Get Better Gas Mileage by Picking the Right Route

It might sound odd, but the shortest distance between two points might not be the most fuel-efficient route. It all depends on how many traffic lights there are up the highway and how far out of the way you might go on the scenic route.

I like to fire up Google maps to find routes that are less traveled, potentially more fuel efficient, and less stressful. In this example, lets take a ride to Burger King. Google Maps tells us the fastest route is straight up the highway, at 7.4 miles and 12 minutes. But the problem is, while much of the highway is 50 miles per hour (MPH), there are over a dozen traffic lights.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012. Google has updated Maps with a “Most Fuel-Efficient” route option.

If we take the scenic route, along River Road, we’ll travel 12 miles, with just three traffic lights along the way. It’s more than a tad out of the way, but it’s a relaxing ride.

The great part about driving on a country road or a back road – like River Road – is that it’s 45 miles per hour (MPH). It might not be a straight shot. Sure, it might be windy, but you’re not running into stop signs, intersections and lots of traffic that would cause you to decelerate and accelerate again. That’s where you burn most of the fuel – where your gas mileage drops – when you’re moving away from a full stop.

So with a 45 MPH cruise, you can take advantage of the changes in altitude, use inertia, take your foot off the gas – whenever possible – and just let it roll.

Willow Road provides a third choice at 9.2 miles, and an estimated 21 minutes through the fields ‘burbs. There are three traffic lights along this route, as well, along with a handful of stop signs.

Traffic lights hurt fuel economy. Between idling at the lights and accelerating from a stop or crawl, your mile per gallon (MPG) average is bound to take a hit.

During rush hour, the highway clogs with bumper-to-bumper traffic. The example run in the video was taken in the early afternoon, so it’s not that bad. An hour or so later and the road jam-packed.

For some odd reason, Google Maps thinks the River Road route will take 25 minutes. But it’s 45 MPH road, for the most part, with only three traffic lights along the route and few stops.

We traveled these routes a number of times, with River Road coming in tops at 33.6 to 34.8 MPG, Willow Road second at 32.3 MPG and the State Highway coming in at 26.1 – 29.7 MPG.

Now again, this was not run at rush hour, so these aren’t the worst numbers you might see. But it gives you an idea – while sitting at those traffic lights and watching the cars going by – it just eats up the gas.

So if you can find a different way to go to work, you may be able to improve your gas mileage. Look at your every day commute and examine where traffic clogs up.

All it takes is some poking around on the back roads and some time at the computer. Pull up Google maps and start looking for alternate routes. You may find something that’s just a little bit out of the way, but ends up being more fuel efficient, because you’re not getting caught in traffic and it’s the road less travel, and maybe there are less stops. Or not!

It all depends … you won’t know until you start mapping it out and doing the math.

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4 thoughts on “Get Better Gas Mileage by Picking the Right Route”

  1. You may get better mileage on the longer route, but it sounds like you burned more gas overall. If you got 36mpg, but went 12 miles, you will burn 1/3 of a gallon. If you get 28mpg on the 7 mile route, you will only burn 1/4 gallon. I rounded the numbers to make the math easier, but it shows my point. If you got 36mpg on the 9 mile route, then it’d be a wash compared to the 7 mile one.

    So longer may get you better mpg, but isn’t the real goal to burn the least gas getting where you want to be?

  2. @Chad – Aye, yup. Great stuff! The goal is to burn less gasoline and arrive less stressed. One day, there will be an app (or apps!) that automatically calculate(s) our alternate routes for us. The routes used in this video are strictly for illustrative purposes. Until that app is built, folks will have to do the math on their own, as you have done. 🙂

  3. I can appreciate your dedication to better fuel economy but you have just confirmed my biggest gripe. Every time I am driving to work I get stuck behind some vehicle that drives so slow I cannot even keep my foot on the gas behind them. Here I am trying to enjoy my cruise in my gas guzzling V8 Mustang GT & I always get stuck behind people that quite literally drive without their foot on the gas pedal. Bane of my existence. Please take roads that I do not travel, thanks.

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