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Hooniverse Asks Bonus: What’s the Most Absurd Thing You’ve Done to Improve Fuel Economy?

Robby DeGraff March 19, 2014 Hooniverse Asks 57 Comments


I recently went on a few hour-long drives with one of my great friends behind the wheel. Mark’s early 2000s Ford Focus, off the lot was a bit of a fuel-sipper, but that didn’t stop him from hyper-milling even more. With a quick flick motion of the windshield wiper stalk, he goofily locked the car’s  windshield wipers in the up position while on the highway. “Dude isn’t it hard to see with the wipers stuck in front of your face?” I laughingly asked, he turned to me and responded “Better gas mileage, less drag.” Oh lordy.

We all have our tricks of the trade when it comes to efficiently maximizing those precious gallons of go-go juice in our vehicles. Some don’t use the air conditioning at all on hot days, some keep their car free of any trash or extra weight in the passenger area. Others remove front license plates, buy flush ‘aerodynamic’ hubcaps or alloy wheels to keen back on wind resistance. Maybe it’s accelerating at a crawling pace from a green light, barely using the brakes as you coast through traffic or just shutting the car off  completely every time you come to a full stop. I’ve heard stories of people using special spark plugs, stupid gizmos that plug into your cigarette lighter and sync with apps on your smart phone…. and don’t even get me started on the Tornado

Years ago when I proudly owned a cheap, eighteen year-old Saturn SL1, aka the slowest machine on Earth, I routinely achieved very high 30s and sometimes close to 50mpg in daily driving. That 1.9-liter made no power whatsoever but gosh it was a fuel-sipper. Mine had a horrendous, horrendous four-speed automatic transmission that was acted more confused than a Kardashian trying to figure out to tie their own shoes. At times where the ‘little Saturn that could’ should be in fourth gear, I’d still be hanging up in the high RPMs of third. Most noticeably was exiting the highway down a long off ramp. I remember every morning on my way to work, tapping the shifter into neutral as I coasted down from 55mph to the next red light. Maybe my SL1 just didn’t feel like shifting into 4th at 5:40am. It worked wonders and my RPMs dropped to a much-appreciated, much more realistic low. Did this ridiculous action pay off in mileage gains? I think so. 

What absurd tactics or strategies do you abide by to squeeze a few more miles out of your car’s fuel tank?


  • cruisintime

    Grouped my errands and do them all in one loop through town.
    No running out for this or that
    Make a list , then take care of it.

    • With all right hand turns.

      • Irishzombieman☆

        And drive-thru windows.

        • Tiller188

          But only if the average time spent idling along in a particular drivethrough is less than the amount of idle time equivalent to restarting the engine.

          • Sjalabais

            Idle? Up on the driveway, engine turn off, roll by the mic and quickspeak your order, roll on to window, receive order, start the engine again before car stops. Keep that relaxed-face-mask on at all times.

  • wisc47

    I removed the sun visors to save weight.

    Actually, they just bothered the piss out of me when the top was down.

    • Vairship

      Heh, I use the sun visors as wind deflectors as the top of the windshield is at forehead height.

  • Used 6th gear back when I had my 94 Corvette.

  • JayP2112

    I took the tailgate off the truck.
    Then everyone would ask- where's your tailgate?
    I left it at home, maybe get another MPG.
    Then- Mythbusters busted that myth.
    I come back- that's 50 lbs I'm not hauling.

  • I_Borgward

    I ruthlessly tore all of the inoperable crap out of my '81 245 GLT for better MPG. It needed a lot of love after I bought it, so it lived in the garage for about three months. While it was there I put it on a diet, removing the entire AC system, rear wiper, power door locks, cruise control, etc. Sound deadening under the carpets, out. Massive trailer hitch assembly, off. I also swapped out the nasty dried and split leather seats and noted that the cloth replacements weighed considerably less. I estimate that I took at least 200 pounds off of the car, maybe more (it would have been nice to weigh it before and after just to know). Not particularly absurd, but definitely obsessive!

    • Sjalabais

      Did you go racing with it? I once got 50 mpg out of a '77 242 DL over 250km. On ice, in the winter, in the mountains. Easy on the slopes, coasting a lot of the time. Surprised face.

      • I_Borgward

        No racing, just a nice daily driver. Non-turbo with a turbo exhaust, peppy enough in town but a slug at higher speeds. It does 24 MPG pretty consistently around town, slightly better on the highway.

        My '82 244 has the B21F-MPG motor, which, while maligned by purists, actually works as advertised, it does 28-30 MPG highway, and once got 35 MPG (flat ground, 50 MPH for several hours).

        Was that a carbureted, non-smog 242? That would be exceptional mileage for most any petrol-powered car.

        • Sjalabais

          Indeed, a carburated 2.3. But, as I said, it was in the mountains, on ice, with studs. Mostly accelerating gently, then coasting for ages. I first suspected a calculation error, checked if the fuel tank was full, and it was. The car wasn't bad at all, sometimes it got 40mpg, usually around 30-35. Speed limit in Norway is 80km/h though.

          Is the 2.1 a reliable engine? I have just recently discovered how much cheaper these are traded. I lust for another 240!

  • Mechanically Inept

    I lift off of the gas when the light ahead of me is red. That's about it.

    • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      That's just driving smart.

      Unfortunately, 99.9% of people on US roads think a pedal must be in use…AT ALL TIMES.

      No…you're doing it wrong.

      • Sjalabais

        A positive interpretation would be a nation of race car drivers. Reality is probably closer to "grandma in a Suzuki", my powerful arch enemy on the road.

  • BobWellington

    I got all terrain tires on my Explorer. Oh, wait, that removed 3 miles per each and every gallon. Whoops.

  • BonusMaximus

    Hee hee…I put two compact spares on the back of my 1992 Civic VX. Then I pumped the front tires up to 50 psi and the rears up to friggin 90. The thing got close to 60 mpg, but MAN did it handle funny.

    • Tiller188

      Had to look up what a Civic VX was…that does look like a mileage champ!

      (Also, sorry, off-topic, but…you wouldn't happen to be related to Biggus Dickus?)


      I tried something similar with the 89 CRX HF I had back in high school. It already had pizza cutters on it (sweet sweet 175/70/13s), so we just put them up to max rated pressure of 75 psi. I had already stripped most of the interior (what little there was), and it already had lowering springs on it (less flow underneath). I built a home brew front undertray out of Alumacore and put that on. Had an intake and exhaust that definitely improved mileage (I think mostly because it didn't have to work as hard to move the car) and made it not such a slug off the line. Before the mods, it was still a champ at around 30 city mpg and low 40's on the highway. With mods, I was seeing about 35 city and almost 55 highway. This was during the time period when regular was around $1.50 a gallon. I was spending less than $30 a month on fuel driving around 150 to 200 miles a week. It was glorious. These days I spend that much on fuel every 4-5 days 🙁

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    With the needle below the line beside E, I slowed below 70 MPH on a Massachusetts interstate.

    Crazy, I know, but I made it the last ~5 miles home.

    • Vairship

      And…then you realized you didn't live at a gas station? Did you run out between home and the gas station? 😉

      • FuzzyPlushroom

        Drove home, parked it overnight, started it up the next day, drove about a mile to a gas station.

        It's the only Ford I've ever encountered with a genuinely pessimistic fuel gauge. I've run it dry enough that adding a gallon barely turned off the low-fuel light.

        I try not to make a habit of this.

  • jeepjeff

    When I want good mileage, I ride my bike. It's pedal powered and I don't drink gasoline, so I get infinity miles to the gallon.

    Otherwise, I drive a gas guzzling brick. And I'm happier for it.

  • On my Saab, I over inflate the tires slightly (38PSI front and rear,) draft larger vehicles (thank you Saab for making my car so small compared to modern SUVs,) and take advantage of coasting in neutral. Manage to squeeze 31mpg average out of it, even with the slushbox. I bet if I deleted the headlight wipers and rear wing, and put some cheap all-seasons on it, I'd get ~35.

  • <img src="http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3550/5733681301_89a874e566.jpg&quot; width="450">

    I bought a high-mileage vehicle made by, ahem, High Mileage Vehicles. It's even equipped with the smaller of the two available gasoline engines, guaranteed by the factory to return 100 mpg at a steady 40 mph. As far as I've been able to determine, it does not.

    If an HMV Freeway is an insufficiently absurd effort towards fuel economy, I also own a Lyman Electric Quad:

    <img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8244/8520264324_ebf81bbede.jpg&quot; width="450">

    Well, actually two. Maybe they help atone for my two-strokes.

    • CherokeeOwner

      Okay, you win. Everybody go home, we can't beat Harrell.

      • crank_case

        Puts my brief 899cc Fiat Cinquecento ownership totally in the shade…

        <img src="http://i155.photobucket.com/albums/s319/crankcase75/Cinq/Picture004.jpg&quot; width="600">

        • Sjalabais

          I guess a green non-English car in Ireland gets some sort of extracurricular status points…

          • crank_case

            Haha, not at all. Never have I driven a car where it was more clear that you were the bottom of the food chain, it brings out the bully in even the meekest drivers. Still, I absolutely loved it, it's rubbish on the motorway, but there is no better city car, softly sprung so you were never worried by speed ramps or broken road surfaces. You could drive it right at the white knuckle limit and still be at legal speeds, and no matter how hard you hooned it, it still seemed to return 45mpg minimum, maybe another 3mpg if you behaved yourself. Still miss it despite having no real justification for owning one.

            • Sjalabais

              I had one of those as a rental in Greece once. In a not-so-exciting right hand turn the inner rear wheel lifted off and almost scared me to death. Still, could get used to that mileage!

    • Vairship

      Did you write a sternly worded letter about the lack of mileage to your local HMV dealer?

      • In 2010 I met Dave Edmonson, the guy who invented and manufactured the Freeway, but I forgot to mention it to him.

  • Ed Kim

    I let the low end torque, not the horsepower, do the work. From first to second gear, I upshift at about 2,000-2,200 rpm, and for the rest of the upshifts, I shift up at about 1,500-1,800 rpm. And believe it or not, I am NOT a hypermiling rolling roadblock; I fully believe in keeping up with traffic, and I do. I simply don't hang onto a gear longer than I need to. It's surprising how many manual transmission drivers shift at unnecessarily high rpms, even when they're just tootling around town. That's just pissing money away without actually going any faster.

    The car is a gasoline-powered Jetta SportWagen with the thirsty 2.5L five, rated at 22 city and 30 highway. In my LA-area driving filled with lots of heavy traffic, I typically get about 30 mpg overall – equal to the official highway rating.

    • nth256

      My car tends to lug at anything below 1500-1800 rpm, just feels so unhealthy to drive it that low.

    • Sjalabais

      My current Honda has an incredibly short translated transmission. I shift up a gear for ever 10km/h. So it lacks a sixth, seventh and eigth gear…at 80km/h the rev counter is above 3000rpms! It's a shame.

  • Sjalabais

    On my former Nissan Primera I used the brakes so little, the rear ones rusted in 0 position. Figured, braking is for transforming valuable kinetic energy into useless heat, and the Nissan had a well-functioning motor brake. Got ca 35mpg average over 25000km or so.

  • Siphon gasoline out of other vehicles.

    Seriously. I was president of the Student Mechanics' Garage at my college, and we spent funds to buy a van and fix it up. In the middle of the night we'd go and siphon gas out of the Buildings & Grounds trucks. Ran that Chevy10 for three semesters on the first fill-up.

    MPG didn't improve, but MP$ was off the charts.

  • MrDPR

    I've always figgered it was my 'murican birth right to burn all the gas I could afford. Gas mileage is relative to the purpose of the vehicle. I don't expect my F-150 to get 30 mpg, it's a pickup truck!
    Sure, keep the tires right, proper maintenance – all the filters & such, no excess weight, drive the V6 sedan rather than the straight 6 truck. I get it. Gas mileage just isn't my first consideration when looking at a vehicle.
    What's gone is the relaxing Saturday or Sunday drive, just out and about, cruising the country side. Not any more .. not at $3.50 / per!

  • Marto

    I used to have a Smart (not the terrible one all you Americans on here hate, an earlier model) and to save gas I'd put it in neutral when rolling.

    However, with it's absurd gearbox, you could only knock it back into gears 2 through 6.

    If you were going slow enough that it wanted to go into 1st, you had to come to a complete stop before it would engage.

    Sometimes, that really caught me out.

  • I Think Not

    On my latest 900+ mile KC-to-Columbus road trip (last Saturday, with the reverse coming this Sunday), a CV axle going bad spoiled the acceleration and hill climbing at any speed above 60mph. I could creep up to 65, sometimes 70, but any attempt at enthusiastic acceleration or a decent hill, and the entire driveline would shake violently.

    Upshot? That damned Odyssey was closing in on 30mpg. Now, I've spent the past 3 days of this week replacing both CVs, the hydraulic front engine mount, and for good measure, I got the glaze machined off of the front rotors at O'Reilly's. The 135k old girl drives so much better now, as those CVs have been on their way out for some time now, but I'll be averaging 80-85mpg on the return trip to KC.

    So, all that to say that the most absurd thing I've dome for fuel economy is to NOT repair my car, forcing me to drive more slowly.

    • Vairship

      80-85mpg on the return trip in an Odyssey? I Think Not! 😉

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      Actually, that's an excellent point.

      The water pump's shitting the bed in the Sable wagon I mentioned above. Obviously the answer is not to drive the car at all, but that's not an option, really. In the meantime, the needle only climbs when the engine's under serious load/at high RPM. I can't climb interstate hills at above 65 – 70 MPH anymore, and overly spirited driving in general sends it in an overheaty direction. The good news is that 70 on flat ground is just enough not to be run off the road here in metro Boston, and the car's fine in slow traffic if I put the heat on.

      Still… soon.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    Neutral while you're still rolling, with RPM over about 1,350 for most modern cars, means you're actually burning more fuel than if you merely coasted in-gear.

    Engine computers shut off the fuel with no load if RPM is over a preset level. It's a little different for every vehicle, but you can 'see' it, if you have a tach.

    Get to 2K RPM in one of the upper gears, back off, then watch the tach closely for a 'bump' between 1,200 & 1,500 RPM. You might feel it, too, if the car is old enough. I know I could both see and hear it in both the W124 & W126 Mercedes I've had. My current Northstar, the RWD one, STS masks it damned well, however.

    If you're coasting in gear above this RPM, your MPG is effectively infinite.

    The most ridiculous thing I've done is replace a vehicle. There were other issues with the '94 Jeep Grand Cherokee limited, V8 w/Quadra-Trac, but the replacement, my first and only brand-new car, a '99 Suzuki Grand Vitara, had worse problems, MPGs weren't that much better, and it was rather low-rent after the ZJ.

    My wife and I have four vehicles, total, none of which break 20 MPG unless we're trying. Well, the STS does, on summer gasoline.

    The Suzuki's ultimate replacement is a '98 Jeep ZJ 5.9L.

    Aw, yeah, baby….14 MPG…maybe.

    I reprogrammed the transmission computer in the STS so it'd shift with the converter locked, in 'manual' mode. If I keep it in '5' all the time, it'll start in 2nd, and be in 5th, converter locked, at 36 MPH. This helps a little, but I did it 'cause I wanted more control of the thing.

    • Dave

      You are correct about the computer turning off injectors in high vacuum situations, but I think whatever you are seeing on the tachometer is some function of the transmission. With my manual BMW the instant MPG gauge can only be completely pegged when you coast in gear. There is nothing to feel and no transition.

      • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

        Not transmission. I can feel it in the RX300, too, but it's really subtle.

        Watch your MPG gauge…it will start dropping at some point, that's when the engine starts running under its own power, again.

        Automakers have gotten much smoother over time. The two Mercedes I had, it was obvious, if you were paying attention. The Lexus took me a little while to nail down the point where it happens. The STS…I think I eventually felt it, but I don't remember, now.

        Strangely enough, the most rudimentary of vehicles, besides the diesel apartment (40' diesel pusher motorhome), the 5.9L ZJ…can't feel it in that beast, either, though I haven't driven it much.

        Also, there's so much slop in, well, everything, as -0- maintenance has been done to it in the 163K miles prior to my ownership, it's a shock I can feel any feedback at all.

        This happens at low RPM, and I first figured out what it was on a manual transmission trucklet, so no transmission interference, there.

        • Dave

          Ah, yes you are correct. The transition from injector off to on can be felt as you slow. The engine braking is noticeably removed when the injectors come on to even their most minimal duty cycle.

  • Battles

    I put a wine cork under the accelerator pedal on my wife's Lexus.
    Shh… she doesn't know how I "fixed" the problem.

  • Alcology

    This one is pretty crazy. I fill to half a tank rather than all the way to cut down on weight sometimes. No idea if it makes enough of a difference.

    • Sjalabais

      I feel like I'm refilling my car almost constantly already – wouldn't want to double these delays of "from A to B"-ism to save a couple of cents a week…

  • patrick

    Clipped the throttle on my 88 VW Fox wagon. Wouldn't go uphill, but got 48 MPG on the highway!

  • I bought a Prius.

  • Rolls Cannardly

    Here's the plan. Buy and install a Fish Carburetor on your engine. Get rid of all those nasty, heavy, unreliable engine electronics. Next, tape an egg to the gas pedal. That will teach you the virtue of patience and self-control. Finally, when motoring down the open road, steer with your left hand while pushing on the dashboard with your right and blowing on the windshield to further enhance your vehicle's forward momentum. 200 MPG for sure !

  • Number_Six

    Not driven my RX-8. Either it's sucking gas through a firehose or it is switched off.

  • nanoop

    I get about 75 to 100 MPG, following my strict routine:

    1. Buy a project car and put it in your garage, so that your beater is forced to park outside
    2. change the tires on the beater to worn-out ones, because those'll do for the rest of the winter
    3. Get the p-car in a non-drivable state, so that the garage is blocked
    4. Have everything dressed with 2.5ft of snow, so that you can't just change the tires back to proper ones outside, and certainly not in the occupied garage.
    5. Go by bus. Those get like 5 MPG (hey, just like a supercar!), shared among 15-20 passengers.
    6. Feel the frustration of sensibility.

  • mac350

    I bought a 4cv Renault in 1963 for $500 when I could have bought a used 57 Chevy Belair for the same amount. Gas in those days was about a $.22 a gallon for Gulf Guftane. The Renault got about 35mpg around town (San Antonio). A V8 Chevy less than half that, but the street cred was priceless. I may have saved a couple of bucks per week in gas with the Renault but I suffered peer cruelty to no end. So that was the most absurd thing I ever did to save a few pennies on gas. BTW, a used 4CV does not command near the price of a 57 Belair.

    • Vairship

      "BTW, a used 4CV does not command near the price of a 57 Belair"
      Thus proving the Rare =/ Valuable, since 57 Belairs can be found at every car show. 4CVs, not so much!