Even if you hate doing math, it’s easy to check the real-world gas mileage of your car or truck. If you’ve avoided learning how to calculate gas mileage for fear of complex equations, fear not — anyone can do this. Plus, there are several benefits to watching your vehicle’s exact mpg.
First and foremost, knowing is half the battle. While it can be all too easy to assume your vehicle gets 30-something mpg — or whatever the sticker said when you bought the car — regularly calculating gas mileage is the best way to know how your vehicle is really performing versus what it could achieve. Furthermore, observing how mpg changes over time will give you a better understanding of positive and negative influences on gas mileage, which will make it easier to change your driving habits and thus save money on gas.
Next, think of regularly checking your vehicle’s mpg as akin to listening to it with a stethoscope. Sustained declines in gas mileage without obvious explanations (driving habits, frequent use of air conditioning, etc.) might point to a maintenance need that could become an expensive problem if left untreated.
Here are the steps to check gas mileage:
1. Fill up your vehicle’s gas tank. But know that it’s not worth topping off after the pump nozzle quits. Doing so can be bad for the environment and waste your money. Pumping in too much “extra” gas can lead to spills or even damage your vehicle’s vapor collection system, which captures harmful and polluting vapors before they can escape into the atmosphere. (Learn more in Don’t Top Off Your Gas Tank!.)
2. Reset your car’s trip meter to zero. Now you’re on the gas mileage clock.
3. Get a true test by burning at least half of your tank, then refill.
4. Write down the number of gallons it took to fill your tank and the number of miles on your trip meter. A payment receipt is an easy place to do this; it probably will already have the number of gallons printed on it.
5. Divide the trip meter miles by the gallons of gas. Bingo — that’s your gas mileage. For example: 293.1 miles ÷ 8.374 gallons = 35 mpg. (See how to calculate gas mileage with this easy formula in the Image Gallery.)
6. Reset your trip meter to zero before you drive away so you can calculate the mpg of the next tank. Start your car, and you’re back on the gas mileage clock.
If you’re a gas mileage geek like me, you’ll check mpg after every fill-up, but doing so even just once a month will give you real-world data that can help you identify trends and save money on gas. To record the numbers, you could keep a small notebook in your car or use an app on your smartphone. Even if your car keeps mpg history for you, it’s a good idea to manually check it every so often to confirm the computer’s accuracy. Think of this as a personal challenge. Can you beat last month’s average mpg? Can you beat the official fuel economy estimate for your car? For tips to maximize mpg, read How to Get Better Gas Mileage.
John Rockhold is a green car enthusiast and Contributing Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find him on Google+.