Your mileage may vary, so check it

It’s time for a pop quiz, so close your books and answer one simple question: Do you know how to calculate the mileage you get on a tank of gasoline?


I don’t see a lot of hands raised. Surely all those years of school resulted in some understanding of simple math. I sense that a remedial lesson is needed, and this is the easiest math chore in the book.

Relax, it’s painless (except for the cost of the gas) and has no moving parts (unless you decide to use a No. 2 pencil instead of a calculator).

I ask this question only because I know people who have never calculated their cars’ fuel economy and have no idea how to do it.

There’s no time like the present to see how easy it is and help understand how the dollars you are pumping into the tank are shooting out of the tailpipe.

Ready? First, go top off your tank and reset the trip odometer to zero. Then, simply drive.

A week or two later, whenever the fuel gauge reads near the “E” – maybe just after the low-fuel light lit up – go fill up again. On the back of the sales receipt from the station, jot down the number of miles your car has gone since that last fill-up.

Then, divide those miles by the number of gallons you just pumped. It’s that easy.

For instance, let’s say you bought 15 gallons after driving 300 miles. That means your vehicle got 20 miles per gallon.

For those of you who already knew how to determine your mileage and raised your hands in answer to my question, I apologize for making it so easy. You already know how important it is to know such things, and to have fun with math skills you haven’t practiced since graduation.

Why important?

To begin with, knowing how economical or thirsty your car is makes it easier to plan for the next vehicle you will buy; it helps convert that window sticker mileage into reality. If you want a more thrifty car next time in these days of rising prices, you will have a place to start your comparison.

“Hey, I already get 20 mpg; this car says it gets only 18. No, thanks.”

Also, keeping track of your mileage might tip you off that your vehicle’s engine is out of tune, or your tires are underinflated or the wheels out of alignment.

Then there’s the feeling of power it gives you.

“Hmmm, I got 20 mpg from that last tank of gas. I’ll bet if I don’t peel away at green lights and drive way over the limit, I can get it up to 23. Challenge accepted!”


GETTING BY ON LOOKS: While formulating this column in my head, I interrupted our darling 3-year-old granddaughter, Reagan, as we played in the house.

“Do you know how to calculate your fuel economy?”

She looked up at me seriously and replied, “I like Volvo.”

It didn’t really answer my question, but it was in the ballpark. Anyway, she would have passed the quiz on cuteness alone.