A Different Kind Of Travel Tip

What can I say?  I like to fly.  I don’t just like to fly for the convenience.  Even in today’s world of reduced comfort while flying, there’s a romance to the adventure of getting on a plane.  The idea of sitting down somewhere and appearing halfway around the world in 10 hours has equal appeal to being 1,000 miles away in just a few hours.  It’s fun to explore.

Because of that and the normal dreary nature of car travel, I rarely get behind the wheel for long trips.  Traffic and kids are not a good mix in any respect.  But, I have family that live in Connecticut and upstate NY.  The closest airport is Westchester (HPN).  Tickets there are generally expensive ($500 or higher for a 40-minute flight).  Buying 4 tickets to go see the family for a few days has never really appealed to me despite the alternative, an unpredictable ride up the New Jersey Turnpike which normally takes 6 hours.

That was our plan for right after Christmas, though.  And, by virtue of a flat tire on my wife’s car, it became time to get new tires right before we left on the trip.  The bright side here was a trip to my favorite store, Costco.  I’m a disgusting Costco addict, going multiple times every week.  When I came home from a business trip last year, my wife had the line of the week, “Honey, while you were gone, Costco sent out an amber alert looking for you.”

The girl at Costco suggested a new kind of tire that was a softer ride and was supposed to get better mileage.  The manufacturer also happened to be offering a coupon at the time, so the tires were a decent price.  Not the cheapest, but getting the cheapest tires and brakes for the car my kids ride around in isn’t my idea of smart budgeting.

We set off on the trip and a funny thing happened.  A side note, we have a Toyota Sienna minivan.  It’s a few years old with a decent amount of miles, but not too high.  But, enough so that the average mileage doesn’t change very often on the readout display in the car.

Imagine my surprise when, after driving about 300 miles on the new tires, we had gained a half mile per gallon on average fuel consumption.  That’s the average for a few ten thousands of miles, so our current mileage gain was significant.

The tires they recommended were Bridgestone Ecopia.  They were advertised as increasing fuel mileage between 1 and 3 miles per gallon.  Based on our current rate of increase, I don’t suspect we’ll get to 3 miles per gallon, but I wouldn’t be shocked with a 1.5 mile per gallon increase.

And, while that’s not a ton of money, it is real money.  Couple that with the fact that they really do offer a smoother ride and this is the first time I can ever remember having any emotion about buying tires that wasn’t, “Ugh! Tires cost too much.”

There you have it.  This may be the only travel tip I ever give about car trips.  Don’t get used to it.  🙂



  1. I have a set of Bridgestone Ecopia tires on my car, and while they didn’t noticeably improve gas mileage over my previous several sets of tires, that’s more of a commentary on my previous tire choices than on the Ecopia tires which have been fine. I drive a 1997 car, and feel good that I significantly beat the old EPA mpg estimates, which were calculated using a more lax methodology than the current EPA mpg estimates. Tire choice matters. (Specifically, I get 30mpg combined with a 50/50 mix; whereas the EPA estimates are 21 city 31 highway 25 combined.) The Ecopia tires do seem to be wearing out faster than the warranty would lead one to expect, but Costco makes warranty claims pretty darn straightforward if you get your next set of tires there — you get the prorated amount toward your next purchase and they settle things with the manufacturer however they have contracted to do so.

    As for the speed of change on your average mpg on your Sienna, I suspect that it’s the average for the last 1,000 miles or so, and thus your currently having acrrued a total of tens of thousands of miles doesn’t make the displayed average harder to sway. I do find the cars I rent with instantaneous mpg ratings rather distracting, though.

    1. PH, I hadn’t considered that the average mileage was a smaller subset, but it makes sense. If this is the case (likely) I wonder if it’s 1,000 or 10,000. I’ve never specifically looked for a better gas mileage tire in the past. It’s now something I will most likely focus on since I can get a tire that rides smoother and saves money.

      I’m a Costco tire guy myself. They gave me prorated credit off the last set and even gave me a bit of a break (I didn’t know using fix-a-flat violated the warranty). That’s a big part of the reason I was comfortable buying what sounded like a “softer” tire. I knew Costco would make good on it if they didn’t last.

      Regards, Edward Pizzarello

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. Ed,
    Next time you’re in HPN with a few minutes to spare, I know a great pizza place/Italian restaurant on Arthur Ave in the Bronx you would appreciate.


  3. It’s possible, but I can think of other reasons your MPG might have increased (and maybe you already ruled these out):
    (1) Your old tires were underinflated. Not all that unexpected given you just replaced them with new ones that were hopefully inflated to the proper level during installation.
    (2) You say you rarely drive long distances, so what are you comparing to? Short distances in stop-and-go traffic have much lower MPG. When I drove my old Focus around a hilly college campus on 1-2 mile trips, I averaged 22 MPG. When I took it on 400-mile trips home every three months, I averaged 30 MPG.
    (3) Finally, my own petty complaint about the industry’s use of MPG instead of GPM. A 1.5 MPG increase sounds great. But assuming your car was originally 25 MPG and went up to 26.5 MPG, then you save less than 25 gallons of gas for every 10,000 miles driven. That’s less than $100 savings. Measuring gallons per mile would make it a lot easier to compare fuel economies because people don’t automatically start driving out of the way on longer routes with the same tank of gas just because they get better mileage.

    1. Scottrick,

      1. I can rule this one out for the most part. Costco fills tires with Nitrogen so they offer free pressure checks. Since I’m addicted to Costco it’s easy to pull up for a quick pressure check. Also, when they changed the tires and noted irregular wear (higher than normal) they also noted 3 of the 4 good tires had good pressure.

      2. Driving pattern could be a factor here. I don’t think so, since we take this same trip 2 or 3 times a year and this is the first time our average mileage has swayed out of a pretty tight range. Also, it’s been about 3 weeks of more standard driving since the trip and we’ve notched another 2 tenths of MPG.

      3. I see your point on MPG vs. GPM. When I ran a quick back of the napkin math figure I was guessing I’d save about $160 a year at my average gas price. Nothing earth shattering. What I do think is noticeable is the ability to get a soft, quiet ride and better fuel efficiency which I wasn’t able to achieve before. I certainly wouldn’t choose these tires just for the cost savings if they were notably louder or more uncomfortable, but I’m happy to take them both together.

      Regards, Edward Pizzarello

      Sent from my iPhone

  4. Keep meaning to post. I have had similar success with the same tires. I bought them through TireRack which awarded UR miles, had them installed locally on my wife’s Subaru Forrester. Terrific tires and got a few extra points in the process.

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