Does Cruise Control Save Gas? The Inside Scoop on MPG

Does Cruise Control Save Gas

People have varying and strong opinions on the question does cruise control save gas. Some feel that using cruise control improves fuel economy, while others argue the opposite.

There’s also the middle position that using cruise control has no discernible impact on the mileage per gallon.

Even the experts disagree, with the AAA coming down on the side of those who feel that it does not improve fuel economy, while studies from Edmunds show that it does reduce gas consumption.

In fact, the only way to resolve the question of does cruise control save gas is to get up close and look at factors like driving conditions, whether the road is flat or hilly, and how different kinds of cruise control systems work.

The way you drive normally also impacts whether you’ll experience a fuel savings by using cruise control. For those interested in improving their mileage per gallon, there are also other methods of making their driving habits more fuel efficient.

Does Cruise Control Save Gas?

Cruise control is used to help drivers maintain a steady speed on long highway trips. But many people also want to know does cruise control save gas?

Or is it just an urban legend? As we said above, when the experts disagree on the question, the only thing is to do your own research and come up with the answers.

Taking our own advice to heart, we looked at various accounts and came to the tentative conclusion that while in certain conditions cruise control may save gas, in others it has no impact or even increases fuel consumption.

But before looking at these factors, let’s check out how cruise control works.

How Does Cruise Control Work?

Cruise control lets you set a speed and then maintains it on long drives. It is initiated by pressing a button and can be exited by braking or pressing a different button if the driver needs to regain control.

The minimum speed at which cruise control can be used is generally 30 mph, and it is normally used for highway driving.

Many drivers choose cruise control on long journeys to maintain a steady speed, avoid fatigue, and to keep them from accidentally exceeding the speed limit.

Because cruise control lets the driver set and maintain a steady speed without sudden acceleration or braking, it has been billed as a way of saving gas. But the question does cruise control save money is a little more complicated than that.

Why It’s Complicated

For one thing, it can be difficult to measure mileage per gallon accurately and then allow for other factors that also affect fuel economy.

For instance, using the AC or heater can increase fuel consumption. Likewise, leaving the windows open while driving at highway speeds, or carrying heavy loads, can create a drag which also leads to greater fuel usage.

Accessories like roof racks and bicycle racks can also increase the drag and fuel consumption.

Whether the speed is controlled by the driver or through cruise control, it is regulated by adjusting the throttle position. When the throttle is opened wide, more air flows into the engine.

Cruise control allows for smoother and less frequent throttle operation, which reduces gas consumption. But there are many other factors at play besides speed.

Cruise Control and Terrain

Cruise Control and Terrain

Using cruise control can actually decrease fuel economy on an uphill road. The amount of gas used increases when maintaining a steady speed on an uphill road.

This is why the AAA believes that cruise control does not save gas. On the other hand, when cruise control is used on level stretches of highway, it can reduce the amount of gas used.

This is confirmed by a study from Edmunds, which found that using cruise control decreased gas usage by anywhere from 7 to 14% on level roadways.

However, there are also many different systems of cruise control, and some handle uphills better than others.

Other Factors That Affect Gas Use on Cruise Control

Affect Gas Use on Cruise Control

The newer versions of cruise control, with autonomous braking, present a new set of problems. Autonomous braking is meant to occur to prevent collision with the vehicle in front.

However, the system tracks not only the vehicle in front but also those in adjoining lanes. Some cruise control systems will brake hard for no apparent reason, which can actually increase the risk of a rear-end collision. Random braking also uses more gas.

While cruise control has many advantages, drivers who use it should not do so only to save gas. Improving fuel economy is not the primary purpose of cruise control systems.

For anyone who is interested in learning how to improve their vehicles fuel economy while driving, there are several other ways besides using cruise control.

Other Ways to Achieve Greater Fuel Efficiency

Ways to Achieve Greater Fuel Efficiency

While the answer to the question of does cruise control save gas is an ambiguous one, there are many other ways to save gas and improve your vehicle’s fuel efficiency.

These range from common sense ones, like keeping your tires properly inflated, to reducing your speed to 55 mph for highway driving.

Check Your Tire Air Pressure

If your tire air pressure is low, it can reduce fuel economy in addition to being a safety hazard. Make sure that your tires are properly inflated at all times.

Slow Down on the Highway

Yes, we know. This is not going to be a popular suggestion; but studies have shown that fuel economy drops off sharply at speeds over 55 mph.

Reduce the Load Carried by Your Car

Any extra weight makes the engine work harder and increases fuel usage. So get rid of all the junk you’re carrying around in your car and you’ll see a difference in your mileage per gallon.

Don’t Idle the Engine

Idling your engine for anything over 30 seconds wastes gas and also release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If you’re going to be waiting for three minutes or more, shut off the engine unless you’re in traffic. With older engines, restarting them used more gas than was used in idling, but newer models are much more efficient.

Newer engines also don’t need to be warned up by idling. However, be aware that constant restarts are hard on your battery if you’re not doing at least 10 minutes of driving between them. To spare your battery, don’t restart over and over within a short time period.

Change the Air Filter

A dirty air filter blocks the air flow in the engine, causing it to work harder and use more gas.

Your manufacturer’s manual that came with the car will tell you how often to change the air filter, and you should follow the guidelines.

Get Regular Engine Oil Changes

Engine oil keeps the engine clean, which improves fuel economy. Follow a regular maintenance for your car with oil changes and tire pressure checks to keep the engine running smoothly and efficiently.

Check Your Gas Tank Cap

The gas tank cap sees a lot of use and can develop cracks and may split over time. This lets air seep into the fuel tank and from there to the engine, reducing its efficiency. If you gas tank cap is damaged, it should be replaced.

Drive Smoothly

Avoid jackrabbit starts, since these use a lot of fuel. Accelerate slowly and brake smoothly to use less gas.

Learn to look ahead and anticipate traffic to reduce the need for braking hard. Increasing your following distance will also help you avoid unnecessary and abrupt braking.

Drive in the Right Gear

For cars with manual transmissions, it’s best to accelerate slowly and smoothly and to move into a high gear as soon as possible.

Driving in the appropriate gear for road conditions minimizes the work the work the engine has to do.

For automatic transmissions, shifting to low gear on uphill or rough roads reduces the strain on the engine.

Are There Any Situations in Which You Should Not Use Cruise Control?

Should Not Use Cruise Control

As we have seen, there’s not much advantage to using cruise control in hilly terrain if your major concern is to save gas.

There are a few other situations in which you should not use cruise control. For instance, on wet or slippery roads when skids or slips are possible, the driver may not be able to regain control quickly enough in time to brake to a stop.

Cruise control should never be used in rainy conditions or when the road is slippery for any other reason.

While cruise control keeps drivers from speeding and helps prevent fatigue, it can also make them sleepy and unfocused. It may induce a state known as “highway hypnosis” where it seems that the road is moving while the vehicle is still.

This can startle the driver into making defensive moves that may lead to an accident. When driving, safety is the first consideration, and using cruise control should not interfere with that.

Conclusion

There’s no simple answer to the question of does cruise control save gas. There are a number of factors involved.

It depends on the kind of terrain, and also on the kind of cruise control system installed in your car. 

Cruise control systems are not primarily designed to save gas. For anyone concerned with saving gas, there are many other ways to improve your fuel economy, from better driving habits to regular maintenance.

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