Will driving my car in economy mode really help save money?

Randy Essex

With gas prices at record highs, it makes sense – and cents – to squeeze every mile you can out of a gallon of fuel. 

One way to help a little is to use your vehicle's economy mode, if it's equipped with one, to prioritize fuel-saving over performance.

While there's no data on specific savings, the mode is designed to engage your car's technology to make it more efficient, if you're into that. (As opposed to, say, sport mode.) 

It can be easy to overlook or forget the button on your vehicle’s interior that activates the feature, which has been offered on brands including Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, Toyota and Volvo.

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The Toyota Prius hybrid is rated at 52 mpg.

How does eco mode help save gas?

USA TODAY asked Mark Phelan, who reviews vehicles for the Detroit Free Press, how it works. 

“The modes use software to improve fuel efficiency," he said. "Some of the ways they do this is modifying when automatic transmissions shift gears and increasing the ‘stiffness’ of the accelerator pedal.

“A stiffer pedal means it takes more effort to mash the accelerator to the floor," Phelan said. "That can reduce fuel consumption by encouraging more temperate driving. Modifying a transmission’s shift points has the same effect but is less obvious to the driver.”

So a car in eco mode might feel a little sluggish when accelerating to pass or change lanes, but it's fine to use it on the highway as well as in city driving.

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Automakers don't say how much drivers might save – Hyundai made a rare calculation of up to 7% in 2015. 

Some brands make other computerized changes – Honda reduces energy used for air conditioning power by a bit, and some Toyota models reduce power for heating, air conditioning and seat warmers.  

Mindfulness behind the wheel

Mindfulness is all the rage in personal growth and inner peace these days, so why not practice it while driving? 

Engaging eco mode could have the effect of making a driver think about efficiency because pushing that button means you want to save fuel. Some systems provide real-time feedback, which can help you in your habits.

“A driver can consciously mirror a lot of what an eco mode does, but the software’s electronic nudges make it easier,” Phelan said.

In the end, it depends on the driver. 

“The eco mode doesn’t automatically improve fuel economy," Phelan said. "It can help a driver modify their behavior in ways that save fuel, but a driver with a lead foot can ruin any vehicle’s fuel economy.”

Contact Randy Essex:; @randyessex on Twitter. Subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.