With gas prices constantly on the rise, fuel economy has long been a key part of the car-shopping process. Using the Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) Fuel Consumption Guide, you can get a general idea of how fuel-efficient a vehicle is relative to other vehicles in its class. 

However, this guide is only part of the equation, as many variables come into play in fuel economy. 

Below, we'll cover how NRCAN comes up with its fuel consumption numbers and tips for maximizing fuel efficiency in your vehicle. 

Fuel Economy Ratings Unpacked

One of the primary qualities many shoppers look for when shopping for a vehicle is high fuel efficiency. So, many buyers’ first stop is the Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) Fuel Consumption Guide. 

This lists the fuel consumption of every vehicle sold in each model year, but NRCAN doesn't test each vehicle itself. Instead, NRCAN developed the testing system, and the manufacturers test their vehicles on a dyno machine — almost like a treadmill for cars — using NRCAN's five-cycle test.

These tests occur after the vehicle has been driven 6,000 km and in a controlled environment that simulates five driving cycles: 

  • City driving
  • Highway driving
  • Driving in cold temperatures
  • Driving with the air conditioning on
  • Rapid acceleration and braking 

Tips for Maximizing Your Fuel Economy

While fuel-efficiency estimates are great for checking one vehicle's fuel economy relative to other vehicles, they are still just estimates. As the old adage goes, your mileage may vary. 

You can actually impact your fuel economy by the way you drive and maintain your vehicle. By following a few tips, you can even maximize your fuel efficiency.

Use Cruise Control

Constant speed changes can negatively impact your vehicle's fuel economy, but most newer cars have a tool to rectify this issue: cruise control. Cruise control helps maintain a set speed when travelling on the open road, eliminating the constant acceleration and deceleration that gobbles fuel. 

Use Fuel-Efficient Driving Techniques

Your driving habits play a large role in your car's fuel efficiency, and one of the biggest factors is speed. For example, for every 8 km/h you drive above 80 km/h, it eats away at your fuel efficiency. Keeping your speed at 80 km/h or less can increase fuel efficiency by 7 to 14%

Harsh accelerating and braking can further increase fuel use. Gradual acceleration and braking can improve fuel economy 15 to 30% at highway speeds and 10 to 40% in stop-and-go traffic. 

Lighten Your Load

For every 45 kg of weight added to your vehicle, you may lose 1% of your fuel efficiency. Save gas by removing any unnecessary items from the cabin and cargo areas. If you have a pickup truck, remove all the items from the bed too.

Limit Your Idling

Letting your vehicle idle doesn't use much fuel, but it's incredibly inefficient because the car's not moving. So, if you're stuck in traffic, at a long red light, or just sitting outside the store waiting on your significant other to grab something, turn the engine off for some fuel savings. 

Automakers noticed the benefit of cycling the engine on and off when a vehicle is stopped, and many now offer automatic engine stop and start. In certain conditions, automatic engine stop and start shuts the engine off when the vehicle's stopped and restarts the engine as the driver lifts their foot off the brake pedal. 

If your vehicle has automatic engine stop and start, leaving it active can maximize your fuel economy without you having to think about it. 

Get the Right Tires

Manufacturers design their vehicles to have tires with a certain size and speed rating to maximize fuel efficiency. Adding aftermarket wheels and tires with a different size or speed rating can negatively impact a vehicle's fuel consumption. 

If you're uncertain what size and speed rating tires your vehicle requires, there is a tire placard inside the driver's side door jamb — the inside frame of the door — that lists the standard tire size. You will also find this information in the owner’s manual.

Also, when buying new tires, you can opt for tires with low rolling resistance. These tires feature rubber compounds and tread designs that reduce the friction they create as they roll on the pavement, which can help you maximize fuel economy. 

While there are no federally mandated standards for low-rolling-resistance tires yet, the U.S. Transportation Research Board estimates every 10% increase in tire rolling resistance decreases fuel economy by 1.5%

Also, a study at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found the average driver saved $150 per year on fuel by switching to low-rolling-resistance tires. 

Maintain the Proper Tire Pressure

Low tire pressure also increases rolling resistance, thereby decreasing fuel economy. You can maximize your fuel economy by checking your tire pressure at least weekly and each time you refuel. 

You can find the proper tire pressure on the tire placard in the driver's side door jamb or in the owner's manual.

Overinflating your tires can further reduce rolling resistance, but the tradeoffs in ride comfort, safety, and tire wear are too significant to make this a legitimate option for maximizing fuel efficiency. 

Limit Aerodynamic Drag

When manufacturers design cars, aerodynamics play a big role in maximizing fuel efficiency. Designers spend painstaking hours shaping and reshaping body panels to find the perfect balance of style and slipperiness. 

Car owners can ruin all this hard work and research by adding aftermarket components that negatively impact a vehicle's aerodynamics. These include roof racks, roof-top cargo carriers, spoilers, ground effects, body kits, and more. 

You can get better fuel economy by leaving your vehicle just the way the manufacturer designed it. 

If you need a roof-top cargo carrier for a road trip, remove it when you're not using it. If you leave this cargo carrier on, you may reduce fuel efficiency by up to 25% at 100 km/h.

Use Your Air Conditioner Correctly

Over the years, car air conditioners have become very efficient, but they still draw power from the engine, decreasing fuel economy. However, there’s still the argument that driving with your windows down instead of running the air conditioner creates enough drag to equally reduce fuel efficiency. 

Tons of variables come into play when determining if it's more efficient to run the air conditioner or put the windows down. However, limiting your air conditioning use will always save fuel.

You can reduce your air conditioner use by: 

  • Parking in the shade so the cabin stays cooler
  • Using a windshield sunshade while parked
  • Driving with the windows down initially to allow the hot air to leave the cabin, then turning on the air conditioner
  • Setting your automatic climate control to a higher temperature setting
  • Turning off your air conditioner when the cabin is an acceptable temperature

Keep That Tailgate Up

The earlier notion that engineers and designers spend hours refining aerodynamics applies to pickup trucks too. While logic may lead you to believe the large, flat tailgate would cause aerodynamic drag and reduce fuel economy, that's not the case. 

There have been countless informal experiments to disprove the lowered tailgate myth, but the most telling one was from Consumer Reports. The publication saw a 4% fuel efficiency decrease with the tailgate lowered on a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. 

You may also think a tonneau cover will do the trick, but the Consumer Reports team also saw an even more significant drop in fuel economy. 

Change That Clogged Air Filter

Air filter manufacturers make it seem like a clogged air filter will make your vehicle dramatically less fuel efficient, but this isn't the case. A clogged filter can, however, have a small impact. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested a clogged air filter’s impact on fuel economy in newer and older cars. It noted up to a 1.7% fuel economy decrease with the clogged filter in newer vehicles. In an older carbureted car, it noted a 2.5% fuel efficiency decrease.  

Not too dramatic, but when you’re trying to milk every kilometre out of each litre of fuel, even a 1.7% boost will help. 

Change Your Oil Regularly

Even your engine oil can impact fuel economy. 

As your oil breaks down from normal use, it can develop sludge that creates drag and can reduce fuel efficiency. Changing your engine oil and filter at or before the automaker's recommended intervals can be a key component in maximizing fuel efficiency.

Pick the Right Oil

Engineers design the engine to operate with a specific oil viscosity. In the 1990s, the common oil grades were 20W-50, 10W-30, and 10W-40. 

The number preceding the "W" is the viscosity when the engine is cold, and the second number is the viscosity when it's hot. The higher the number, the thicker the oil.

Today, manufacturers design engines to run on thinner oils, such as 0W-20 or 0W-16. These lighter oils create less drag, resulting in improved fuel efficiency.  For example, going from a 10W-40 oil to a 0W-20 oil in the same engine can result in a 3% gain in fuel efficiency

However, you shouldn't use a lower-viscosity engine oil than the manufacturer recommends. For the best balance of fuel efficiency and protection, use the oil recommended in the vehicle's owner's manual. 

Start With a Fuel-Efficient Vehicle From Clutch

When maximizing fuel efficiency is a big part of your car-buying process, starting with a fuel-efficient car is critical. Here at Clutch, we offer a wide array of fuel-efficient cars, ranging from thrifty four-cylinder models to hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and even electric vehicles

What's more, all our vehicles go through a 210-point inspection and reconditioning before they go on sale. This ensures they're in top running order and ready to deliver top-notch fuel economy. 

Plus, Clutch's 100% online car-buying experience takes all the stress out of going to the car dealership. You choose the vehicle you want from our vast pre-owned inventory, secure financing through the site, and we'll deliver it to your driveway for free. And if you don't love the vehicle in the first 10 days, we'll take it back or exchange it for a new one.