There’s a popular myth that putting your car in neutral and coasting down a hill will save you gas. Not only does it not save gas, but having a car in neutral when something unexpected happens and you might need to accelerate to avoid it is not so good. When I was learning to drive, I was taught a very different definition of coasting: simply put, it’s whenever you’re neither accelerating nor breaking. And the more time you spend in that state while driving, the less gas you will use.
I haven’t found any stats on how much gas you can save if you do a lot of what I call coasting, but I believe it works because everytime I’ve let someone else drive my car for a couple of days, they’ve used more gas than I do to make nearly identical trips. Here’s how it works.
Coasting the right way
Most drivers are constantly either pressing the accelerator or the brakes. They keep the accelerator pressed down at least somewhat until it’s time to stop, and then they switch to the breaks, which they lean on until it’s time to go again.
Think of it this way: when you accelerate, you’re using gas, right? But whenever you brake, you’re canceling the use of that gas – wasting some of it, in a sense. Obviously, you have to stop sometimes, but the less braking you do, the better gas mileage you’ll have. So the more time you spend with neither pedal depressed, the more gas you’ll save. Here’s how to achieve what I’m talking about.
- As soon as you see a stop ahead, let off on the gas pedal. If you’re on level ground, you’ll be surprised how much you slow down by simply not accelerating. You may even find the light turns green or the traffic clog clears before you reach it, so that you never have to use the brake.
- When you accelerate, do it minimally. Try pressing just a little on the pedal, instead of your usual amount (whatever that is). You won’t be taking off from lights like a speed racer, but you’ll be surprised how small an acceleration it takes to get you into the flow of traffic. And smaller accelerations save gas compared to larger ones.
- Avoid full stops when you can. By following these rules, you’ll find yourself not coming to a full stop as often. You’ll coast down to 15 miles per hour at a light, then it’ll turn green while you’re still moving, and you’ll end up never having to stop. Why does this save gas? Because taking off from a full stop takes more fuel than accelerating from even 5 mph.
- While you’re moving, combine both of the above: accelerate minimally, coasting as much as you can. Our tendency is usually to accelerate enough to get to a safe distance behind the guy ahead, and stay there by keeping the accelerator down and braking when that person brakes. Instead, accelerate gently to get into position: you’ll find it takes much less gas to get there than you think (and no, you won’t look like Grandma Slowpoke – you’re doing exactly what you normally do, except with less gas). And when the guy in front of you brakes, you coast before you hit the brakes. Sometimes coasting alone is enough, and you can drive for quite a distance behind someone who’s breaking every 30 seconds without ever using your own brakes.
You’ll have to experiment to see what works for you, your car and your terrain. If you have a lot of hills, then you’re going to use your brakes and accelerator more than someone in a more level area. If your car is old and slow, then it may take more gas to run it.
But by experimenting with this method of driving, you’ll find out what your car is capable of, and learn how best to use it to save gas.