Easy does it. Accelerate slowly and smoothly instead of racing away from a stop sign or traffic light. Accelerating uses more fuel than any other type of driving, wastes gas, and increases pollution. Just 1 second of high-powered driving can produce nearly the same volume of carbon monoxide emissions as a half hour of normal driving, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
No need for a warm-up. Unless you’re driving a pre-1980 car, you don’t need to let it warm up before you start driving. That just wastes gas. Follow the starting instructions in your owner’s manual. Most likely, it will tell you to start the car, put it in gear, and drive off at a moderate speed until the engine warms up.
Drive sensibly. Generally speaking, the faster you go, the more fuel you burn, because aerodynamic drag increases exponentially with speed. Drive at a steady speed as much as possible; aggressive driving also can lower your mpg by up to a third, according to the EPA. For example, a car that gets 30 mpg at 55 mph will get only 25 mpg at 70 mph and 22 mpg at 80 mph. Consider moving to one of the slower freeway lanes—doing so is also less stressful. You won’t lose much time by slowing down, either. A 60-mile trip driven at an average speed of 50 mph will take only 12 minutes longer than the same trip driven at an average speed of 60 mph.
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Anticipate slower traffic and traffic lights. When you see stopped or slowed traffic or a red light ahead, take your foot off the accelerator and coast. Zooming up to the light and then slamming on the brakes wastes fuel and is hard on your car’s suspension and brakes. Cars use very little fuel when coasting, and if you’re driving a hybrid, battery-electric vehicle, or fuel-cell electric vehicle with regenerative brakes, coasting typically will recharge the battery, further improving your mileage. Leaving plenty of space between you and the car in front of you allows you to drive in a relaxed manner and is safer, too.
Put it in “Eco.” Many newer cars (for example, the Hyundai Sonata and even the Corvette Stingray) have an “Eco” mode, which enables you to save fuel when you drive. Pressing the Eco button basically does 2 things: It changes the shift points so the transmission shifts earlier, keeping engine revs down; and it changes the way the throttle pedal responds, so you have to press it down farther to get the same response you would if you weren’t in Eco mode. These 2 features increase fuel economy at the expense of performance. Many hybrids also have an EV mode, which enables drivers to use only electricity for power, though usually only for a few miles at low speeds. The electric-only range for plug-in hybrids is greater, usually 15–50 miles.
Keep it charged. If you drive a plug-in hybrid, you’ll use more electricity and less gas if you keep the battery fully charged. With lithium-ion batteries, “topping off” a partially charged battery doesn’t degrade it or decrease its useful life. However, some manufacturers advise against repeated recharging if the battery is at 95% or higher. Check your owner’s manual or talk to the service personnel at your dealership.
Avoid rush-hour traffic whenever possible. Stop-and-go driving burns more gas, increases pollution, and is generally more stressful than driving during off-peak hours.
Steady as she goes. Studies have shown that driving at a steady speed is much more fuel-efficient than continuously varying your speed. When you drive on the highway (especially on level pavement), use cruise control when it’s safe to do so.
Avoid needless idling. When you get out of your car, turn it off rather than leaving it idling. Letting your car idle for more than a minute uses more gas than turning it off and starting it again, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Park and walk into a fast-food restaurant or bank instead of using the drive-through.
Use your air conditioner wisely. Driving with the windows open increases aerodynamic drag, which increases the faster you drive. Air conditioning use in newer cars can reduce gas mileage by about 5% (even more on older cars). To cool off on warm days, open your windows when you’re driving under 45 mph; close them and turn on the air conditioner at higher speeds.