Pickup Truck Fuel Economy: The Real Story


EPA fuel economy rating are all very nice, but they hardly tell the story when it comes to predicting real world fuel economy. After the paperwork is signed, the plates are on, and the new owner puts a few thousand miles on the odometer, that’s when reality sets in. Often, the actual mileage drivers get is significantly different than what the Mulroney sticker told them to expect when they were looking at their new ride in the showroom.

Pickup truck fuel economy

PickupTrucks.com, an affiliate of Cars.com, decided to do something about the situation. They took a bunch of real trucks, gave them to real drivers, drove then on real roads, and recorded the results. They even repeated the tests while towing a loaded trailer behind. The results were interesting.

Any testing requires careful procedures if the results are going to mean anything. Here’s the what PickupTrucks.com did. “We used consistent methodology to ensure accurate results as much as possible. Our drivers for this test were divided into two groups. One group did all the driving for the towing, and the other for the unloaded trucks. The drivers rotated through each truck along the route to account for differences in driving style and driver weight. The routes were driven with consistent conditions: air conditioning on, cruise control off, Eco modes disabled and the windows up. After each loop, the trucks were all refilled from the same gas pump using the double-click method to ensure a consistent cutoff point.”

Each truck used the fuel recommended by its manufacturer. Some used regular, some premium, and one used mid-grade gasoline. The route chosen was a 170 mile loop consisting mostly of highways in and around Houston. Tires were inflated according to manufacturer specifications. The trucks often ran in convoy fashion, one behind the other. PickupTrucks.com advises that their numbers may be slightly higher then what an individual driver may experience if there are no other vehicles in front to reduce wind resistance.

Ready for the results? Here’s the chart of observed fuel economy with the trucks empty:


Pickup Truck fuel economy empty

And here’s how they performed while towing a 10,000 lb load:

Pickup truck fuel economy towing

Here’s an important side note on the accuracy of onboard trip computers. Apparently, most of them are inaccurate, one of them wildly so. “All of our competitors turned in lower real-world fuel economy figures than their trip computers suggested, especially the 2016 Ram 1500, which got 21.8 mpg on the unloaded leg according to its computer, but only returned 17.7 mpg in reality — an almost 20 percent difference.”

So there you have it. For you pickup truck lovers out there, congratulations or condolences, whichever is appropriate.

Charts by Cars.com. Photo credit: Brian Wong, Cars.com

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • Kyle Field

    Wow: “2016 Ram 1500, which got 21.8 mpg on the unloaded leg according to its computer, but only returned 17.7 mpg in reality — an almost 20 percent difference.” Pretty sad stuff. Almost as sad as the actual MPG rating.

    • Steve Hanley

      Yup. Ram fans are not going to be one bit happy about this. Nor should they be.

    • James Rowland

      It certainly seems very wrong. Fuel is metered very precisely by the injection system and distance travelled is measured fairly accurately too; this seems like it might be deliberate deception baked into the software.

      • Kyle Field

        I can’t wait for the EPA to intervene on this one…in 2020.

        • Steve Hanley

          That soon? ; – )

  • JP

    I know that towing 10k lbs is hard work, but 10 and 11 mpg? Gee, maybe consider electrifying trucks? Much lower towing MPG and you are in semi territory.