Talking Trucks Tuesday: Slow Down to Improve MPG

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By G.R. Whale

Readers of a certain vintage will remember fantabulous devices that promised double-digit (on a percentage basis) improvements in fuel economy. Said devices cost from $19.95 to just less than $500. We even tested a few, including the infamous engine fuel ionizer and a set of gasoline magnets, though I could never identify any magnetic components in gasoline, nor could my chemical engineering friends. Not one of these devices ever lived up to their promises.

Still, everybody wants better fuel economy from their work or play pickups; that's why those questionable mileage-improving gizmos got any attention at all. Even if you have the biggest, baddest pickup on the block, a little extra range can't hurt. Manufacturers know this and — regardless of federal regulations — have discovered several ways to improve a new truck's fuel economy. Among them: aerodynamic profiles, more transmission gears and cylinders that shut off. However, all these features cost a good deal of money.

We have a suggestion for reliably improving fuel economy and it will only cost you a little time: Just slow down.

Yeah, I don't like it either but it's a foolproof method that works. The bigger and older the truck, the better the results: A steady 46 to 48 mph on public roads has netted me the best mpg numbers from my pickup.

What's your best method for improving fuel consumption? Maybe you add 5 more pounds of tire pressure? Maybe you take out the toolbox for long road trips? Ever tried a cold air induction system? Or maybe you don't let your lead-foot spouse drive the V-8 at all. Let us know what you do and how well it works, and we'll pass it along. graphic by Paul Dolan; Image by Angela Conners



I don't do anything to try to save fuel, if I wanted to save fuel I would have bought a Prius!

Here is a website that can help, over 100 proven tips to help fuel economy

The problem is that there are not any 4X4 4 cylinder compact pickup trucks out there on the market any more. The manufactures went to midsize so they could pack these trucks with extra features to sell to the public for more profit. I used to be able to park a compact pickup in my garage before the midsize pickups began making the scene around 2004. The fuel efficient 4 cylinder engines have been passed so the 4X4's have more power. The compact pickup(200 inches or less) has become a thing of the past. You used to able to get decent fuel economy and a truck that you could use to get things done around your home a ting of the past.

I retired and stopped commuting to work.

When it's the weekend I take it slow. When I'm working I got things to do, places I gotta be at. FE is not my priority at work.

You know the crew just standing around. Foreman on the phone like I need those 2 giant 5 thousand gallon water tanks and the skidsteer here NOW! FE is not a priority. Time is money.

I work at Jimmy Johns, slow is against work policy. lol

Diablo tune

Atleast get a better readout on the trucks computer. Dont care enough to confirm it.

Best method might be highway tires. But they are not robust if they are light weight and fuel efficient. Not worth the trade off to me. The bridgestone dueller HT's that came on my truck had fantastic fuel mileage but got holes all the time. Even a puntured sidewall in one of them in the woods. If your in the city though might not be too bad.

I saved 20,000 Cad on 1 and 1/2 year preowned fully loaded truck. Those money I saved got me a gasoline for 5 years of driving, so I drive, like I stole it.

Yes, slow down and put down your cell phone.

Lol! to the comments on a midsize truck. Fact is newer full size trucks are getting better real world fuel economy than the old midsizes ever did while being 10x more capable.

The problem is that we measure fuel economy the wrong way for ordinary folks.

MPG is irrelevant. Who cares?

What is important to me is not miles-per-gallon but dollars-per-month (DPM) in total vehicle costs.

So, if I want to save on DPM, here are some tips:
1) Don't drive the bloody thing: walk;
2) When driving, go 5-10 MPH under the limit;
3) Use good gas for longterm vehicle "health" (I use Shell V-Power. You don't like it? Try the cost of replacing injectors.)
4) Use a tonneau cover instead of an open bed;
5) Don't "goose it" to pass slower drivers, if there are any;
6) Use summer tires for summer, and winter tires for winter (my over-sized Blizzaks cost me 1.5-2.0 MPG!);
7) Don't let the engine idle for warm-ups beyond a minute: just drive off slowing, because other components need to warm up too by vehicle motion (e.g, wheel-bearing grease).
8) Don't carry much extra weight for snow traction: just a couple bags of sand, wood pellets, or lumber BEHIND the rear wheels should do it: no more than 500 lbs, so as not to get a tail-heavy situation. I use about 300 lbs.)

Just somethings I do. I, sure other shave found other methods...


Its not so much that slowing down helps, its being smooth that really does it.

Dont leave every stop light like you are Vin Diesel living your life 1/4mile at a time or tailgating and weaving in and out of traffic just to run up on the next line of slow moving cars. Its the hurry up and wait of jack-rabbiting between red-lights or leapfrogging between groups of slow moving cars in traffic that kills fuel economy more than a specific speed. If you roll away from stops and try and spend as much time cruising at a constant speed as possible, smooth out your inputs and leave space in traffic so you arent constantly accelerating and stopping.

I've spent the last two weeks driving a lot more smoothly on my way to work and noticed two things, I added at most a couple minutes to my door to door time, and gained about 1.5MPG in my 2010 5.4l F150 (6 speed auto). That engine has gobs of low end/midrange torque and loves lugging around at 1600-1800rpm if I let it.

Yes all other things being equal, driving any speed above 65 starts to have a significant impact on fuel economy. My diesel Jetta (RIP cheatermobile) would drop from 45MPG at 65MPH to 39 if I held speed above 75MPH for any long period of time, but someone could probably get a good deal better mileage cruising with a light foot and keeping space to the cars ahead at 70MPH than someone who averages 65MPH but treats every on ramp as a drag strip and spends their time in traffic switching lanes and running up on the cars in front only to have to slam on the brakes and then dart into the next lane etc etc etc.

Wow - extremely insightful information here. Slowing down saves gas!

PUTC - Quit wasting your time on crap like this. Post regular reviews and comparisons of trucks and clean up the message boards. This site is pathetic now. Always behind the times.

It was the best under Levine. Terrible now.

I don't mind driving slow. The problem is, most other people drive fast. Therefore, it is safer to drive fast. More than a 5mph differential between vehicles, and you are asking for an accident, especially with everyone looking at their phone instead of the slow vehicle in front of them.

Speed doesn't kill. Speed differential kills.

Back in the day, I had the (dis)pleasure of driving under the national 55mph speed limit. On longer trips, my big heavy Charger with 400-4v big block engine would get 23-24mpg. My dad's '84 Chevy Truck with non-turbo 6.2L diesel would get 28mpg (and do it v-e-r-y slowly). My brother's '83 Isuzu diesel P'up got 49mpg.

Great post, Mr. Whale. In addition, to slowing down, you can waste less energy by simply turning your thermostat down to 65 degrees in the day and down to 55 degrees at night.

Put on a sweater to keep warm.

The energy shortage is real and we must learn to live more thriftily, use less gas, and drive smaller trucks like the Honda Ridgeline.

There are some very good lease deals on compact cars that everyone should check out.

We are in an energy crisis.

Jimmy Carter would be proud of PUTC. Oh yeah.

The hardest way to improve mpg is to admit that you need to change your driving habits.
I've read up on hypermiling and ironically, most of those driving tips are the same as winter driving.
- think well ahead.
- Smooth steady throttle input.
- Smooth steady turns.
- Smooth steady deceleration. Avoid braking if possible.
- Gradually build momentum for hills.
- Slow down well before traffic lights and try to hit them green.
- Don't drive too fast.

I find that my best mpg is around 55 mph. The problem is that no one drives that fast even when that was the speed limit. You must take that into consideration and try not to be a hindrance to other traffic. I'm 500 plus miles from freeways so I rarely ever have posted speed limits higher than 100 kph (62.5 mph)

My best mpg on 2 separate occasions is 20.5/20.4 mpg (USA gallon)over 500 miles through the mountains. In town, I've been anywhere from 12 - 15 mpg (USA gallon). Those number were under dry conditions in spring weather.

devilsadvocate - agreed. I can usually exceed the USA EPA 14/18 of my truck. Canada just changed their ratings to a more realistic mpg. If I hypermile I can get close to the *older" Canadian ratings. That would be an unrealistic 21.6 mpg for my truck. If I purchased "highway" or high mpg tires, I probably could hit those numbers.

This is my first and last post on this site. I have been a casual observer and consumer of this site for years and this "story" shows me just how useless it has become. I have to agree with the comments from "duh" above. PTCU has become a complete joke with ridiculous stories like this. I purchase trucks for their function, purpose and durability. I could care less what the fuel economy #'s are. When adjusted for inflation.......I find the price for a gallon of fuel to actually be a bargain and it sure beats walking. I have 3 Chevrolet's in my fleet and I miss the power and performance of the old 8.1L big block engines. Wish Chevy offered a larger alternative to the 6.0L gas engine in the HD's as the ownership costs associated with the Duramax don't work for me.

Great post, Mr. Whale. In addition, to slowing down, you can waste less energy by simply turning your thermostat down to 65 degrees in the day and down to 55 degrees at night.

Put on a sweater to keep warm.

The energy shortage is real and we must learn to live more thriftily, use less gas, and drive smaller trucks like the Honda Ridgeline.

We are in an energy crisis.

Jimmy Carter would be proud of PUTC. Oh yeah.
Posted by: Jeff S. | Mar
There never was energy crisis its Big Oil propaganda to raise cost of fuel!

Every hour Earth receives as much energy from the Sun we use in a year,,
Go electric..
I use cheap natural gas to heat my house so can walk around nude!P

I need full size truck so bought one with smalest 4.8 V8 and lowest rear end ratio gears,,get 26 mpg even with simple 4 speed tranny..
Life is good

Best method for improving fuel consumption! Hahahaha! Get a life people! Gas is $1.99 a gallon so I'm fine with the gas mileage on my 2009 Toyota Tacoma 4x4..
I do not have hemp sandals, don't eat tofu sandwiches, and don't own a hybrid. Not trying to save the world's oil supply!
Enjoy your trucks people and live a little!

I think every truck has it's sweet spot and you just have to find it. For my truck it's between 50-55mph. I've also discovered that adding a half quart of Lucas Oil to my oil change and then adding injector cleaner to the gas also increases mileage for me.

the internal combustion engine has reached it's limit of efficiency back in the late 1940's and 50's
yes, there have been some "improvements" since then but the basic operation of the engine is still there.
The internal combustion engine IS NOT efficient but we are stuck with it.
Just some basics: The engine has to be built strong and heavy for it to handle the violent action going on inside the engine.
We tend to forget it takes a lot of engine power just to move the parts around just inside the engine where the "leftovers" of that power is to turn the wheels on the vehicle.
So much engine power is lost before it hits the wheels!

not sure why we talk about fuel economy in trucks....its a truck. I save fuel by not driving the diesel to work, and instead drive the Hybrid car and get 40mpg

There are 2 ways to solve ones issues with fuel. Either burn less or make enough money you don't care. Burning less can mean anything from NEVER drive/don't even own a internal combustion engine to sometimes I don't floor it and EVERYTHING in between.

If you're SEIROUS about fuel economy FORGET about driving a truck. Drive a car made to get mpg.

If you MUST drive a truck because you work... really work not just move your butt and a few small items from place to place I mean really work with like real cargo and trailers and rough terrain damn near ALL the time then get your foot off the gas and use the cruise as much as possible.

If you are just driving a truck because you like it, wanna ride high, 3 times a year something goes in the bed, because that's who you are, then "caring" about mpg is just nonsense and stop pretending like you do care about mpg since your choices prove you really don't.

If you really want to get the best fuel economy out of any vehicle proper maintenance and drive conservatively. Keep you tires inflated at proper levels, clean air filter, and give your vehicle a proper tuneup. Keep your distance from the vehicles ahead of you and let up on the gas when you see the traffic light change, don't do jackrabbit starts from a dead stop, and maintain a steady speed on the highway. These things are not only good for mpgs but for having more trouble free miles.

I managed 19.5mpg in a 1990 F-150 with 5.0L EFI V8 on the highway. How? By setting the cruise control to 62mph despite the fact that the speed limit was 65 and the average traffic was 70.

@Road Whale--I managed in 1973 to get 22 mpg out of a 64 Chevy Impala station wagon with a 327 4 barrel doing 50 mph during the Arab Oil Embargo Driving 50 mph without kicking the 4 barrel Rochester 4 barrel into all 4 barrels. It can be done but without an Embargo or higher fuel prices there is not a lot of incentive to go slower. That 327 would really go fast but the gas mileage would go down if you kicked all 4 barrels in. I loved that engine.

Jeff S - my 1968 Galaxie 500 with factory high performance 390 (10.5/1 compression ratio, dual exhaust, 4 barrel) would get 20 mpg (US gallon) highway if you stayed out of the 4 barrel and kept at 65 mph or less.
My significantly bigger F150 SuperCrew 4x4 with 5.4 will get 20.4 mpg (US gallon) if I stick around 60 mph.

As much as I loved that '68 Ford, I don't pine away for technology of that era and I love seeing mpg improvements.


I had a 1964 Mercury with a similar drivetrain (assuming your 68 had the 3 speed auto that most did) and the best I ever got with it was 20 mpg and that was hypermiling at no faster than 55 mph.

Modern Ford F150s have an overdrive top gear, but your Galaxie was strictly a 1:1 ratio in high. The 20 mpg you cited in the old Ford is bordering on hard to believe (65mph). The 390 high performance package in factory trim back then would have been equipped with a lower rear gear too.

@Lou--I did not intend to imply that I pine away for old technology. What I was saying was that the 327 was a great engine for its time and I enjoyed its performance. You don't have to desire the past to have some memories of it. I also liked the 440 my brother had in a Dodge Polara but that does not mean that I want to drive one day to day. I enjoy looking at Jay Leno's site and respect him restoring some of these rare vehicles but I do not want to own one nor do I have room to store one. Do you have any fond memories of either your first vehicle or one that you enjoyed driving? If so does that mean you want to own it? I don't want GM to bring back Power Glide transmission or 4 barrel carburetor. I haven't even owned a V-8 powered vehicle in over 15 years nor do I intend to own one but I enjoyed them. Should I just say that I never enjoyed or don't have fond memories of the vehicles of the past? The one thing I do miss is the vehicles years ago had much better styling but because of safety concerns we are all faced with a future of vehicles with much less styling and individuality.

My only point is that safer driving tends to deliver better fuel mileage, which is what the article is all about.

19.5mpg in a 1990 F-150 with 5.0L EFI V8 on the highway. How? By setting the cruise control to 62mph despite the fact that the speed limit was 65 and the average traffic was 70.


This anecdote exactly illustrates what I've been saying for a long time---namely that these sorts of FE improvements are highly incremental.

We used to think that 20 mpg was amazing mileage for a half ton truck, but Detroit simply had to put in OD auto transmissions and EFI to achieve it. Now our trucks have variable valve timing (or similar) and other internal gadgetry to add maybe 10 percent better FE... but nothing is free.

True nothing is free but the efficiency of today's vehicles is much better along with increased reliability.

True nothing is free but the efficiency of today's vehicles is much better

@Jeff S

You missed my whole point Jeff!

I simply said in so many words that nearly all of the gains in FE for internal combustion engines has already been achieved. When I say that Nothing Is Free, I mean that improvements in this regard cost increasing more, and do increasingly LESS.

Even without considering the historically LOW pump fuel prices today, the advantages of investing billions in systems that are impractical and technologically obtuse only makes things worse.

@ Jeff S

Stop trying to sound like you know about a subject you know nothing about. papajim is much more educated than you. Sit back and read and you might learn a thing or two.

@papa jim--Is anything free? Many of the improvements in fuel efficiency happened over years which includes fuel injection. Fuel injection has been around before there were fuel and safety standards. Papa do you think low pump prices will last forever? You need to look at the past to know that there have been many periods of ups and downs with supply going up and then down and prices following the shifts in demands. We will eventually go back to lower supplies and higher prices and then back to higher supplies and lower prices. This is something I do know about since I have worked in the oil industry for years and even experienced this myself. Do you honestly think that because we have had a change in the Presidency that things will never change? Presidents come and go and the same is true with which political party has the majority. Unless the US has a life time dictator we will always experience a shift in leadership.

Papa do you propose that no new technology be developed? Did you know that in the turn of the last century that there were those who proposed that the US Patent Office should be closed since there could not possibly be anything new being invented. Did I ever propose that the Government spend billions on technology? Much of the investment in technology such as the micro chip, computers, and the internet has been because of Government grants but much has happened despite Government investment. If you are so anti-technology then why are you on the internet using a computer? Do you know much of the computer technology and even the internet was developed for our military? Do you think computer technology came without spending a lot of money. Why did Kettering invent the self starter, wasn't the crank just as good? Why were tubeless tires invented, you could always patch an inter tube which is less expensive? Why was the alternator invented, wasn't a generator less expensive and wasn't it good enough? Why spend millions of dollars on developing life saving prescriptions--when you die you die? There is a cost to everything and much is spent on technology that will never become viable but how do you know what will become useful until it is developed. Much of the technology we have would have never been developed any further if someone did not take the time and effort to develop it. The automobile itself was originally only for the wealthly and was not very practical. It took Henry Ford with mass production using the assembly line to bring the automobile to the masses. Henry Ford was not the first to use an assembly line to make an automobile--that was Ransom Olds but according to your philosophy Olds wasted money on the assembly line and many thought that a horse was more practical and less expensive than a horseless carriage.

@James--I never stated that I know more than anyone else. Maybe you need to sit back and read.

@Jeff S

I'll stand on the earlier statement about the diminishing returns to be expected from greater investments in FE. I'm not the only one who's said this.

@papa jim--Do you know for certain that no other technologies in propulsion will not be developed? Is the internal combustion engine the last feasible form of propulsion that will ever be developed? How do you know for sure that no other technology will be developed in the future? A little more than 100 years ago many would not have envisioned that people would be driving motorized vehicles with a system of highways that expands from coast to coast. I believe we will have internal combustion engines for a while but for how long I do not know. True any incremental improvements with the internal combustion engine will not come cheap but many improvements will happen anyway regardless of your or my opinions. A lot of technology will happen long after you and I are gone and I guarantee it will not come without expending effort and expense. I wish I knew what the latest greatest technology that will revolutionize out lives because I would invest in it but I don't have a crystal ball.

@papa jim--I have never said that there is not a law of diminishing returns. That law is always true when a technology has reached its peak but then another technology will come along to replace that technology and the cycle repeats itself. There is probably a few more things that can been done to the internal combustion engine but most of the low hanging fruit has already been discovered and used. I believe the same is true with the number of speeds in an automatic transmission. How many more speeds/gears will be developed before the law of diminishing returns is fully reached. Is the next big step to develop more reliable and dependable CVT transmissions that will still be affordable and perform better. CVTs are much less expensive to produce than the multi gear transmissions but they are not as reliable. Can a more efficient and more reliable CVT transmission be developed that is still cost effective to make? I am sure that is a question that automobile engineers are asking and working on. How long should the engine and transmission last? Even if a little more can be spent to develop a drive train and a vehicle that will last indefinitely do the manufacturers really want to make one? Don't the manufacturers at some point want you to buy a new vehicle. the life cycle, cost to develop and produce, and the practicality of spending large sums of money to develop more efficient and safer vehicles are all considerations. Can we really make a vehicle so safe that no one ever dies or gets hurt? Is it feasible to try to make a vehicle as such since you cannot protect a fool from him or her selves.

@ papajim - my car has absurdly tall gearing.

@JeffS - I wasn't saying that you were pining away for old technology. To hear some of the posters, they want to go back to the "good ol'" days of single digit mpg dinosaurs.

@papajim - My 1990 F250 with 5.0 (195 hp), 5 speed manual and 3.55 gears could only manage around 16 mpg at best.
My current 5.4 (310 hp) 6 speed auto, 3.55 gears at best is 20.4 mpg (US).
If one uses an inflation calculator, my plain jane 1990 F250 would be around $41,000 in 2017. I looked at the Ford Canada web site and Lo and Behold, a 2017 base model XL with 6.2 and automatic is 41,300.

@Lou-Ok. I remember those Ford Galaxy 500s, I always liked those especially the 63 with the bucket seats and console that had the hard top that looked like a convertible top (solid steel top with creases in it). When I was growing up I remember a neighbor who had a 4 door 63 Ford Galaxy 500 hardtop with the bucket seats and console with the convertible like top--what a cool car.

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