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But according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average fuel efficiency of light vehicles was 22.3 mpg in 2017. A 2019 report from Consumer Reports found the median fuel efficiency reported by drivers was closer to 24 mpg.
But when it comes to buying a fuel-efficient car, there a few things to keep in mind.
For starters, smaller cars tend to get better mileage than bigger ones. Researchers at car website AutoList suggest that’s because they’re typically built on a unibody frame while trucks and SUVs tend to be made with the body of the SUV or truck mounted on a frame.
The body-on-frame design entails mounting the body of the car on a separate chassis whereas unibody combines the frame and body of the car as one piece. On the one hand, body-on-frame cars are stronger and better off-road. On the other, they are usually heavier and require more force to move, paving the way for unibody cars to be more fuel-efficient.
Hybrid cars tend to be more fuel-efficient, too. Since they use both gas and electricity, the electric motor can run idle or at slow speeds before the gasoline engine kicks in.
“Most vehicles lose significant fuel economy driving at slow speeds in the city,” AutoList explained. “Hybrids can run cleaner and more efficiently in situations where full gas vehicles cannot.”
Despite the type of car, however, how you drive has a big impact on mileage: “Aggressive drivers who drive at higher rates of speed typically see much worse fuel economy to those who drive at a lower rate of speed and without a lot of hard acceleration,” the report said.
Accelerating quickly from a full stop burns more gas than easing the car back into drive. And if you break too frequently and speed up again, you aren’t doing your car any favors.
If you’re in the market for a new car, you may want to check out the 2020 Honda Insight. Consumer Reports’ picked it as its most fuel-efficient car of 2020, with a combined 44 mpg.