Last night, gas prices went up 5 cents in my area... 14 cents in a week. It's that time of year. So I figured I'd do some testing to see how to increase mileage
Very first thing: I have a 2006 WRX with a VF39 and tune. Your car will not get the same mileage numbers as me, but this FAQ will still help you increase your gas mileage.
There are several different parts of gas mileage. Driving style, efficiency, rolling resistance, weight, aerodynamics, and accessory usage.
I'll start with Accessory Usage. Obviously you can't get something for nothing. Every accessory you use in your car is run on gas. Whether it's electrical, mechanical, or a combination. It's simple, the more accessories that you use, the worse the gas mileage. The further away from peak torque you are, the bigger the effect.
I found that using my Air Conditioner while cruising the highway at 55mph actually lowered my instantaneous gas mileage approximately 8mpg!! The engine has more load on it when it's operating the A/C. When that load is in a place where you're not developing power/torque (ie cruising rpms 18-2800rpm) then it's going to make that much more of a difference.
I do not have an upgraded stereo, but if you have an aftermarket sound system with a large amplifier, you are losing a fair amount of gas mileage from the power that's required for the amp. The power comes from the alternator, which is on the accessory pulley system, and this causes more load on the engine decreasing mileage.
It's that way with anything you use in your car. But mostly we are concerned with Air Conditioning. If you can stand to have your windows open this summer and the A/C off, it will save you a large amount of gas mileage.
Next let's talk about Aerodynamics. The majority of us aren't going to be concerned about this. But Aerodynamics is basically how smoothly your car moves through the air without causing resistance. The less aerodynamic your car is, the more air resistance it has (it "catches" the air).
Everyone that has Bike Racks, Ski/Snowboard racks, or a Camping "Pod", and it's not being used: Take it off! These create a large amount of resistance, and only take a few minutes to install for your next mountain biking/camping/ski trip. The more resistance you have, the harder the car has to work to maintain the same speed. That's why race cars are designed with so little resistance. The lower your aerodynamic efficiency, the worse your gas mileage.
Drafting is dangerous, and I don't do it, or recommend it. It will damage your front end and windshield with rocks, lessen the amount of time you have to react to a vehicle slowing in front of you, cut the distance you have to stop, and you will be out of the trucker's side view mirrors. But because they create a "slip stream" through the air, if you're in that slip stream, you will not have as much air resistance, and you will incur increased mileage. I don't recommend this, as it's disrespectful to the trucker, and dangerous to you and the cars around you.
Another note to this is speed.
~~ Resistance is not linear. The faster you are going, then you have exponentially more resistance. So going 100 mph is going to be worse gas mileage than 65 mph.~~
The next topic is Weight. It's simple. The heavier your car is, the harder the engine has to work at the same speed. Removing my spare tire actually gained me 2mpg in one test. So if you're a pack-rat that has a trunk full of junk, take the time to remove it (especially the heavy stuff!) and save yourself a few bucks the next fill up!
On the same note is Rotational Inertia. Rotational Inertia is roughly described as weight moving in a circular motion. Wheels, Tires, driveshafts, etc... all have rotational inertia. The higher it is, the harder the car has to work. So a pair of lightweight wheels will have a lower inertia than your stock wheels. They will help you gain gas mileage. A lightweight flywheel/crank pulley will (in theory) help you increase your gas mileage. Now the gas mileage you gain will not be as much at a steady speed, but while accelerating, and decelerating (ie city driving, or stop/go traffic) you should see noticeable gains.
Rolling Resistance is the resistance of the tires against the ground. Tire pressure affects the shape of the tread pattern, and the size of the contact patch (the amount of tire on the ground). Increasing tire pressure distorts the tread pattern so that the tread isn't smoothly contacting the ground. Conversely, if you lower your tire pressure, you have increased friction due to increased contact patch. Safety is also an issue. Higher tire pressure means an increased braking distance, and a lower tire pressure means softer side walls which in turn means steering is very negatively affected. Tread wear is also affected negatively with a higher, or lower tire pressure than what is recommended. For safety, and mileage, make sure you follow the manufacturer's guidelines as to what PSI your tires should be inflated to.
On to Engine Efficiency. The more efficiently you use your fuel, the more power you get out of each stroke, therefore the less fuel you need to use to get the same power. This is seen in a quality tune. You car runs rich stock, and on off the shelf tunes. This means there is more gas injected into the cylinder than is necessary. This is done for safety reasons, and because each engine is slightly different, the factory doesn't want to tune each car's engine. Now when you get a custom tune, your car is "taught" to use fuel in a more efficient manner. Yes, this is done for power, but a great side effect is the gas mileage. As long as you are driving appropriately, you will be saving gas with a good tune!
You're all good WRX owners so I'm sure you know that you absolutely have to use 91+ octane. If you don't use the required octane, your engine's timing will retard, and you will lose mileage. You will not save any money by using the cheaper lower octane gasolines.
(Side Note: CELs can put the car into "Limp Mode" or indicate that certain sensors aren't functioning properly. This will brutalize your mileage)
And finally... Driving Habits. If you improve upon all of the other aspects listed above, but every time you leave a light you give the throttle a firm push to the floor, then you'll see only negligible differences in mileage.
There are several factors to consider while driving. Throttle Position, Engine Load, Boost and RPM.
Throttle Position is what percentage of your throttle is down, between 8% (idle) and 100% (full throttle) Because we are not diesels we have a throttle plate, and while the car is running it has to be partially open. My car idles between 8-9% throttle, and I didn't go past 20% throttle while I've been experimenting. Just pay attention to is how far down your pushing the pedal.
Engine Load is how much weight the engine is actually pushing. When you are going up hill, the engine fights the weight of the car, and gravity. This creates more engine load. When you're going downhill, gravity assists and you have less engine load. It's the same with vehicle weight. The more weight in the car, the more engine load. Unfortunately, terrain is unchangeable, but just because you're on a hill, that doesn't mean you need to floor it. Just push the accelerator down until you're at a steady speed.
A side note on Engine Load: Oil reduces friction in your engine, which consequently reduces effort/heat/load. Be sure to change your oil regularly with a reliable proven brand. No-name brands may not meet the required GF rating. I personally use a 5w-30 full synthetic, but when i lived in the desert I used a 10w-40 full synthetic. 02-05 required GF-3/4/5, and 06+ require GF-4/5
Boost. We all know what it is. It's the amount of air pressure the turbo is creating. Well, the more air there is being compressed in the cylinders, the the more fuel must be added. So if we stay out of boost, then you won't consume as much fuel. Simple as that.
Your RPM's effect on gas mileage has a lot of falsities to it. There are a few things you must consider. The higher the RPM, then the more times per minute each piston is pumping. So if you are at 4k RPM, vs 2k RPM with the same throttle position, same load, same boost... (we're only talking RPM) then the 4k RPM will consume more fuel per minute, just on the number of times the cylinders fire per minute. So you'd think "The lower the RPM the better the gas mileage?" Not necessarily. There's a fine line. When you get too low, there isn't enough torque, and you have to increase throttle position to maintain speed. That's why you don't drive 40mph in 5th or 6th gears. So you want to drive at the lowest RPM with the lowest throttle position in the gear that best matches your speed.
Every car is different, but I usually stay between 1800 and 2800 RPM to get the best mileage. On my vehicle, 1800 RPM matches the speed to 10x the gear. What I mean is, in 5th at 50mph I'm at 1800rpm, 4th at 40 at 1800, 3rd at 30 I'm at 1800, etc.
Another consideration in your driving habits is Newton's First Law of Physics: "An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by outside force." Basically it takes energy to start you from a stop. More than if you accelerate while you're moving. If you attempt to coast into stop lights, etc. then you will also save gas. Don't do anything illegal (run stop signs) or unsafe just to save gas though!
Idling excessively is also a gas mileage waster. Sitting with your engine on for extended periods of time is a waste. If you stop at a convenience store, or drop by your house to grab something... Turn your car off! You'll save gas and money in the long run!
Any questions, comments, or corrections. Please post!