Instrumentation for Better Fuel Economy

Whether your reasons are financial or environmental, fuel economy seems to be a big deal these days.  Cruising for great gas mileage means fewer trips to the pumps, less mechanical wear and tear, reduced air pollution and, of course, saving money.

For some folks, getting a newer, fuel-efficient car is the answer.  But for many, getting a more efficient vehicle is not yet in the budget.  So, what can you do?

  • First, learn some basics about fuel economy, basic driving tips, hypermiling, ecomodding, etc.  I posted an introductory slideshow on it awhile back (it’s geared towards college students, but youl get the picture).
  • Next, visit my post on warm season driving tips.  Learn the tricks of A/C use, parking in the shade, NEVER idling.  By ‘adjusting the nut behind the wheel,’ you can tighten up your driving habits and maximizegas mileage for your vehicle.
  • Another tip is to consistently check your fuel economy.  Every time you fill up, keep track of your mileage, gallons of fuel, and cost.  You can keep a spreadsheet that tracks your fuel economy and cost.  Or, you can manage your fuel log online for free at a place like

Finally, invest in a real-time fuel economy (FE) gadget.  Knowing your fuel economy as you drive is a perfect training tool (which has already been incorporated into many newer cars (like the Toyota Prius–The Prius Effect).  I recommend the ScanGauge, which is compatible with most vehicles 1996 and newer with OBDII ports.  OBDII ports are usually located under the dash; a mechanic typically reads trouble codes through this port.  The ScanGauge plugs right in and provides several functions for you.

  • Digital display for multiple sensors (Coolant temperature, intake air temp, battery voltage, speed, RPM, etc.)
  • Calculates and displays fuel economy (instant FE, FE since engine start, FE for the tank, Gallons used per Hour, etc.)
  • Reads and clears trouble codes

Case Study: 2007 Pontiac Vibe (automatic)

BEFORE:  When I first got the Vibe, I was getting 26-28 MPG in town, and up to 33 mpg on the highway.  I was hitting the EPA estimate without any issue (and doing better than the new MPG calculation).  I was very impressed.

But in 2009 I found and and discovered what I was missing.  The first bit of advice almost everyone there gave was to invest in a ScanGauge.  Mine was about $150…which made me wonder if I’d ever get a ROI.

I installed my ScanGauge II in a cubby of my Vibe to hide it  (don’t want folks thinking it’s GPS and break in).

Now you see it, now you don’t!

AFTER: Since then, I’ve improved my fuel economy significantly.  Even around St. Louis with mixed driving/traffic, I’m averaging about 30 mpg per tank!!  I’ve hit highs of 38 and 40 mpg (per tank) on several occasions.  So, I’ve more than paid for my ScanGauge.

Why does the Scan Gauge help?  Because the real-time feedback trains me to monitor and adjust my habits.  It also becomes a bit of a game to compete with yourself.  I’m always trying to beat my best tank FE.  Best of luck to you!


Fuel Economy Tips: Hypermiling and Ecomodding

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I gave this presentation to fellow college students during an Earth Day event. I’ve followed the advice and example of several folks at, who have taught me how to improve my fuel economy in my 2007 Pontiac Vibe.

I am able to do so by first, “Adjusting the nut behind the wheel,” by simply changing my driving habits. I am much more patient, much more aware of my surroundings, and able to squeeze MPGs by coasting (in gear) as much as possible.

Next, I’ve added instrumentation to track my progress (ScanGauge). By knowing my average and instantaneous fuel economy readings, along with other information like coolant temp and intake air temp, I am able to adjust my driving style on the fly to garner more MPGs.

Finally, I’ve slightly modified my vehicle for greater efficiency.  See the presentation for more information on “Ecomodding.”

Before visiting the site, I averaged 28.5 MPG hwy/city combined and ranging from 28 to 33 in city and on the highway, respectively. Now, my fuel economy ranges from 30 to 38 for city/hwy. For all fillups recorded since mid 2010, I am averaging 33+ mpg on a fairly regular basis.  (Sure, it would be better not to drive at all, however that is simply not an option in the Midwest.)

If you decide to visit or similar sites like, check through their exhaustive lists of tips.  If you have questions, take them to the forums and join scores of people seeking to reduce their fuel consumption and save money in the process.