It Bears Repeating - Driving Slower Saves Money

Photo: Gas Prices

I get incredibly bad mileage when driving. I have an old, clunker car (well, it's not humiliatingly old, but it's old), and when I drive the way I want to drive, I get roughly 18-20 miles to the gallon. In my area, a gallon of gas costs $4.40.

Sigh. I might as well be driving a pickup truck, for all the good it does me.

The problem is, I'm a bitch on wheels. I love speed. I love driving fast, and I adore the way my car kicks it into high gear when I floor it and zoom past all the losers going the speed limit. I love changing lanes and beating the lights. I spent my formative driving years in Manhattan, so I know a thing or two about braking, changing lanes, flipping off the jerk who just cut me off and blaring my horn all at the same time. I relish the feeling of taking off at a newly green light and leaving everyone behind me in the dust.

God, I love driving like a total a**hole.

But being an a**hole is expensive, petrol-wise. I keep reading well-written, thoughtful articles about how I can save money by keeping my tires inflated and my oil changed and thousands of pounds of books on my bookshelves rather than in my car's rather spacious trunk. But even with all that maintenance, the one thing that has kept me at such lousy mileage is my inability to drive with any measure of sanity. I've got a lead foot (I'm told it's genetic), and apparently, that alone was preventing me from saving a good deal of cash.

A while back, our own Lynn wrote a good post about how to save money by driving sanely and maintaining your automobile. She mentioned how sudden stopping and starting are often the culprits of lousy gas mileage on your car. At the time, I read the article and said, "Hey, that's true. I once drove 150 at 30mph and saved a lot of gas!". Of course, driving for 150 miles at 30mph is pretty tedious. And Lynn never advocated driving that far under the speed limit.

So, this past weekend, when I was facing another 150 mile journey (a journey that uses roughly one half of my 16-gallon tank when I drive on A**hole Setting), I decided to try driving at 55 mpg, just like we used to do back in the 1970s, before disco music was enjoyed with a sense of irony.

I drove in the far right lane, because I'm not a total jerk. I stayed behind large semi trucks. I used cruise control rather than the gas and brake pedals to alter my speed, unless I really needed to slow down or speed up fast for some reason. More importantly, I just calmed the hell down. I paid attention to the road, but stole glances at the beautiful scenery. I sang along to my CD player, and purposely played music that would not get my blood pressure up (think Credence Clearwater Revival rather than Dropkick Murphys). I stayed out of everyone's way, and marveled at the massive SUVs (mostly towing trailers packed with offroad bikes or boats) zooming past me at 75 mph. It was like having an out-of-body experience, or having the Ghost of Christmas Driving arrive and show me just how I look when I'm barreling over the mountain highway, racing to the top and back down with other holiday revelers.

I got close to 30 miles to the gallon on that trip, almost as much as I got when I had to drive the same route at 30mph. And the time difference is negligible - it took me roughly 30 minutes longer to get home than if I had been tearing across the pass at breakneck speed. My tank, which usually starts running on fumes at 310 miles, took me to a full 430 miles before the gas light went on.

I tell you, I am a changed woman. No more driving like a maniac for me. I'm now contently puttering along in the slow lane with the old ladies and student drivers, listening to the radio and keeping an eye out for traffic that merges at an unreasonable speed. I no longer take off like a skittish greyhound as soon as the light turns green - I just slowly apply pressure to the gas pedal and make my way into the intersection like a sane human being.

I've even retired my middle finger, which was developing some sort of permanent cramping from overuse. My carpooling partner is beginning to wonder if I've lost it.

Other drivers may be frustrated with my easy riding, but I don't care. Driving like an old woman is going to save me hundred of dollars per year - think of what I could spend that on (don't say 'cat food')! I'm thinking of printing up some bumper stickers that say "If I'm going slow, I'm trying to save gas. Don't hate me because I'm frugiful!", but I'm not sure if it's even worth the effort. I've already noticed a number of fellow drivers practicing the same slow, steady manner of driving that I've been trying, and I think it's catching on.

I'm pretty sure that my blood pressure is lower, too.

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Guest's picture

Driving fast is fun, but expensive. Besides driving slowly to save gas, driving a manual car (yes, I have a manual car) is sure to save you gas as well.

Guest's picture


(ahem) If you ever do decide to make the "frugiful" bumper sticker, would you please be ever so kind and contact me?

Thank you.


Guest's picture

I've changed my driving habits too. I used drive the same way you used to, but it's worth it to slow down, and probably a bit safer as well.

Guest's picture

I'm getting about 42MPG (US) on my car (a Ford Mondeo Mk3, 2l engine). Mostly I keep my speed to around 110km/h (think that's 68mph).. I have two simple rules I try to follow when I drive, which seems to hold for older and newer cars, diesel or petrol:
1) Don't let the pedal go more than halfway, and if you can barely touch it just to maintain speed where possible.
2) Don't "feather" the pedal. Push the pedal to a certain point and keep it there until the next speed limit/end of intersection/etc, if traffic conditions don't allow this you're going too fast anyway.
If you move up right, you can be at 75mph (roughly 120km/h) and still keep about the same mpg.

I don't use additives, "mileage enhancers", voodoo or whodoo. I don't believe in "hypermiling" either.. just some common sense when driving helps.

Guest's picture

I've been taking a few long distance road trips the past few months and stayed at about 60 mph instead of 70 and haven't noticed a single difference in my mileage. I'm kind of disappointed, I have to say.

Guest's picture

besides saving on gas, I'm glad you wrote about how you felt when you slowed down. getting glimpses of the scenery, enjoying the music, in general enjoying the road because you weren't concerned about getting around *that* guy who's going so slow in front of you.

Guest's picture

You mention that it took you 30 minutes longer to get home. That's 30 minutes I could have played with my son.. or 30 minutes I could have been working on side projects (which more then pays for the gas)

My preference is...

- Only drive when I have to drive.. riding our bikes to the store may take an extra 20 min BUT it saves gas AND is great family time :)

- When I am driving get where I am going as fast (in a safe manner) as possible.

At the end of the day you can find ways to earn more money, or save money elsewhere. What you can't do is increase the amount of time you've got on the earth (assuming one is already taking care of themselves).. so use it wisely :)

Guest's picture

I had the same experience with trying out the actual speed limit or under on a trip I've made many times. And it's true, it's amazing how much more enjoyable the trip is when I force myself to calm down. And for my trip, I think it took me 8 minutes longer than usual or something crazy.

Guest's picture

I've recently had a similar experience. I decided to slow down after being pulled over for speeding (way over the speed limit), but only getting a warning from the incredibly nice police officer.

I now limit myself to the speed limit or 5 miles over at the most. It feels strange, being the one to get in the right lane and let everyone go by in the left. I remember how that was me, but I also sometimes marvel at how unsafe some of these people appear to be (also used to be me). I've noticed a little change in my gas mileage, but more importantly than that I am more relaxed and not at risk of a speeding ticket. I really can't notice a difference in overall commute times either.

Guest's picture

I have shifted my thinking too. Last fall, driving aggressively (passing everyone slower than 50mph) on my route to/from work, I would use 1/4 of a tank of gas every day. Now, Using a combination of lower speeds, and less agressive tendencies (42mph, no passing, coasting down the larger hills) I'm only using 1/8 of a tank per day. Since the cost of gas has jumped by almost 50% over that time frame, it's saved me a lot of money...

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Shane, I get where you are coming from, but given that I am now frequently driving with other people, I find that the extra 5 minutes on my daily commute, or the extra 30 minutes on a trip over the pass really isn't too bad. And although I didn't write about it, my slower driving has as much to do with conservation as it does with saving money. If I could bike to work, I would, but it would take me too long (probably at least an hour and a half each way) and I can't add 3 hours with of commuting to my daily schedule.

Rachel, I'm surprised you're not noticing a difference. Do you use cruise control at all?

Guest's picture

i am also a b*tch on wheels. i hate hate hate driving slow, except when cops are around. but i have noticed lately that people are slowing down on the highways, but still driving fast while in town. doesn't it help to drive the speed limit both on the highway and on city roads? i'm just happy i have my moped!

Guest's picture

I agree with conservative driving mostly, but reality will show that it all depends on WHAT you are driving! Different types of vehicles have different types of gearing and engine characteristics. This is probably why some people will not notice a difference in mpg whether they are doing 55-60 or 70-75 flowing with interstate traffic. For example I drive a sport sedan with a 7 speed sport automatic (like most cars nowadays) and 55 mph is a weird spot for my engine and transmission to cruise at, I get much lower mpg at this speed, but when I speed up to the recommended 70 mph (on highway) my gears change and my rpm's drop lower and I get better mpg. Now in in my mother's plain V6 Camry, I benefit from driving a little slower because the that cars gearing is designed that way. It really does matter what you are driving. In the past half a decade or so, the car market has been full of performance based cars. It's important to realize what vehicle you are driving and to drive it as it was designed to be, (abiding laws of course) this will achieve the best efficiency for your vehicle. A Tahoe does not need to be cruising at 75mph on the highway for best mpg, but a 350z or other performance cars or trucks may do just fine while achieving their highest mpg ratings.

Guest's picture

Two weeks ago we decided to take a trip from Raleigh to D.C. - typically a 4-1/2hr trip. I was frustrated because of the price of gas. I decided to check out the MPG in my car at various speeds. Using my car's trip computer I discovered that at 65mph (the posted speed) I was averaging 29 MPG in my Scion xB. At 55mph I averaged 42 MPG !!!

After our trip, I returned to my daily 1.5hr commute (each way) and have adopted the 55mph / Right Lane driving habit. I am considering getting a magnetic sign made for the rear hatch that states
29mpg @ 65mph / 42mpg @ 55mph

Guest's picture

One more thing I would add. Some times the cruise control can really impair your MPG especially if you have to drive up steep elevations or hills all the time. Instead try slowing down on hills and speeding up when descending. Obviously don't go so slow that you start doing 15 MPH or speed up to the point where you do 100 MPH. Instead use the gas and stay off the brake as much as possible. Engine braking is a wonderful thing as well. Don't race up to a red light instead let your car coast for a while.

Just some extra things I noticed could save you a little bit of money.

Guest's picture

I have done the same thing. I used to be a middle finger driver doing 85+ on the highway. Now I do 62-63 with cruise control in the right lane and get 26mpg instead of 20mpg. That is over 25% improvement. My commute is only 13 miles one way, 11 of which are highway miles so the time difference is two and a half minutes each way. That's five minutes a day. I think I can live with that.

26 mpg at $4/gallon is like 20mpg at $3.07/gallon.

Andrea Karim's picture

For the bumpersticker-wanters:

I don't really have time to set up a Cafe Press shop, but you can make your own bumpersticker, and have it shipped to you, for $3.99. :)

Guest's picture

Do you think that we might go back to the 70's and have a 55mph speed limit? There would be many benefits.

Guest's picture

I was a bitch driver too. Now I get books on CD, set the cruise and stay in the right lane. My commute takes a few minutes more (not many more). Many days I'm sad that I've arrived because I want to keep listening to the book. I barely notice all the speed demons in the left lane.

Guest's picture

I liked this post a lot. I have also been doing the same thing and, the funny thing is, I also noticed that it "feels like the 70s" when you drive at 55. It's kind of fun in its own way. Once you decide that you are going to do this, it's actually much less stressful than the other kind of driving because "beating" someone else on the road or, even, comparing yourself to other drivers on the road is not tempting anymore. That's because instead of judging yourself by comparing to others, I am getting a sense of accomplishment from driving the way I decided, at the speed I decided. If anything, now when someone passes me I'm not at all tempted to speed up and match them. Since I fully expect to be passed by 80% of the cars on the road, why bother? They can go ahead the way they want. They might be stressed or just a fast driver, or they might have a genuinely time-sensitive emergency (though probably not). In any of these cases, you can be perfectly happy letting them go by. Their passing you by almost even begins to seem like a confirmation of your success in sticking to your new driving habit. Sticking at 55 or 60 is automatically success in this mindset. I've also noticed that there seem to be more people out there like this lately, driving slower, and being more relaxed.

Guest's picture

It's funny how people are just now figuring out that driving like an idiot is really not getting them anywhere, just more angry and pissing other people off in the process. I laugh at people who weave through traffic in their SUVs just to get to the next red light sooner. Then they complain about gas prices.

Why hurry all the time? We all get to the final destination, so you might as well enjoy the ride. ;-)

Guest's picture

I have gained about 3 mpg on my Honda Element by driving 65 mpg instead of 75 mpg). First, it only takes about 1½ minutes longer to get to work. I have lowered my risk for a speeding ticket. And though the return is marginal it amounts to $15/month, $180/year.


Guest's picture

I used to drive a lot like you did. I relished the feeling of "winning," as if the city's streets were a racetrack. I changed my thinking so I can still get that feeling while saving gas, driving more safely, and being polite. Every time someone zooms past me as I coast to a red light (for example), I think smugly to myself, "It cost that guy ten cents just to pass me."

Guest's picture

I can totally relate to your revelation! I drive a 4 cylinder Nissan truck, and while it isn't a gas guzzler, it's not exactly frugal. But slowing down to 60 mph, and taking it easy in town, has definitely saved me 20% fuel - and that's $10 a fill up. At two fill ups a month, that's $240 a year, which is very appealing to my wallet (hey, that equates to nearly 5 tanks of gas)!

There are lots of folks on the freeway who are now part of the `Parade of Frugality', and I am often in the middle of a pack of 60 mile per hour'ers. The scenery, the company, the music, the book on tape, can all make slowing down more enjoyable, and definitely less stressful!

Life is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the ride.

Guest's picture
Pam munro

Making a game of trying to put my foot on the gas as little as possible and making use of the forward motion of all the hills and slopes I run into. Also drifting to stops whenever I can rather than accelerating & then braking. Seems like a lot of other folks are doing it, too! Although sometimes I get tailgaters who just won't go into the faster lane -

Guest's picture

The person that got no benefit for going slower, I cannot see how you did that, unless you had terrible gearing on the car.

Wind resistance is the biggest fuel guzzler after hitting 50 mph.

Oh and for those who don't want to "hypermile", by being a more careful driver and slowing down, you are doing the #1 thing TO hypermile!

Smile at those passing you by on their way to the pumps, again! :)

Guest's picture

I think the cruise control thing might be why I don't notice a difference - my car doesn't have it. It's also an automatic transmission so any gear shifting issues is its own fault.

Oh well, I prefer driving slow and at least the illusion of saving on gas helps.

Andrea Karim's picture

Cruise control isn't the be all end all of driving efficiently, as other driver's have mentioned. I just find that it helps me maintain my sanity on the freeway, especially when everyone else is going really fast. Sometimes I use it to make sure that I only go 30 mph on long stretches of backroads, too.

The thing that has been the hardest about learning to drive slower is to be patient with truly idiotic drivers. You know, the ones who will slow and come to a complete stop in the middle of the street because they aren't sure if they should turn or not? I used to zoom around them while shrieking obscenities through an open window (hey, I never claimed to be a nice person), but these days, I just slow down behind them and wait it out. I try to think of them as Gas Saving Guardian Angels. As long as I make the stopping and restarting as smooth as possible, I figure I'm saving more gas than I would if I make a huge display of passing them.

I think the attitude shift has been more important to me than the gas savings, although the savings certainly don't hurt.

Guest's picture

My husband was coming home the other night after work, driving in the rt lane at 55 mph and was pulled over by 2 police officers. After their usual stupid tricks they realized he really was trying to save money. He showed them how the SUV gets 21 mph going 55 instead of 17 mph. They admitted that he was driving fine, but a bit on the slow side.

Guest's picture

Oooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmm! Yeah. Driving slower is the answer to many challenges. It is kind of sad being tailgated by some angry person, but it really is their problem. It is so much safer to drive slower. Getting better gas mileage is worth the minor hassles. I really didn't want to mention it, but common courtesy and good manners are good for the soul. Granny

Guest's picture

The ultimate issue is engine efficiency (this is not mpg). Gas engine efficiency is low at low speeds and highest at around the max torque point. However, air drag increases with the square of the velocity. There is a magic point depending on engine & relative wind speed.

Slowing down doesn't necessarily improve your efficiency.
Speeding up doesn't necessarily improve your efficiency.

So what you've discovered is the efficiency peak for your car is at a slower speed. If anything, I wish the feds would require such speed vs. relative wind speed vs. efficiency curves be included in manuals of new cars.