What Shit Really Costs: Gas and The Power of Data


After a long wait since my first installation of this series on the real cost of car ownership, I am here to add this to the mix.  I guess you could see it as supplemental to that post, since fuel economy and car ownership are inextricably linked.

Now, you may be wondering why I think that you give any hoots about what my gas mileage is when you’re vehicle is not the same?  Well, although I will get funky with a little bit of basic arithmetic and algebra, like most of my posts the point is the message – the mindset – rather than the details.  For me, gathering some data on something – some real, hard, data that I myself went and got on my own –  that has a monumental impact on my ability to incorporate real change into my life around that thing around which I am gathering data.

It started with fitness and dieting.  Tracking how much I was eating allowed me to get a handle on how much I should be eating. Learning how many (or, as it sometimes seems how few) calories you burn working out also helps in the overall mental calculus moving forward.  Just like you can only learn the value of a dollar by either earning a dollar or losing a dollar, you must calibrate yourself to understand the proper amount of activity and food you need in order for it to ever become practically intuitive.  In this way I also learned a lot about the contents and energy density (i.e. calories per volume) of different foods.  Ultimately, I reached a sort of equilibrium in routine and diet and gained a strong sense of what 2500-3000 calories/day actually looks and feels like.

All this tracking might seem very tedious, but if you want results one way to get them is to try what others have used to get results, and tracking my goals very closely has definitely worked for me.  Generally speaking, learning breeds knowledge which leads to more questions and, ultimately, more learning.  Naturally.  Creativity breeds innovation, which leads to progress which sets the stage for further creativity and innovation.  Getting active breeds new energy which breeds sustainable fitness and leads to  a healthy life.  Savings breeds wealth which leads to opportunity which ultimately breeds further wealth.  I think you see how this works.  The most difficult thing is developing some momentum in whatever you are setting out to do.  And that’s where the power of data is so important, and it’s a big reason why fitness tracker devices and apps are currently surging in popularity.


Eventually, my biggest barrier to my goals of financial independence became meeting my budget and reaching my financial goals.  In fact, that’s where this blog was born – as a part of tracking my progress and learning along my journey to financial independence at a young age.  In my opinion, we need to think big when it comes to finances.  For example, invest for the long term.  But to achieve our larger goals, we need to act small.  For example, develop a shrewd budget and stick to it.  And that’s what leads us to this gas mileage article.

After seeming to burn through what should have been a half a tank of gas very quickly one day last month, I got curious enough to finally remembered to reset my trip odometer and record the volume of gas I put into my truck one day when it was really empty.*

I drive around the desert in a 2011 Toyota Tacoma 4-cylinder regular cab.  Being small for a truck and with a smaller engine, one of the first things that comes to people’s minds when chatting about it seems to be “oh it must get pretty good gas mileage hey”.  And until now, I didn’t have much of an answer for them.  But after calculating my mileage over a couple of tanks so far, I finally can tell them the following.

I get 16.08 MPG (14.62 L/100 km).  I just realized there was a lot of lead up to this rather uninteresting fact.  What I found curious was the discrepancy in economy between the two transactions.  For my first full tank, I got over 18 MPG, but for the second tank, I only got about 13 MPG.  I carry around a cargo-carrier on my roof, which undoubtedly takes away from the fuel economy.  I often also carry around a 9′ surfboard, which has the same effect.  I removed the surfboard part way through my all of this, but in reality I’m quite sure it was actually sometime during the second tank, so that only adds to the mystery rather than solves it.  My best guess right now is that the utilization of the second tank was largely small trips to town or around the area near home searching for waves, whereas the 1st tank was largely highway miles, where overall I will earn better mileage.  It is also possible I was just driving faster/more aggressively during the second tank.  For some perspective, the 5 MPG difference adds up to over 450 gallons of gasoline per year (driving just 10,000 miles per year), or about $2,000 USD at current prices.  Over the life of the vehicle – say, 20 years – that would add up to about $95,000 (assuming a 7% annual ROI).

In any case, I am keen to keep tracking this and see what more I can learn about my truck and how to optimize its costs and performance, because my current answer to the question “oh it must get pretty good gas mileage hey?” has to be “not really”.**  However, with the data I have and will continue to collect I will surely find ways to improve this, and the act of tracking it is what keeps it in the daily conscious and allows us to take action consistently over time, which is ultimately the key to success in any aspect of life.


There are two parts to happiness.  Reality and expectations.  When reality exceeds expectations, we are happy.  Similarly, there are two parts to wealth.  Income and spending.  When income exceeds expectations, we are wealthier.  In both cases, both factors can be adjusted.  Which you should focus on depends on you and your situation.  But don’t forget that you may already be rich, and that perhaps you should focus on your spending and thus on things like gas mileage and grocery costs.  And don’t forget that you may already have everything you need to be happy, and that a simple adjustment of your expectations will quickly bring that into focus.

*You can do this without having an empty vehicle and without filling your vehicle completely, but it involves a bit more math and perhaps knowledge of the actual volume of your tank.  Of course, you just need to find a way to know how much gas you’ve burned over a certain period of time.  Going from empty to full to near empty is the easiest way to do this since you don’t have to know the volume of your tank that way.

**For comparison, the manufacturer claims I should get about 21 MPG (combine highway/city) from my truck, and according to True Delta, the ‘real’ fuel economy of my truck should be about that, whereas my previous vehicle, a 2008 Subaru Forester, would earn about 25 MPG.  The previous owner of my truck lifted it slightly and added some weight with additional things for using it as a work truck such as a burly front bumper.  These things almost definitely also contribute to the discrepancy.

4 thoughts on “What Shit Really Costs: Gas and The Power of Data

  1. Pingback: The Resolution 2018: Wrap-up – Freedom 33

  2. I just did a write up on my Instagram of having spent $10,000 in gas over the 4.25 years I’ve owned my 4 cyl sedan. If I drove the V8 truck I’ve been pining for instead, it would have cost me an additional 10k in gas. A sedan and 10k more in my pocket, or the truck? Interesting data for sure

  3. Pingback: 4 Must Haves: Personal Finance Apps (Guest Post) – FREEDOM 33

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