Whether it’s due to age, a change in your commute, or if your vehicle was subject to an emissions recall that neutered your mileage, we could all use some help in getting our mileage back to what we were promised, or even better if possible. We decided to put together this little guide here to help you space out those trips to the gas station a bit and save you a bit of coin along the way.
First, let’s talk a little shop on how your vehicle rolled off the assembly line
From the factory your car is tuned and optimized for a conservative balance of power, economy, reliability, and importantly here, emissions regulations. There’s also something to be said for manufacturers sandbagging a little, leaving something on the table to give them room for future improvement for an inevitable refresh in a few years, or even higher trim levels that might get a little more power. There are tons of little tricks manufacturers do like this to up sell you on packages with higher profit margin or even just to get you in the showroom in the first place.
What about driving habits?
There is a ton you can to do get better mileage if you look at how you’re operating your vehicle as a whole. Here’s a simple quick tip I give people, or maybe you could look at it as a mindset: Don’t brake.
OK, well obviously you need to brake at some point, but the key to getting better mileage is to drive as if your brakes were a last option. See, any time you brake, that just means you’re going to need to spend fuel to get back up to speed again. Coming up to a red light? Well what if you can coast your way there, and still be maintaining speed once you get there, meaning you only have to spend 1/2 the fuel getting back up to speed than you would have if you had come to a stop.
Maintaining speed is easy and cheap. Getting up to that speed is what uses the most fuel. That’s why freeway driving is so much more efficient that city driving. Apply that mindset and you’ll be surprised at how big a difference it can make.
Want to go down the rabbit hole on this? Check out these 5 Fuel Saving Myths and What You Should Do Instead.
Optimize for economy with a software tune or chip
It might sound counter-intuitive for a performance programmer to help you get better mileage, but once you dig into what these tuners are actually doing, it makes sense. First off, with the engine making more power, you can more comfortably sit in a higher gear, turning less RPMs in order to pass someone or maintain speed up a hill or something. Especially with an automatic transmission, making a bit more power means less throttle input from you, meaning the transmission’s computer is less likely to downshift, putting in higher RPMs and using more fuel.
Another way a software turn can save you fuel is through advanced ignition timing. Basically this means your spark plugs fire sooner, giving more time per piston stroke for the fuel to burn more completely. A more complete burn means more efficient use of every drop of fuel you feed your engine.
Getting back to those emissions recalls
This section is especially relevant for VW TDI owners, or our friends with the EcoDiesel Ram and Grand Cherokees found out, and who knows who else in the future. After all these emissions scandals, lawsuits, and recalls, many owners had to bring theirs cars back to the dealership to be reflashed with a more emissions friendly tune. Unfortunately that means a significant loss of power and mileage in the process. Luckily, though, the aftermarket is packed with software tuners making up for that fact, and getting you back the power and the mileage you had before, and then some.
Tune your throttle response for economy
OK, I’m with you, this one seemed weird to me at first, but throttle controllers are taking over the market right now. Basically what they do is give you control over your throttle response in just about any car that is drive by wire. Since your gas pedal is just sending a signal to your ECU, you can install one of these devices into your OBD2 port to intercept those signals and modify them how you want. This can be super aggressive for sharp throttle response if you really want all your available power ready on tap, or for our purposes here, you can dial that back for more economical driving.
So here’s the thing, some manufacturers sorta kinda build in this general functionality into their cars from the factory, that’s part of what most sport modes do, but these devices give you more control to dial your throttle as far up or down as you’d like. In economy modes, basically this makes for a more mellow driving experience. With lessened throttle sensitivity, you don’t have to be so mindful of how much throttle you’re giving, because now you would really need to put your foot into it in order to get into inefficient throttle ranges.
Oh, and don’t worry, you still have plenty of power on tap if you floor it, the eco-modes are just a tool to help you get what you need out of your vehicle at any given time. More choice here is never a bad thing.