One test found that the mileage of drivers in identical cars can vary by as much 75 percent.
The difference? How the people drove those cars.
Driving methods to help save $100 a month on gas
With Americans paying high prices for every gallon of gasoline, many drivers are looking for ways to improve their fuel economy.
To demonstrate 10 common mistakes drivers make that hurt their fuel economy, Chevrolet drove two identical compact cars on a typical workday commute. The results showed that sweating the small stuff — that is, making small but significant changes — could save drivers as much as $100 a month at the pump.
For the drive, GM fuel-economy engineers Ann Wenzlick and Beth Nunning drove identical Chevrolet Cruze LTs, which the EPA estimates get 24 mpg city, and 36 mpg highway. For the route, they drove both cars for 20 minutes, including city and highway driving as well stopping for coffee.
Wenzlick averaged 37 miles per gallon using efficient driving habits in a properly maintained Cruze. Driving inefficiently and ignoring common maintenance, Nunning managed only 21 miles per gallon.
The difference means Nunning would get 250 fewer miles per tank of gas, while Wenzlick would save $100 a month – or $1,200 a year – assuming 15,000 miles and $4 a gallon for gas.
“Ann and Beth’s results support data from OnStar that shows the fuel economy of drivers in identical cars can vary by 75 percent,” said Roger Clark, manager of the GM Energy Center. “With a well-maintained car, the best drivers get up to 25 percent more miles per gallon than average. When you combine a poorly-maintained car with inefficient driving habits, the fuel economy of the worst drivers can be 50 percent below average,” he says.
“The fuel economy of every vehicle is greatly affected by how you drive, and how you care for your vehicle,” Clark said. “Often, relatively small changes to your driving habits and vehicle maintenance can make the difference between being on the bottom, or the top, of the fuel-economy scale.”
5 driving tips to save at the pump
Here are five things Ann Wenzlick did to drive more efficiently in her Cruze:
1. Get out of the drive-through lane.
“While Beth waited in the drive-thru with her car running, I shut off the engine and went inside for my morning coffee. Idling for 15 minutes burns through an average of a quarter of a gallon – adding another $1 to the cost of your latte.”
2. Take it easy
“In the city, I accelerated smoothly while Beth demonstrated one of the most common mistakes we see on the road: Jumping on the gas at every light, only to hit the brakes as she caught up with the traffic ahead. Such aggressive driving isn’t going to get you home any faster, while driving smoothly can improve your mileage by 20 percent.”
3. Driving 70, not 80.
“On the highway, I drove 70, compared to Beth’s 80. Again, a 10-mph difference likely won’t add much time to your daily commute, but it will save you up to four miles per gallon on the highway.”
4. Use cruise control
“I tried to maintain a constant speed during our drive, while Beth’s fluctuated with traffic. Try using cruise control when possible, and maintaining a constant speed over time, which is much more efficient than speeding up and slowing down over and over again.”
5. Roll up the windows
“One of the most common questions we get is ‘Is it better to drive with the A/C on, or off?’ At slower speeds, turning off the air conditioning can save you a little, but I always roll up the windows on the highway. Beth was driving with her windows down, and the increased air pressure acted like a parachute trying to slow her down – consuming much more energy than air conditioning ever will.”
5 vehicle mistakes that hurt MPG
Here are things that contributed to Beth Nunning’s poor fuel economy:
1. Low tire pressure
“All four tires on my car were five pounds under their recommended air pressure. That’s not enough to change how the Cruze drives, but it does make the engine work much harder to turn the wheels. Check your tires at least once a month, as a tire that is 10 pounds under pressure can cut your fuel efficiency by more than 3 percent.” Find out more here: Essential auto maintenance: 14 musts for any car owner
2. Using roof ornaments
“To show support for my Detroit Tigers, I put up window flags on my Cruze for every home game. But, when the boys hit the road, the flags will come down. At highway speeds, up to a third of your fuel is used to overcome wind resistance, so even small changes to your vehicle’s aerodynamics will have a big impact in fuel economy.
3. Carrying extra junk in the trunk
“I had six bags of water-softener salt in the trunk I bought on sale at the hardware store. But, according to EPA estimates, every 100 pounds of weight can reduce fuel economy by 2 percent. While I saved at the checkout, that 240 pounds of salt added almost 5 percent to my fuel costs for the trip.”
4. Ignoring the “check engine” light
“I called OnStar to run a remote diagnostics check on my Cruze, because the check engine light was on. Turns out the light was on because the gas cap was loose. But, more serious engine problems can cut your fuel economy by up to 40 percent.”
5. Not bundling errands
“An engine at operating temperature is up to 50 percent more efficient than a cold engine. So, when possible, it’s much better to run five errands in an afternoon, than running one errand every day of the week.