Have you noticed your car has an Eco mode and been curious as to what it means and how, exactly, it works? On the surface, the word “eco” suggests an improvement in fuel economy, but you can’t just push a button and suddenly get better mileage, can you?
The answer is, of course, more complicated than a simple button press. But, essentially, yes: Eco mode helps you squeeze a few more miles out of a tank of gas than you would get driving normally. Here’s how.
Dialing It Back
One of the key ways that this mode helps improve fuel mileage is by reprogramming various vehicle systems to be less aggressive. The most obvious example can be found on cars or trucks equipped with an automatic transmission. Switching into this mode swaps out the standard shift pattern for a more relaxed approach to driving, one where the gearbox moves to a higher ratio as quickly as possible and avoids using first gear unless necessary. This places less strain on the engine and, in turn, uses less fuel.
In a similar fashion, Eco mode will almost always reduce a vehicle’s throttle response. This means when you push the gas pedal down, the engine interprets the amount of force you are using with your foot as being softer than it normally is, and, as a result, applies the throttle more gradually. Acceleration in Eco mode won’t be as sharp as in normal driving, which can occasionally be frustrating, but can also save fuel. Some economy settings can be so aggressive that they will actually push the pedal back against your foot if they detect you getting a little too enthusiastic.
Impacting Other Systems
A few of the more comprehensive efficiency systems might also impact other vehicle systems that aren’t directly linked to the drivetrain but make a difference in terms of fuel consumption. Climate control is the one that is most often affected, with eco programs affecting blower fan, cutting off air conditioning or restricting the level of cooling made available in order to reduce the load the air conditioning compressor places on the motor.
Ultimately, Eco mode can help improve fuel mileage, allowing you to be more environmentally sensitive.
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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.