Repairs and Maintenance

How to Improve Your Toyota Tacoma Gas Mileage

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Everyone wants better gas mileage out of their truck, but it’s hard to tell exactly what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the driving techniques you can adopt and the modifications that you can make in order to squeeze out a few more miles per gallon. The Toyota Tacoma is no exception, so we’ve put together a quick list of things you can try to help improve your Tacoma’s fuel economy without breaking the bank.

1. Don’t share. Believe it or not, most vehicles built in the last decade or so have the ability to “learn” your driving patterns. Once they know your pattern – how you like to shift, how fast you like to accelerate, etc. – the engine computer will automatically adjust the powertrain to maximize efficiency. But if you share your car with someone who drives differently – say, by letting your wild-eyed son in law use your truck to pick up some furniture – it’s possible that your engine will change patterns to match the new driver. Constant learning and re-learning usually isn’t good for gas mileage.

2. Tire inflation. Yes, this became a political joke during the last election, but the reality is, properly-inflated tires do help you get more miles from a tank of gas. It’s also true that most people rarely check how many pounds of air are in each tire on anything resembling a regular basis. Get a gauge, check your door sticker and make sure you aren’t riding too low.

3. Don’t drive angry. While it might be fun, slamming down on the gas as you peel away from a stoplight consumes a lot more fuel than simply accelerating at a reasonable pace – especially in a truck. It’s also helpful to keep a close eye on traffic up ahead and plan your acceleration and deceleration accordingly so that you aren’t always switching between the brake and the gas pedal. Smooth throttle application, maintaining a constant speed and avoiding “jackrabbit” starts can help you save fuel.

AFE Pro Dry Filters are very popular air filter replacement options for Tacoma owners.

4. Lose the junk in the trunk.  Do you regularly haul around tires, wheels, jacks, tool kits, camping gear, coolers filled with melted ice water or basically anything that you haven’t gotten around to cleaning out of your truck bed? If you do – and we’re not judging you – you are paying for it with reduced fuel mileage. A lighter truck is a more efficient truck, so clearing your Tacoma’s bed of everything but the essentials can really make a difference over time.

5. Use high viscosity synthetic oil. While synthetic oil may have some benefits in terms of prolonging engine life, it definitely improves fuel economy. As much as 3%, in fact. This is one of the main reasons Toyota is switching all their vehicles to zero weight synthetic oil – better fuel economy.

6. Change your air filter. Many Tacoma owners have success installing a free-flow air filter, such as one made out of a synthetic, washable material in place of the stock paper unit. More air flow often means a more efficient engine, and although the improvements can be small they do add up over the long term. It’s a good idea to make sure that whatever aftermarket air filter you install, however, doesn’t end up sucking in more hot air from under the hood than the original setup. That will actually hurt performance rather than give you a boost.

7. Regular air filter maintenance. If you get a washable air filter, you need to keep it clean. Even if you decide to stay with a paper air filter, make sure you inspect it on a regular basis to see how dirty it’s gotten.  Dirty filters restrict airflow to your motor and hurt your fuel mileage, and need to be changed or washed periodically. It’s a good idea to check at every oil change, although if you live on a dirty road or find yourself in dusty environments you might have to accelerate that schedule.

8. Low rolling resistance tires, anyone? For truck owners, this can be a tough pill to swallow. On one hand, going with a set of ‘green’ low rolling resistance tires is a great way to save gas money. On the other, these tires are usually miserable in terms of off-road performance AND they’re expensive AND they don’t perform as well as regular tires in terms of tread wear, stopping and handling, etc. However, if you’re trying to squeeze every MPG out of your Taco, this is an option too.

Does anyone have any tricks or tips that have worked for them when trying to improve their own Tacoma fuel mileage? Please share them in the comments.

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18 Comments

  1. Jack Hammer says:

    I feel the greatest, by far, single item that you can do to improve gas mileage is to put on a tonnau cover. If that is not out of the scope of the budget. On my tacoma the cover paid itself off in a year.

    • Jack – Different people have different success with tonneau covers and fuel economy, but when you look at the aerodynamics, tonneaus only make a marginal difference: http://www.tundraheadquarters......nomy-myth/

      Still, having said that, different people have found they make a huge difference. My opinion is that people should buy a tonneau cause they want one, not b/c of gas mileage.

  2. Why not just lower the tailgate ?

    • Wayne – Believe it or not, that actually hurts fuel economy. Most trucks are more aerodynamic with the tailgate up – that’s how they’ve been designed since the mid to late 90′s.

  3. Jason is right, the bed is designed, along with the tailgate, to cause a air bubble affect in the bed area. That allows the aerodynamics to come into play by the air traveling over the cab and gliding over the “air bubble” in the bed area. Better and more effective airflow pattern.

    • Dan – Thanks! Are you an aerodynamic engineer or just very smart? :-) I ask because I’d like to ask you some questions…

  4. So, what about the latest chip mods that have come out? AEM has one and Jet has one and I am still looking for others (ones that are worth discussing at least)… What do you think? A simple intake upgrade could get the effect that a chip could and of coarse, I am looking for the most economical upgrade (aka cheapest!) I have an 06 Tacoma and I didnt expect the power that this thing has but I also didnt expect the gas mileage to be so bad. (By bad I mean between 15 and 18) I know that driving habits effect it and fuel type and oil etc etc, so assuming I am not ENTIRELY ignorant, what are the suggestions?

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      I have NEVER heard anything good with regards to chips and MPG. Most of the chips are for more performance which doesn’t always translate into better fuel economy.

      -Tim

    • I have an ’06 Taco with a 6 speed MT and get on average 18.9 mpg with my best tank being 21.0 mpg. When I 1st started tracking it I got 16.6 mpg.
      All I have done was change plugs, all gear oil to synthetic, cleaned MAF sensor and watch my shift points, I also skip gears and keep rpm’s below 2000. I stay 60 or below on the highway any higher and your sucking gas if you have a MT.
      Regular maintenance is the key to keeping your gas mileage high and of course the right foot mod. It’s a truck not a race car.

      • Tim Esterdahl says:

        Right on! Those are the basic keys to good MPG. It does sacrifice some of the gas pedal stomping “fun.” But, you really save money.

        -Tim

  5. Matt McDonald says:

    I was surfing for something to make the front of my 09 Tacoma more aerodynamic… and this site was one of the matches… so I was curious and read it. I’ve owned an 07 Prerunner 4 cyl 5 speed Access Cab and an 09 Prerunner V6 auto Access Cab. I’ve also had a Scan Gauge hooked up to the OBD plug in both of them. A Scan Gauge is about $150, but I’m confident it paid for itself a long time ago. People always ask me what kind of gas mileage I get… and my answer always is “it depends.” The Scan Gauge resets every time you shut off the engine, and measures gas mileage several ways… instant/current… by the trip (if you start the engine and drive 2 miles or 200 miles without stopping, that’s a “trip.” Gas mileage today… Gas mileage yesterday… and Gas mileage per tank. The best I ever got out of the 4 cylinder (per tank) was 25… the best I’ve gotten out of the V6 is 26. I typically got 22 out of the 4 cylinder (per tank) and typically get 20 out of the V6. The V6 gets better mileage on the freeway on long trips if I’m driving 75-80. Part of that is because the V6 auto has a taller rear axle ratio than a standard transmission. If you live in an area with a lot of stop lights, that can easily cut your mileage by 2 MPG. The first 5 miles or so you’re getting horrible gas mileage, because the computer thinks you need the choke on because the engine’s cold. I’ve tried the tonneau cover, camper shell, tailgate up/down, a/c on/windows down/up, etc… but never noticed much difference with any of those. Jack it up and put some big tires and wheels on it… been there, done that… expect worse gas mileage, for sure. But… I’d still like to find some kind of spoiler for under the front that would improve the aerodynamics by directing air to the sides instead of letting it flow underneath the truck. Has anyone ever found something like that?

  6. I own a 06 double cab short bed TRD Sport 4×4 v6 automatic. I added a Snugtop Supersport bed cap/shell which I now never remove. 1 year ago I filled up my tank just before heading out on a hunting trip. I live down in the San Gabriel valley and I was heading up to the high desert, to about 3000 elevation. I monitored mpg for my drive up to the desert, which is miles of uphill along the Cajon pass northbound on the 15 in California. Once I got up to the desert and to a has station and refilled, I calculated my mpg. It came out to 23.7 mpg. This was with shotguns sleeping bag, large tent, food, plenty of water, plenty of 12 gauge ammo for the trip, folding chair, gps, walking staff, cooler with drink and beer and ice and a few other things(I usually over pack).
    I kept my speed between 55-65 but focused on keeping it at 55. I did not care if 18 wheelers passed me as well as everyone else on the road. I remained in the right two lanes and cruised in the lane next to the slow lane as much as I could. This was painstaking, but my goal was to maximize fuel efficiency. Some people call it hypermiling. I also coasted in neutral when a approached a slow vehicle up ahead(not recommended on a downhill)
    So there you have it. With all my hunting gear and supplies AND the Snugtop camper shell, as well as miles up constant uphill driving, I managed to clock just under 24mpg.
    Apparently the camper shell adds some kind of aerodynamic factor so if driven properly, the aerodynamics benefit far outweighs the extra weight factor. Obviously I never wind tunnel tested it, just guessing, but what else could it be?

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      Juan,

      Your driving strategy accounted for the improvement in MPGs. It wasn’t the topper. If the topper improved fuel economy THAT much, Toyota would put one on each truck they build.

      -Tim

  7. Superglider says:

    I’m with Tim on this one. I watch my Scan Gauge a lot. If you have a steady foot and can keep it at 55-60, 24 MPG is definitely doable. Going up that grade north of San Bernadino on the 15 could be a challenge to that formula, but the drive before and after that are nice and flat. The other factor on that stretch is wind. If it’s a windy day, deduct 2 MPG… unless it’s a tailwind :-) If you have the bed full of stuff that creates wind resistance, that camper shell will definitely help though. One thing I won’t do again is carry a motorcycle corner to corner… lol

  8. Just to be clear, I’m not implying everyone go out and buy truck caps for their pickups, as they can be very expensive. I did mot mention that I have used this driving technique when I didn’t have a truck cap on and I got very very similar gas mileage and a trip which was practically all flat. I have tried this many times and calculated mpg, and while obviously I agree that my driving had most to do with the mpg, imo, the truck cap help with mpg to some degree. I also disagree Toyota Tacoma would all come with truck caps just for the better mpg feature alone. Many persons that buy these trucks actually want a pickup with an open bed for work, and adding a shell would increase the price of the truck with a feature that many don’t want. Again, don’t go out and buy a truck cap just because someone on the internet said I’d increases gas mileage, but these were my observations based on several calculated trips with and without the cap. Unless someone here has done similar tests and calculations, instead of guessing, not saying anyone here is guessing by the way, from my own observations, I’m going to conclude that my specific setup with a truck cap actually assists with better fuel efficiency driving the way I drive it. That includes slowly increasing speed, gradually from a standstill.

  9. Mengil Deane says:

    Your finds Could very well be possible if the majority of your trip includes hills Jaun, aerodynamics is a funny subject. The reason modern trucks have better MPG with the tailgates up is because they are designed to use the added down force from the air pressure, however if you are traveling up or down hill that added pressure or lack there of, could have an adverse effect. So a camper top could help this quite a bit as the air may be acting differently on the vehicle with one installed. The only thing I do believe had an adverse effect on the MPG claim was putting the car in neutral, this is because in neutral the car uses gas to maintain an idling rpm wether you are moving or not, where as if you kept the car in gear and modern computer actually tell the engine that the potential energy has now been convert to kinetic energy and thusly fuel is no longer need. I have done Zero research on this subject matter so take what i say with a grain of salt. At the end of the day everyone has a different driving style find what works for you and stick to it.

  10. Mengil, that is good info. I always wondered if engine rpm was ALWAYS proportional to fuel consumption; does engine braking consume more fuel than throwing into neutral, being that modern vehicles are equipped with CPUs. Thank you.

  11. Mengil Deane says:

    No problem Juan. Engine breaking does uses less fuel, because again the cpu is recognizing that you are not on the gas and the RPM is high and decreasing rapidly meaning that added fuel is not needed so the CPU reduces or shuts fuel delivery off to match the Pickups requirements. There is a lot of other factors to consider when engine breaking so keep that in mind.

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