How to get more gas mileage out of your truck

Truck mileage gauges

Credit: Toyota

By Gary Wollenhaupt

Driving a truck sure has its perks. There’s the road presence, visibility, and the capability to haul and tow stuff whenever you want. But there are a few downsides, too. Fuel efficiency is probably the biggest drawback.

With average gas prices at $2.85 a gallon, pick up truck drivers will spend about 13.88 cents per mile to fuel their newer trucks, AAA says.

Follow these steps to boost your fuel efficiency for on-road and off-road driving.

Get better gas mileage on-road

Habits: Changing your driving habits is arguably the cheapest and most effective way to get more miles per gallon.

  • Accelerate slowly from stops
  • Keep your highway speeds reasonably close to the limit
  • Use cruise control where possible
  • Maintain your truck according to the owner’s manual schedule
  • Don’t carry around a bunch of unnecessary stuff in the cabin or the bed. Remove your trailer hitch if you won’t be towing for a while.

Tires: Choosing the right tires can help your fuel economy. Unless you’re a serious off-roader, use all-terrain tires. They’ll give you the best combination of road noise, grip and fuel economy. For all-terrain options for your truck, check out the Nitto Terra Grappler G2 or the Cooper Discoverer A/T3. These tires can handle moderate off-road conditions as well as make your highway miles pleasurable. The Cooper Evolution H/T is a durable all-season option that can handle severe weather on the roadway. The all-terrain and all-season options deliver better gas mileage due to less aggressive tread compared to full-bore mud-terrain tires. The most aggressive mud tires aren’t meant to be used on the pavement at all.

Gas: You only need to use the level of gas your truck requires. Spending more on premium won’t deliver better performance or mileage. The extra cost will literally go up in smoke.

Truck mileage tailgate down

Credit: Chevy

Tailgate up or down: An urban legend that just won’t die says you’ll get better gas mileage if you drive with the tailgate down. That myth has been thoroughly busted by the Mythbusters themselves as well as truck manufacturers. On an episode of the show, Mythbusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage proved that driving with the tailgate up delivers better fuel efficiency than driving with it down. Top truck manufacturers like Ford and GM test their vehicle designs in a wind tunnel and on the road. GM experts said driving with the tailgate closed is better because as air flows over the truck, it falls over the cab and pushes forward on the rear of the truck. When the tailgate is down, your truck doesn’t get that free push from the air.

Get better gas mileage off-road

Truck mileage offroad

Credit: Toyota

Habits: While you’re driving off-road gas mileage may not be a big issue, but it will play a role in getting to and from your favorite trail. Go easy on the gas pedal and make smooth starts and stops. Of course, sometimes you need a blast of torque to clamber up the gravelly hill. That’s not the time to worry about fuel efficiency.

Accessories: Add-ons like roof racks or bug shields on the exterior of your vehicle can cause additional wind resistance and drag, especially at high speeds. Tonneau covers for the bed can help manage airflow, and soft, flexible covers deliver better mileage improvements than a hardcover. Round tubular running boards decrease drag slightly, experts say.

Adding larger tires and suspension lifts can burden the engine as well, especially if you don’t change any gearing or other drivetrain components. 

Custom components like a new exhaust, computer chip, or air intake system can add performance and improve gas mileage, especially if you add heavier tires and a lift kit.

Tires: Choose the best tires for your situation. Thirty-five-inch mud tires may look cool, but they might be noisy in daily driving. The heavy tread also increases rolling resistance on pavement, another minus for gas mileage. A good all-terrain tire can tackle some pretty harsh terrain.

If you air down to go off-road, make sure to re-inflate to the suggested PSI. Under-inflation leads to lower fuel efficiency and extra wear during on-road driving.

Mud terrain tires are for hardcore off-road enthusiasts. More aggressive tread increases rolling resistance to put more of the tire on the ground, which may be great off-road, but can also hurt gas mileage numbers.

Follow these tips to get the best gas mileage from your truck, whether you’re an off-road warrior or a commuter hero. The biggest improvement you can make is to change the habits of the person behind the steering wheel.





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