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Answered: Can Washing Your Car Boost Gas Mileage or Performance?

Should you wash your car in an attempt to improve gas mileage? The honest answer is a clean car has an extremely small impact on fuel efficiency under normal driving conditions.

Washing your car won’t noticeably boost gas mileage

The fact of the matter: driving habits have more to do with gas mileage than a clean car. For the average driver, using cruise control and watching your speed will give you the biggest fuel efficiency gains than most quick hacks will.

On an episode of MythBusters, they found a clean car does improve gas mileage by around 2 miles per gallon compared to a mud-drenched car, which isn’t a normal scenario for most people. While a clean car can reduce drag, keeping a car spotless isn’t going to have an impact on the majority of people who keep their vehicles relatively clean.

Nevertheless, it is a good idea to keep your vehicle clean to prevent rust and problems like fading paint.

Vehicle maintenance hacks that can boost vehicle performance

There are a few washing, detailing, and maintenance practices that can make a small difference in fuel efficiency but more importantly, increase performance and long-term reliability.

1. Washing regularly

As I mentioned earlier, a clean car produces less drag overall…which plays a small factor in the fuel efficiency equation. Modern ceramic coatings can be extremely slick which may help your vehicle cut through the air slightly better.

Overall it’s wise to wash and wax regularly if for no other reason than to remove contaminants that can lead to rust. 

On the other hand, if you’re the type to ride around with a mud-covered Jeep, go ahead and wash and wax it. You may see a few extra miles per gallon in extreme cases like this.

2. Cleaning under the hood

Always remove debris and dirt under the hood, top off fluids, and change filters to maximize the performance of any internal combustion engine. Each step matters!

Clean your engine bay

If you’ve never cleaned your engine bay you’re technically driving a slightly less fuel-efficient vehicle than you could be. Debris buildup can make the engine run hotter, causing your vehicle to burn more fuel. It’s pretty easy to clean those black plastic engine covers that can look pretty awful.

This won’t make much of a difference MPG-wise, but it can make a difference if you have leaves or other debris under the hood, making it difficult for air to reach the engine.

Change your air filter regularly

Out of all the tips, airflow to your engine is extremely important for an engine to operate at peak efficiency. A clogged or old air filter can cause engines to work harder and burn more fuel, which is why it’s important to change your air filter regularly or at least check it from time to time to dust off debris.

While not a general maintenance tip, probably the biggest fuel efficiency gains for less fuel-efficient vehicles (like trucks) can be had by installing a cold air intake system which provides even more cooling to the engine. But today I’ll stick to quick tips.

3. Inflating your tires to recommended pressure levels

According to fueleconomy.gov, inflated tires can help increase fuel economy by anywhere from 0.6%  on average up to 3% in some cases. If you’re not checking your tire pressure regularly, this is one of the easiest and most effective ways on the list to increase fuel economy.

Clean muddy tires

If you have a truck with aggressive offroad tires and live near lots of mud, you know how difficult it is to keep everything clean. Removing stuck-on dirt and mud can help with traction which in turn can help improve fuel economy.

There’s a reason why Indy cars use tires without patterned tread – it creates drag. The same can be said for those muddy, bulky mud tires.

4. Using lower viscosity oil…and better oil

It’s sometimes tempting to get your oil changed for a few bucks at the 5-minute lube, but oftentimes the oils used in many of these establishments are simply not of the quality that many automotive manufacturers recommend.

If you use a lower-viscosity oil and a premium synthetic oil, you can see a slight increase in gas mileage. These oils flow through your oil pump and engine better, producing less drag and better lubrication. I’m a big fan of Mobil Synthetic, and would highly recommend it based on the type of oil your vehicle calls for.

Conclusion

There you have it, a few practical checks to make every time you wash your vehicle that may just help you achieve slightly better gas mileage.

All of these tips mentioned likely won’t offer any noticeable difference if you tend to drive fast or burn poor-quality fuel, but collectively they may be able to boost your fuel efficiency by a few percentage points.

Every little hack or trick helps.

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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