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Factors That Affect Fuel Economy

There are many things that will affect how many miles ger gallon of gas you will get. There are things that you can control such as driving habits and things you can't such as axle ratios.

Understanding what can be done to increase your MPG will help not only you, but everyone in general.
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Factors That Affect Fuel Economy


EPA fuel economy estimates are posted on the fuel economy label of all new vehicles. The only intended use of these values is for comparison among the different vehicles. Fuel economy estimates are generated from data taken during a laboratory test using pre-production prototype vehicles under extremely controlled conditions using a professional driver, with the vehicle operating on an instrument similar to a treadmill. The comparison of current vehicle fuel economy to the EPA fuel economy estimates is a misuse of the information and should be discouraged.

The EPA GAS MILEAGE GUIDE, available at each dealership, points out that the actual mileage when driving a vehicle may differ considerably from the estimated mileage. The guide also describes how vehicles are tested under identical conditions to insure the results can be compared with confidence.

The EPA GAS MILEAGE GUIDE also points out that city fuel economy estimate simulates a 7.5 mile, stop-and-go trip with an average speed of 20 mph. The trip takes 23 minutes and has 18 stops. About 18 percent of the time is spent idling, as in waiting at traffic lights or in rush hour traffic. Two kinds of engine starts are used - the cold start, which is similar to starting a car in the morning after it has been parked all night - and the hot start, similar to restarting a vehicle after it has been warmed up, driven and stopped for a short time.

The test to determine the highway fuel economy estimate represents a mixture of "non-city" driving. Segments corresponding to different kinds of rural roads and interstate highways are included. The test simulates a 10 mile trip and averages 48 mph. The test is run from a hot start and has little idling time and no stops.

The EPA GAS MILEAGE GUIDE explains that the actual test results are adjusted downward to arrive at the estimates used in the booklet and on the labels. City estimates are lowered by 10 percent and the highway estimate by 22 percent from the laboratory test results. The guide also points out that traveling at higher speeds lowers fuel economy and traveling at 65 mph instead of 55 mph lowers fuel economy over 15 percent.

Factors That Affect Fuel Economy:

  • Axle Ratio

    Numerically lower axle ratios generally produce better highway fuel economy. The exception to this is if the engine is "working" exceptionally hard, (heavy vehicle loads pulling a trailer, small engine in a large vehicle...). In these cases a numerically higher axle may provide better fuel economy. Numerically higher axle ratios will also tend to provide more fuel economy in congested city traffic and stop and go conditions

  • Brakes

    Brake drag (even a minimal amount undetectable by coasting), can have a significant negative impact on fuel economy. Pull upward on the brake pedal to assure that the stoplight switch and cruise switch at the brake pedal are full and properly adjusted. A "click" sound when the pedal is pulled upward indicates that the switch was improperly adjusted. This causes the front brake pads to lightly rub the rotors, causing a fuel economy loss, without generating excessive heat or brake pad wear

  • Driving Habits

    Frequent short trips (less than 5 miles), especially in cooler ambient temperatures (less than 65°F), will necessitate fuel enrichment on start-ups, especially after "soaks" with the engine off for approximately a half hour or more.

    Frequent accelerator pedal movement while driving will reduce fuel economy because of fuel enrichment during the periods of acceleration. Under such driving conditions the torque converter clutch (TCC) also disengages, contributing to fuel economy losses. Prolonged idle periods reduce fuel economy especially in cold ambients when vehicle is allowed to "Warm up".

  • Fuels

    Oxygenated fuels, with methanol and/or ethanol blended into the gasoline have lower energy and thus reduce fuel economy. Typically there is about a 1 MPG penalty for a vehicle which gets 25 to 30 MPG on 100 percent gasoline.

    Using fuels of a lower octane than the vehicle was calibrated to will cause increased "KS" Knock Sensor system activity. This will result in a net decrease in spark advance and thus poorer fuel economy. Using fuel of a higher octane than the vehicle was calibrated for WILL NOT increase fuel economy.

    Variations in how much fuel is added to the fuel tank during re-fueling can greatly affect calculated fuel economy. These effects decrease as the distance traveled and the number of tank fillups increase.

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    Additional Information provided courtesy of
    ALLDATAdiy.com and Warranty Direct
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