The Easy Way to Get Better MPG in Winter Driving

If you want the best fuel economy you can get in a car, hybrids and electric vehicles are the obvious answer. These vehicles showcase the most efficient technology available. However, you pay a price for the technology. In the case of a Lexus GS hybrid, you’ll find yourself throwing down $10,000 extra for 10 mpg more when you drive.

That’s a lot of cash for better fuel economy, and it would take many years of driving to see a return on that investment. For most people, it doesn’t make sense. Still, everyone should be aware of the effects cold weather has on a car’s engine. According to U.S. Department of Energy, your economy can dip as much as 22% for short trips during winter months.

You don’t need an electric car or a complex way of driving to do better than that. To prove the point, we looked at research done by General Motors (as well as Consumer Reports and the EPA) on getting good mileage in the coldest months. Here are the easy ways to get better mpg this winter.

1. Don’t ‘warm the car up’

2017 Volvo XC90 | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

In its list of fuel economy myths, Consumer Reports puts this idea near the top. Today’s vehicles no longer use carburetors and chokes, making the old system of warming up your ride unnecessary. Your car’s engine will achieve maximum efficiency when it runs at its normal temperature, and there’s an easy way to reach that mark: Just drive.

2. Unpack the skis and camping gear

2017 Chrysler Pacifica | Chrysler

Who among us hasn’t left some heavy goods in the car after a long trip? It’s sort of like that suitcase that takes a few days to unpack, but in this case, you’ll waste gas leaving skis or camping equipment in the back. According to research by Buick, an additional 250 lbs. can reduce fuel economy by 2%. The more stuff you leave in the car, the higher that number goes.

3. Always use the garage

Two wooden car garage

Two wooden car garage | Marcin Leszczuk/iStock/Getty Images

The idea of warming up your car will never cross your mind if you keep it in the garage. When you start out with a cabin temperature higher than it would be outside, you minimize the energy you would use heating and defrosting the car. As a result, you get better mpg in your travels. Even if you’re home for a short time, make the effort to put the car inside the garage.

4. Going fast without flying

2017 Mercedes-Maybach S600 | Mercedes-Benz

This tip applies to all months. In GM’s testing, cars that averaged 80 miles per hour consumed 4 mpg more than the same car going 70. So speed is a bit of a luxury if you want to think of it that way. With speeding tickets costing you hundreds of dollars on average, you could pay in several different ways for flying down the highway.

5. Let technology work for you

2017 Infiniti QX60 AWD | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The sudden stopping and starting you do in city traffic and even highway driving will burn gas faster than you need. If you let your car’s adaptive cruise control work for you, you’ll get much greater efficiency. This feature, available in late-model vehicles, speeds up and slows down the vehicle far smoother than any lead-footed driver.

6. Keep the roof clear

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

If you’re used to putting the surfboard or skis on top of the car, we have bad news for you on the fuel economy front. In Consumer Reports testing, a Honda Accord that averaged 42 mpg actually lost 15 mpg with two bikes on a roof rack. Testers also noted a lesser (but still significant) drop of 5 mpg when running a Camry with a rooftop carrier like Thule makes.

7. The latest transmissions

2018 Ford Mustang digital cluster | Ford

If you’re shopping for a new vehicle but don’t want to spend more for a hybrid, you could make some gains in a car with a new transmission. The nine-speed automatic in a Buick Enclave, for example, provides more gears to reduce power when you don’t need it. Similar technology (a 10-speed automatic) brought the 2018 Ford Mustang GT to 19 mpg combined despite having 25 more horsepower than ’17 models that got 18 mpg.

8. Taking the flag down

Chevy Corvair Truck | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

In America, no one will stop from flying your flag, but you should know you’re wasting money when you have one on your car. According to the results from GM testing, keeping that flag on your ride loses you about 10 miles per fill-up. It may be college football and NFL season, but if you want to be practical, go with a bumper sticker.

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