Someone filling their car with petrol
Pavel Kubarkov/

How can I save gas on a road trip?

By Sasha Yanshin | Updated on 2 October 2019

Fuel is one of the biggest expenses of a road trip, especially if you're planning on making multiple stops, so having a few tricks up your sleeve on how to save gas will be really beneficial in helping you to reduce your fuel bill.

There are many ways you can save gas on a road trip, but the main things to be aware of are your driving style (avoid excessive acceleration and braking), the weight of the car, the roads you drive on, and the condition of your tyres and brake pads.

All of these factors can dramatically affect the amount of fuel your vehicle is consuming.

We've put together a list of the most important things to bear in mind for the best fuel economy on your road trip, guiding you through some simple steps you can take both before you set off and during your drive to save as much gas as possible.

Retro fuel save petrol pump

Drive (slightly) slower

The first thing you can do that is almost guaranteed to save you gas on a road trip is driving a little slower.

You could use around 9% more fuel driving at 70mph than driving at 60mph, and cruising at 80mph can use up to 25% more than at 70mph, so slowing down is a no-brainer.

Driving more slowly in a high gear is the best way to make the most of your tank of gas, particularly when you're cruising on an open road.

However, don't make the change too drastic. Crawling along at 30mph on the motorway is dangerous and probably won't make much difference, so aim to stay only slightly below the speed limit, and always travel at a similar speed to those around you.

It's also good to think more about conserving momentum than just dramatically lowering the pace. Focus on making the car flow by driving smoothly, gliding along the road, and avoiding any sudden shifts in speed.

Accelerate gently

One way to avoid these sudden shifts? Accelerate gently - after all, your road trip isn't an F1 race!

By putting your foot down gently, you'll use as little fuel as possible as the car doesn't have to work as hard to get you moving, proving that a little patience will definitely save you money.

The same goes for braking. Look well ahead so that you know what's coming to avoid having to do any sudden stops which will use more gas.

Avoid using the brakes where possible

As well as avoiding braking suddenly, it's also advisable to use the brakes themselves as little as possible.

Although this may sound like terrible advice to the less experienced drivers among you, it's actually much better to slow down by easing off the throttle rather than hitting the breaks if you're in the market to save gas.

Another simple tip is to try to keep moving slowly whilst in traffic. By leaving a bigger gap between you and the car in front, it should be possible to keep crawling forward to prevent you having to apply the brakes.

This can, however, annoy other drivers, so only do it if you can see that you'll only be stopped for a few seconds.

Travel as lightly as possible

Another simple fact of fuel economy is that the heavier the car, the higher the gas consumption, so packing light is an easy way to cut the cost.

Try and start with an empty boot, removing any random items from that drive you did last month, so you're only taking what you really need. Then plan ahead and pack as light as you can (do you really need that fourth pair of shoes?)

Remember - each 50kg you have in the car will increase your fuel consumption by around 2%, so it will quickly add up!

Only fill up half a tank

Another nifty way of reducing the weight of the car is to only fill up with half a tank of gas at a time.

Not only does this mean you can spread out the cost of fuel a bit more, but it also means you'll be carrying less weight, which will better your fuel economy.

If you do opt for this trick, we'd recommend mapping out your fuel stops in advance - you'll have to fill up more and you don't want to run out in the middle of nowhere!

Try to take fewer longer drives rather than lots of short ones

Once your engine has been given time to warm up it will work much more efficiently, so covering as many miles as you can on one trip is much more economical as the car will stay warm.

Lots of cold starts will put more strain on the engine and increase fuel consumption, so either doing a round trip or reaching your destination in one leg is preferable.

Don't, however, bite off more than you can chew. In our post about how far it's safe to drive in one day we outline that you shouldn't be on the road for more than eight hours, and it's vital to take 15-minute breaks every two hours - so only drive as far as it's safe to do so.

These short breaks aren't long enough to allow the car to cool down, so don't be tempted to skip them to save on your fuel expenses.

Look after your car

Treating your car to a little TLC will improve its overall efficiency, meaning it will run more smoothly which in turn will increase its fuel economy.

The condition of the tyres plays a huge role in how much gas your car is consuming: the more air they contain, the less resistance there will be with the road, which will allow the car to run smoothly and efficiently.

Make sure you check your tyre pressure regularly as the air will escape naturally over time.

Another thing to keep an eye on is the state of your brake pads. If they've started to wear down, you'll have to break more heavily to apply enough pressure to stop the car. This exerts more effort and thus uses more fuel.

A person checking tyre pressure
Soonthorn Wongsaita/

Switch to cruise control on constant, flat roads

Travelling at a constant speed saves on fuel as you'll have to accelerate and break less frequently, so switching on your car's cruise control can be a great way to save gas.

If you have a long stretch of relatively empty, flat motorway ahead of you with a constant speed limit this can be a really economical.

If, however you're using cruise control regularly on more hilly roads, it can be counterproductive and actually increase your fuel consumption.

This is because cruise control systems don't tend to react as well to gradient changes. Where you would normally decelerate as you go over the crest of a hill to keep a constant speed as you go down the other side, cruise control is often slow to react, maintaining the acceleration for longer than necessary.

This could result in you using more fuel than you would have done had you been manually controlling the car, so make sure you pick and choose when to use this feature carefully.

Choose motorways over local roads

So that you can make the most of the gas-saving benefits of cruise control effectively, choose to travel by motorway whenever possible.

Although this may mean having to sacrifice taking a really scenic drive, it's worth it if you want to make your tank of gas stretch as far as possible, as you can leave the car in top gear and cruise along at a constant speed.

In short, avoid winding country lanes, urban roads laced with traffic lights and speed bumps, and local routes with changing speed limits.

Only use the air-con if you really have to

The air conditioning in your car uses engine power, which means it will also increase fuel consumption. Only using it when you absolutely have to is, therefore, another simple way to save gas on a road trip.

There is, however, an ongoing debate as to whether it's better to open the windows or have the air-con on when it comes to fuel economy.

Although rolling down the windows doesn't directly use fuel, it does cause drag which slows the car down, meaning more acceleration is needed so the car will consume more gas.

So which has less of an impact? It's a pretty close call, but studies suggest that choosing to open the windows uses marginally less fuel, so opting for some good old fashioned fresh air is definitely your best bet.

Bear in mind, however, that this can be a little dangerous when travelling at high speeds on the motorway, particularly if you have pets and children in the car, so in hot countries you may need to focus on some of the other ways to save fuel and accept that the cool blast of the air-con is necessary.

A woman look out of an open window in a car
Monkey Business Images/

Stay as streamlined as possible

Haven't got round to taking those roof bars off the car? Thinking you probably won't bother? Well think again as this could end up substantially increasing your fuel consumption.

The bars on the roof will create wind resistance and drag that will mean the car has to work harder, using more fuel to make it from A to B.

In fact, an empty roof rack (having an aerodynamic roof box attached is nowhere near as bad) can increase fuel consumption by up to 10%, so taking half an hour to ditch this accessory will really pay off once you hit the road.

By following even just a few of these top tips you'll be surprised just how much fuel you can save, leaving plenty more room in your road trip budget for the fun stuff!