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Does Cruise Control Really Save Gas?

Does Cruise Control Really Save Gas?

Does cruise control really save gas? Inquiring minds certainly want to know. In the wake of soaring gas prices, this could be information you don’t want to ignore. 

If you’re a driver who loves accepting the assistance of your car’s cruise control setting, understanding more about the feature could help you use it to benefit your wallet. We’ll provide informed insight to answer the question, “Does cruise control really save gas?” Let’s get right to it! 

fuel economy reading on a dash in vehicle

What Is the Purpose of Cruise Control?

Ralph Teetor invented cruise control in 1948. He was on a long trip with his lawyer when he became painfully aware that the man kept speeding up and slowing down. His engineer mind said, “I can fix this,” and the origin of cruise control began. 

The primary purpose of cruise control is to level out the speed of a vehicle and give drivers a reprieve from pressing the gas pedal on long journeys. Cruise control is beneficial when you’re traveling in your car, truck, or RV. Just ensure you’ve done thorough checks on your RV before hitting the road, so you can give your cruise setting the best setup for success. 

Does Cruise Control Save Gas?

Does Cruise Control Save Gas?

In short, the answer is usually. Cruise control does save gas. The natural habit of a driver is to accelerate when going up a hill or unknowingly release pressure on the gas pedal while having an in-cab conversation.

This fluctuation does a number on your fuel efficiency. Cruise control levels everything out so your engine isn’t working as hard or using as much fuel to keep you moving forward. 

In general cruise control saves most fuel on flat terrain. In the hills, it attempts to maintain speed and may over accelerate. Thus in hills accelerating a bit before the hill, slowing, and coasting down the other side tends to be more fuel-efficient than attempting to maintain speed.

Cruise control can also save you gas by just keeping you driving slower. When your foot is on the pedal it’s easy to go too fast, and the faster you go the worse your fuel economy. Most vehicles are most efficient around 30-40mph and they drop off quickly from there. Driving 70 vs 75 will save you a lot of fuel, particularly in larger vehicles.

Cruise control panel in a car
Using cruise control can save you lots of money at the gas pump.

How Much Gas Can Cruise Control Save?

Some people think you can get more gas if you hit the gas station in the morning. That is a myth, but saving gas by using cruise control is not.

A study by Natural Resources Canada found that when a vehicle’s speed varies between 47 and 53 mph every 18 seconds, the car uses nearly 20% more fuel than traveling at a steady pace on cruise control. That is undoubtedly a considerable number. 

However, the exact amount can vary from vehicle to vehicle due to size, speed, and road conditions. Hills and changes in elevation during your trip will also have a big impact on your fuel economy. Because of these many other factors, you may or may not truly see the effects of cruise control on any particular trip.

Pro Tip: Before you head out on the highway and hit cruise control, make sure you know these 10 Camper Towing Rules You Should Never Break.

SUV towing travel trailer on highway
Use cruise control when driving between 55 and 70 mph.

What About Adaptive Cruise Control Systems?

Adaptive Cruise Control is the newest form of cruise control in vehicles today. ACC works by adjusting the speed of your car to the flow of traffic as you drive. ACC systems can sense road speed, but they also can register the presence of other vehicles. 

One of the flaws of traditional cruise control is that drivers often take over the vehicle’s acceleration at varying times, skewing the fuel efficiency benefit of the setting. ACC has one up on traditional cruise functions, as it does all the work for you. 

People don’t have the natural ability to quickly make all of the calculations and adjustments an ACC function can. Allowing the computer to make decisions means that you’ll likely have a more fuel-efficient outcome. 

If you want to get the most out of your fuel on a long trip, let your car do the driving. If you spend most of your long drives in an RV, you can rest easy knowing that some RVs also come with adaptive cruise control. 

When Should You Not Use Cruise Control?

Though cruise control is a marvelous feature on many vehicles on the road today, it’s not always the right course of action while driving. There are plenty of circumstances when you should not use your cruise control. Some situations make it dangerous to use this function, while others undermine the efficiency. 

For example, you shouldn’t use cruise control (especially adaptive cruise control) when you’re tired. The cruise function means there’s less to do for the driver, making it a more conducive dozing environment. It’s dangerous. 

Also, driving in a city or around winding roads makes cruise control an unfavorable option. You can’t properly regulate the situational changes when you activate cruise. Cruise control in the rain is another situation where the driver should have complete control. Cruise settings don’t account for wet roads. 

Finally, you may find that using cruise control in a heavy vehicle, like a motorhome towing a car or trailer or a truck towing a heavy load, is not ideal when going up and down frequent steep grades. Most smaller vehicles can adjust fine, but cruise control does not always know the appropriate times to shift and brake the vehicle when it is heavier than normal. In these situations, the vehicle may struggle to shift smoothly and actually degrade your fuel economy.

Pro Tip: Turn your cruise control off in the mountains when driving heavy – your truck or RV transmission will thank you!

Class A Diesel Pusher Motorhome RV on a Scenic California Highway 101
In severe weather, like rain, fog, or snow, do not use cruise control.

At What Speed Should You Use Cruise Control?

“Should” being the keyword here, setting your cruise control between the speeds of 35 and 70 is reportedly the way to go. You’ll get the most fuel efficiency in this range. However, you can set your cruise control at almost any speed. You have to remember that you may not be getting the most out of the setting when you use it outside the normal range. 

Also, many vehicles do not allow cruise control below a certain speed.

Pro Tip: Have you heard of pranksters putting sugar in people’s gas tanks? Before you start to worry, find out will Sugar in Gas Tank Ruin Your Engine?

Woman leaning out car window while driving on the highway.
Make driving and towing smoother with cruise control.

What Are the Other Benefits of Using Cruise Control?

Cruise control enhances fuel efficiency. It helps your vehicle maintain a smoother drive by maintaining speed. That alone could make a difference to a passenger who experiences car sickness. 

Adaptive cruise control has even more benefits. For instance, ACC slows your vehicle when the person in front of you slows down. Without that function, you’re left to your own reaction time to slow the car. Regular cruise (without driver intervention) would have you plowing into the back of the vehicle in front of you, but ACC adjusts accordingly. 

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Find New Ways to Save Money at the Pump

Overall, it’s always best to learn a new way to save a little extra money. Cruise control is an excellent way to make the most of the fuel you pay top dollar to acquire. 

You can save more money at the pump when you take part in customer loyalty programs, use the GasBuddy app, and adjust the way you drive. Accelerate consistently without flooring the gas pedal, and let off the gas completely when rolling down a steep hill.

Another trick is to purchase a truck bed fuel tank to stock up on better fuel prices. Little tricks like this can add up in the long run.

Do you prefer to use cruise control on long journeys? Tell us in the comments!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Larry Lee

Saturday 4th of June 2022

Driving our 40 foot motorhome, I often use the cruise control whenever it is reasonable, primarily to relax my right leg and foot from the strain of pushing the pedal. However, once I encounter increased traffic, rain or hilly terrain, I turn it off.

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