Here lately, I have become a real road warrior. It is rare for me to hit the road this frequently, but with my mom’s hospitalization, I find myself traveling back and forth a few times a week to visit. Thank goodness gas prices came down when they did! While burning up the interstate back and forth, I found myself switching to cruise control during open stretches and wondered if I was saving gas in the process.
Does Cruise Control Save Gas?
Because I am not the most mechanically inclined person alive, I turned to a popular, well-regarded source for automobile information. The Internet. Seriously, what can’t you learn about on the Web these days! A quick search of Google yielded a few promising results, but one in particular stuck out. Edmunds.com, the popular website for automotive consumers, had this to say in an article on tips for improving fuel efficiency:
“Using cruise control can improve your gas mileage by helping you maintain a steady speed, but only if you are driving on mostly flat roads. If you are driving in hilly terrain, using cruise control typically causes your vehicle to speed up faster (to maintain the preset speed) than it would if you were operating the accelerator yourself. Before you push that cruise control button, think about the terrain ahead.”
Makes sense to me. In fact, one of the things I noticed when pulling the few hills I encountered along the way was the car held back a little on the downhill and lost momentum, requiring more gas to pull up the hill that followed. Had I disabled the cruise control I could have simply allowed the car to gain some speed and then coasted up the first half of the next hill. Be careful; a speeding ticket here will wipe out any potential savings!
Putting the Theory to the Test
Using a highly unscientific test, I filled up the gas tank and traveled my normal route maintaining about the same speed (65mph) all the way but leaving the cruise control off. When I arrived home, I made a mental note of how much gas I had consumed–about 1/3 of a tank. A week later, I filled up again before setting off on another trip and set the cruise control to the same speed I had maintained manually. When I returned home, I had used just over 1/4 of a tank.
What does this prove? Well, without running more tests, I doubt it very much, but it is interesting that I appeared to use up less gas when running with the cruise control on. Of course, there are several variables to consider, such as traffic, weather (was I running the AC or driving with windows down), wind conditions (a strong headwind could cause additional drag), speed (65mph was probably a little high for optimal fuel efficiency), tire condition, etc. In the future, I will probably take Edmund’s advice and use the cruise control feature during long, flat stretches of road.
I’d love to hear from someone who knows more about cars than I do. Does using cruise control really reduce fuel consumption?