Improving Fuel Economy of Your Pickup

You didn’t buy your truck for its excellent fuel economy. It’s a workhorse, towing champ, off-roading beast…anything but a gas sipper. If you wanted to burn less gas, you’d have bought a moped, right?

Improving Fuel Economy

Still, there’s no good reason to dish out any more money than you have to at the gas pump. Slight changes in the way you drive, maintain, and modify your truck can help you conserve fuel and save money. Here’s a collection of fuel savings tips for truck owners, most of which don’t cost much money.

Stay Up on Maintenance

When your truck is running like it should, it will use less fuel. Clean, fresh oil reduces friction loses, especially synthetic oil. Properly functioning spark plugs and spark plug wires ensure optimum combustion, as does the occasional dose of fuel injector cleaner. Transmission services (assuming your owner’s manual recommends them), fuel filters, and air filters can all impact fuel economy too.

Improving Fuel Economy

Bonus Tip: For less than the cost of a decent dinner, you can get a K&N performance air filter to drop into your truck’s stock air box. These filters have been shown to improve truck fuel economy in numerous tests, while also improving throttle response. Suffice it to say, neglecting your truck’s maintenance is going to cost you fuel in the short run, and perhaps a lot more in the long run. Those are two great reasons to stay on top of it.

Watch Your Tires

Tire problems can single-handedly reduce truck fuel economy as much as 3%, and most people don’t even realize it. Worn or improperly inflated tires will create drag on your vehicle (especially at highway speeds), and you’ll suffer at the pump because of it. Inflating your tires to the specifications in the manual – and then keeping tire pressure at that same PSI – will minimize tire friction, which in turn boosts fuel economy. Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your tire tread. If it’s wearing unevenly (either wearing more quickly on the outside than the inside, or wearing more on one side than the other), you may not be using the right pressure. You could also have an alignment problem. Finally, off-road tires can cost you 1-2 miles per gallon in fuel efficiency. If, for example, you put a lift kit on your truck and install a big old set of 35″ tires, you’re not going to see fuel economy improve. While that’s okay for a lot of folks – including myself – it’s good to be aware of the impact a rugged tire can have on fuel economy.

Improve the Aerodynamics

Often times with trucks, we add things that ruin the aerodynamics. Certain accessories and roof racks can kill your fuel economy, but then again, sometimes we need those things for work. Some helpful aerodynamic tips:

  • Choose your exterior truck add-ons wisely. Ladder racks, bike racks, grille guards, mud flaps, lift kits…all of these accessories have a negative impact on aerodynamics. While the impact is usually small, in aggregate they can hurt your fuel economy (especially on the highway)

Improving Fuel Economy

  • Sometimes tonneau covers can helpSpeaking of highway driving, a quality tonneau cover can pay for itself if you spend a lot of time driving at highway speeds.
  • Shorten your mirrors. If your truck has extendable trailer towing mirrors, it’s a good idea to extend them only when you really need them. If you have them pulled out all the way all the time, you’re wasting some gas.
  • Skip the tailgate replacement. While there are some good reasons to replace your truck’s tailgate with a net, fuel economy isn’t one of them. Numerous studies have shown that your solid metal tailgate is more aerodynamic than a net (go figure). Oh, and keep your tailgate closed. It’s been proven time and time again that keeping your tailgate up is the best position to maximize economy.

Hold Steady While Driving

Constant accelerating and braking will reduce your fuel economy. If you have a modern truck, your cruise control is probably sophisticated enough to use for maintaining a consistent speed with constant braking and acceleration — older vehicles, not so much. Start off slowly and assess the driving conditions ahead. If you’re approaching traffic, hit the right hand land and just cruise towards it. If the road ahead is clear, accelerate slowly until you reach your cruising speed and hold it there. Also, don’t speed — your truck will consume more gas at higher speeds.

Park it if You’re Sitting Still

If you’re idling without moving, you’re wasting fuel. While it doesn’t make sense to shut off your engine for a short idle period (say, as long as you sit at a typical red light), most people agree that an idling time longer than 1-2 minutes justifies shutting off and re-starting your engine. Also, contrary to popular belief, stopping and starting your truck’s engine isn’t going to hurt anything. Your starter is designed to last your vehicle’s lifetime, and your battery can handle the starts. Modern engines are also treated with a special coating to avoid scuffing or damage during start-up.

NOTE: If you’ve got a diesel, it’s not necessarily a good idea to kill your engine for idling times less than a couple of minutes. Diesels are much more efficient at idle than gas engines, and they can require considerable power to start-up. Consult your truck’s manual to see how long you should let your diesel idle before shutting it down.

Organize Your Life

You’d be surprised how much gas gets burned up when you run to the bank, head home, go back out for groceries, bring them back to the house, then venture out for dinner. Putting a little forethought into your travels and your truck will use less gas overall. What’s more, removing all the “stuff” you’re hauling around in your truck that you don’t actually need can save weight…and weight savings equal gas savings. Every 100 pounds can reduce economy by as much as 2%, so rethink that stack of books, those extra tools you don’t use, that bag of sand you don’t need during the summer months, etc.

Image Credits: Flickr & Wikipedia

A self-described “car nerd,” Jason is a automotive columnist who has written for the eBay Motors blog, Motor Car Digest, as well as his own sites TundraHeadquarters.com and AccurateAutoAdvice. With an engineering degree, a full-time job in the automotive parts industry, and a decade of experience working in auto dealerships, Jason brings an interesting perspective on all things automotive.

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