USA TODAY International Edition

Car’s eco mode might fuel some savings

- 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 fuelsaving over performanc­e.

While there’s no data on specific savings, the mode is designed to engage your car’s technology to make it more efficient, 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.

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 efficiency,” he said. “Some of the ways they do this is modifying when automatic transmissi­ons shift gears and increasing the ‘ stiffness’ of the accelerato­r pedal.

“A stiffer pedal means it takes more effort to mash the accelerato­r to the floor,” Phelan said. “That can reduce fuel consumptio­n by encouragin­g more temperate driving. Modifying a transmissi­on’s shift points has the same effect 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 fine to use it on the highway as well as in city driving.

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

Some brands make other 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 effect of making a driver think about efficiency 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.”

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