Better Gas Mileage in a Honda Civic Hybrid

The Honda Civic Hybrid is often upstaged by the Toyota Prius. Meanwhile, many Civic Hybrid drivers are achieving fuel economy numbers consistently in the 60-mpg range. Don’t believe it? That’s okay. If you try out even one or two of the simple techniques—like using cruise control as often as possible—you may experience a nice bump in your fuel economy.

Which of these techniques are the most useful to Civic Hybrid drivers? To find out, we read hundreds of web posts and spoke directly with the most accomplished of fuel-efficient drivers. (Special thanks to Bob Barlow and “Hot Georgia” Steve.) The table below—very much a work in progress—is our attempt to organize the greatest hits of Honda Civic Hybrid mileage advice into something you can use every day.

Ultimately, it’s your job to discover what works, and what doesn’t. Let us know about your experiences. We’ll use your feedback to continue to add and modify this unofficial “Reader’s Digest” guide to maximizing your mileage.


The Honda Civic Hybrid—with its small engine and easy-to-view dashboard mileage gauges—gives the careful driver all the tools needed for extended coasting and super highway mileage. It lacks the ability to launch in all-electric mode—which helps to save gas in stop-and-go traffic—but makes up for it on the highway to produce overall mileage nearly equal to a Prius.

Break-in Period

Give any hybrid a full six months and/or 10,000 miles to get broken in. The biggest impact occurs in the first 2,000 miles or so, and it may take as much as 15,000 to achieve peak mpg’s. Hybrid owners commonly experience a 10-15% improvement in fuel economy after the new car smell has drifted away.

Route Selection

Speed is your enemy. The ideal routes have long stretches without stops, and speed limits of 40 – 45 mph (especially while using cruise control.)

Don’t be concerned about hills, especially routes with short steep uphills and long gradual downhills. The coast on the way down—especially if it’s uninterrupted—will more than make up for the extra energy to get to the top. And the downhill stretches will give you a chance to recharge your battery through regenerative braking.

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Experiment with multiple routes to see which paths consistently produce the best mileage.

When to Drive

Cold starts are mpg killers. The Civic Hybrid and other hybrids get the worst mileage in the first five to ten minutes of driving. The auto-stop feature, which shuts down the gasoline engine when you come to a stop, is less likely to engage during the warm-up period.

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Some drivers put less demand on the gasoline engine during warmup by driving slowly and coasting as much as possible. This improves fuel economy during warmup, but may result in a longer warmup period.

In other words, no matter what you do, there is certain amount of fuel that will be used during the warmup period. The best advice is to get all your errands done in one outing.

Avoid rush-hour traffic, if at all possible.

Do your best to skip driving during rainy, slushy or snowy conditions.

Tire Pressure

Tire pressure (i.e., rolling resistance) has a significant influence on fuel economy, and an obvious impact on safety and the quality of your ride. Do the research, and make your own decisions about how far to take the tire pressure to maximize mileage.

Drivers getting the highest mileage recommend using the recommended maximum tire pressure on the sidewalls—not the psi supplied by the automaker on the doorframe.

Maintain the maximum recommended tire pressure. Check the tire pressure regularly so the pressure does not fall below the maximum level.


Low octane gasoline is best. (There is actually less energy in high-octane fuel.)

Some convenience stores may use more additives than “name brand” gas stations.

Distance from Other Vehicles

Be aware of road conditions. The most important factor in maximizing your mpg is your ability to take your foot off the accelerator absolutely as soon as know that you’ll need to slow down or stop

To give yourself time to stop and coast, create space between you and the car in front of you—except when you have the opportunity to “draft” behind other vehicles on the highway. You can obtain the benefits of drafting while maintaining a safe distance of 150 feet of more.

Starting & Warming Up

Start up and get going without delay.

Dashboard Displays

Observe the instantaneous mileage reading. Monitor which conditions get the instantaneous display to move as far to the right as possible.

Slipping the vehicle into neutral will almost always “max out” the instant reading to 120 mpg.

Use the “Trip A” monitor to keep track of lifetime mileage, and “Trip B” to monitor mileage for your current tank. Alternatively, reserve one of the trip meters to measure fuel economy for specific routes to help you determine which routes to take in the future.

Accelerating & Cruising

While nearly everyone agrees that lower rpm’s are best, there are two schools of thought about acceleration.

Slow Accel Accelerate absolutely as gradually as possible, backing off the accelerator as you increase speed.

Moderate Accel The time you spend at low speeds is time spent at lower gear ratios. This increases engine revolutions, and hence, engine friction. So, the best strategy—especially for a manual transmission—is to accelerate at wide open throttle, but upshift at the lowers possible rpm. Moderate accelerations in the CVT will keep the engine at optimal efficiency at all times.

Cruising When you need to enter a highway or otherwise rapidly accelerate, simply stomp on the gas and go. The battery power will “assist” the gasoline engine, thereby reducing your fuel use.

For highway driving, get best results by setting cruise control at 55 mph. For every mph over 50 mph, you lose approximately 1 mpg. Slowing down from 65 to 60 mph or from 75 to 70 mph will save you approximately 5 mpg.

Braking & Deceleration

Use every opportunity to coast rather than applying the brakes—even if it’s only for a couple of hundred feet.

If you are comfortable with shifting back and forth from neutral, then slip into neutral to extend the duration of the coast. Coasting in neutral prevents regenerative braking, giving you a longer coast.

Anticipate short uphill stretches by gaining speed while approaching the hill, and coasting as far as possible up the incline.

All-Electric Mode

The Honda Civic Hybrid, model years 2003-2005, uses an all-electric mode when the car is coming to stop or at a standstill. This feature is called “auto-stop.”

To get the auto-stop to engage, you must travel at least 10 mph and then return to a stop. If auto-stop is engaged waiting at a light, and the car ahead of you “creeps” ahead a few feet, do not follow. Stay where you are as long as possible to keep the gasoline engine from idling.

Note: The redesigned 2006 Civic Hybrid can deactivate all cylinders and go all-electric. We are currently collecting information about the best strategies for achieving all-electric mode in the 2006 Civic Hybrid.

Idle versus Shutdown

In conditions that require you to wait for longer than one minute, (e.g., line at fast food restaurant) set your parking brake and shift into neutral. Turn the key one click to turn the engine off (provided that you do not need A/C, defroster, etc.).

If you need the fan, radio, etc., then click once to “on” again, but do not restart the engine until the line you are waiting in has moved at least a cars length.

If you need to move forward, restart the engine. If you think that you’ll remain stationary for a minute or longer, once again shut down the engine. Practice stopping-restarting, stopping-restarting in moderation.

Gear Selection

Avoid lower gears, unless you are trying to reduce use of brakes on severe downhill stretch.

Coasting in N, rather than D, can give you a 30-40% improvement in the length of the coast.

AC and Accessories

In model years prior to 2006, running certain accessories will not allow you to activate auto-stop. To engage auto-stop as frequently as possible, set the AC “Econ” button to on. In the 2006 Civic Hybrid, the auto-stop function will engage even when accessories are being used.

Using the defroster, especially the electric rear defroster, places high loads on the engine and uses additional fuel. To keep auto-stop working while using the windshield defroster, keep the vent set to defrost but keep the fan set to off. This will allow a steady flow of air over the windshield. As needed, switch the fan on half way, let it run for a minute, then switch it off.

Alternatively, you can try this “hack:”

  1. Turn the vent control (top knob) to “face” (one to the right of auto).
  2. Turn the temp knob all the way to cold (left).
  3. Turn the fan control to “auto.”
  4. Hold the three buttons down: AC, recirculate and econ button.
  5. Insert key into ignition and start.
  6. Hold the buttons down for seven seconds. The ECON light will blink 7 times.
  7. Release button.
  8. Now you can enter auto-stop while using defrost.
  9. To switch back to default, repeat the process above.

State of Charge (SOC)

For the most part, the Civic Hybrid’s state of charge will be maintained in an ideal state by the vehicle’s computer system.

When the batteries are below half-way, the “assists”—the use of battery power during rapid acceleration—will occur less fequently.

Two bars of power on the battery charge gauge are sufficient. If there are two bars or less, then keep the car in D when stopping in order to maximize regenerative braking. If you have more than two bars of power, then use N for stopping and coasting.

The advantages of coasting outweigh the benefits of regenerative braking and and assists.

Cruise Control

Use the cruise control as often as possible.

You must be traveling at least 25 mph to engage cruise control.

Use the accel and decel button on the steering wheel to moderate your speed.

Advanced Techniques

Consistency, slow acceleration, and maximizing the duration of coasting.

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