel efficiency. Since late 2007, tire pressure sensors—which warn users when air pressure drops below the manufacturer's recommended level—have been required in all vehicles sold in the United States.

"Keeping your tires at the recommended tire pressure not only helps improve fuel economy but is also safer and helps prolong [your tires'] lifespan," says Montoya.

Proper tire pressure also helps prevent premature and uneven tire wear. While tire pressure sensors are helpful, they aren't always enough to rely on entirely. To get all the benefits of properly inflated tires, check and adjust your tire pressure once a month if you have tire pressure sensors that work, or twice a month if you don't have sensors, or they aren't working.

05 of 08

Fix Your Car When Your Check Engine Light is On

"If your vehicle has a check engine light that has gone unattended, there's a good chance this is impacting your fuel economy as well," says Montoya. FuelEconomy.Gov reports that a car that fails an emissions test or is "out of tune" can cause a 4 percent drop in fuel efficiency. Additionally, a study conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory observed that a faulty oxygen sensor reduced fuel economy by over 40 percent in the vehicles it tested. If those benefits weren't enough, fixing a problem that's causing your check engine light early on can also prevent your repair cost from going up by letting the problem worsen over time.

06 of 08

Don't Warm Up Your Car

A pervasive myth from the times where carbureted engines were the norm, many car owners think that they need to "warm up" their vehicle, especially in the wintertime. But this is entirely unnecessary. Doing so is a waste of fuel, bad for the environment and wholly ineffective. "Most modern vehicles should be ready for driving after 30 seconds or so," says Montoya. Usually, that means if you start the car as soon as you get into it, then put your seatbelt on, you'll be ready to go by the time you're done.

07 of 08

Stop Using Premium Fuel

"If your vehicle 'recommends' premium fuel rather than requiring it, you can safely switch to regular octane fuel without harming the engine and save money," says Montoya. "Just be aware that it may generate less power, but not enough to affect your daily driving." In fact, a 2016 AAA study found that Americans wasted 2.1 billion dollars on premium fuel, which provided little to no benefit, and certainly the tiny benefit it did provide didn't even come close to what it cost consumers.

08 of 08

Find Cheaper Gas Options

When gas prices are high, getting gas at the lowest price in your area can save you significant cash, but only if you plan for it. If you have to drive 20 minutes in each direction to get to the low-cost gas, you probably won't be saving much. Instead, try grouping your errands and planning to stop at the less expensive gas station on the way.

If you're headed on a road trip, you can also plan your fuel stop to optimize for the best prices. For example, when I'm driving from Milwaukee to Chicago, my goal is to fill up in the Racine Kenosha area in Wisconsin, since gas costs more as soon as you cross the Illinois border.

To identify the lowest gas prices near you, Google Maps and Waze both have pricing information built in, and there are other apps that are specialized for this purpose as well. GasBuddy is one of the more popular apps, but Wirecutter reports privacy concerns, so do your due diligence before downloading it.

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Sources
Real Simple is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. U.S. Department of Energy, Many factors affect fuel economy. Accessed November 13, 2022.

  2. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Owner related fuel-economy improvements. Accessed November 13, 2022.

  3. AAA, U.S. drivers waste $2.1 billion annually on premium gasoline. Accessed November 13, 2022.

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