What Does Eco Mode Do in a Car?

Eco mode is a driving mode intended to maximize efficient performance in order to improve fuel economy. Learn how it works here.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Eco mode is a driving mode intended to maximize efficient performance in order to improve fuel economy.
Many modern cars have a button located somewhere in the cabin that reads “eco mode”—but if you weren’t sure what it did, you might have been hesitant to press it. Or, maybe you were bold and you did press it, but still had no clue what happened after the fact.
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What does eco mode do in a car?

Eco mode, or econ mode, as it’s referred to in some vehicles, is short for “economic mode.” 
As opposed to sport mode—which is a feature on some cars that can boost performance factors like acceleration speed—eco mode is a driving mode that’s intended to minimize fuel consumption by prioritizing efficiency over performance power.
In best-case scenarios, driving in eco mode can:
  • Improve fuel economy
  • Reduce
  • Save you money on fuel expenses
How does it do that, though? Let’s take a look.

How it works

How exactly eco mode works can vary somewhat from vehicle to vehicle. Hyundai, Nissan, Kia, Lexus, Honda, Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet are all examples of vehicle manufacturers that offer eco mode for certain vehicles and certain trims, and each one may alter performance factors in varying ways in an attempt to improve gas mileage.
Generally, vehicles with an eco mode feature will have an interior button to easily activate it and turn it off as needed.
Once eco mode is activated, your vehicle will start taking more measures to maximize fuel economy, like determining when to shift gears on an automatic transmission. Depending on the vehicle, other actions could include:
  • Reducing throttle response for more gradual acceleration
  • Shifting to higher gears sooner
  • Shifting to lower gears more slowly
  • Limiting power for
    air conditioning
    and/or heating
  • Limiting power for additional features requiring electrical power, like heated seats
Usually, your owner’s manual should outline what eco mode affects on your own vehicle.
MORE: How to choose an eco-friendly car

When should you use eco mode?

The most ideal time to use eco mode might depend on what actions your vehicle takes when the feature is activated. Often, the best time to use it is when you’re driving at a slower pace in what would be considered “normal driving conditions.” Some drivers might opt to use eco mode when they’re out and about running local errands, while others prefer to leave it on as their default driving setting.

When should you not use eco mode?

It’s generally recommended that you turn eco mode off when you need to navigate more challenging driving conditions.
These could include:
  • Steep or winding roads that are difficult to navigate and require more frequent switching of gears
  • Poor weather conditions
  • Interstate or highway driving when you might need to accelerate more quickly
If your eco mode affects your vehicle’s climate control, you might also prefer to turn it off on particularly cold or hot days to stay comfortable.

How do you turn eco mode off?

While it depends on the vehicle, in most cases, turning eco mode off is often as simple as pressing a button
The eco mode button can usually be found under or to the right or left of your steering wheel, but if you’re having trouble finding it, you can also check your owner’s manual for extra guidance.
In other vehicles, you may need to enter your vehicle’s settings to control when eco mode turns on and off.
To learn how to properly turn your own eco mode on and off, you can check your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Does eco mode work?

As stated above, eco mode can potentially help your vehicle run more efficiently, but its actual fuel-saving benefits are at times up for debate and might vary from vehicle to vehicle.
While eco mode features can in theory achieve a better fuel economy, gains can be modest, and not many manufacturers provide specific details on how much fuel their eco mode can actually save. 
In the spring of 2022,
Consumer Reports
performed their own test on how well eco mode performed on various late-model vehicles and didn’t see much notable improvement for city or highway gas mileage during their experiment.
To get a better sense of the effect eco mode has on your own fuel consumption, you could conduct an experiment yourself by
tracking your gas mileage
with and without eco mode under similar conditions. 
With or without eco mode, one of the biggest factors that does impact fuel economy is your driving style
Aggressive acceleration and braking can dramatically reduce gas mileage, even if your eco mode is engaged. Gentler driving practices, however, like keeping a light foot on the gas pedal when accelerating, using cruise control to maintain a constant speed, and driving the recommended speed limit could potentially improve your fuel economy by as much as a few mpg—and that’s why many econ modes have settings that mimic those behaviors.

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It depends. How much fuel eco mode actually saves is up for debate, and it’s possible you might only see slight gains in fuel efficiency. Gentler driving styles, however, can save you up to a few mpg, and many eco-mode features are modeled after those kinds of behaviors.
In theory, eco mode is designed to help a vehicle perform more efficiently, so it shouldn’t lead to problems with your engine overheating.
That said, if your eco mode affects your AC compressor, it might be possible that the engine runs hotter, but it shouldn’t reach a point where your engine is on the verge of overheating. If you have concerns about your engine running too hot, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with a certified automotive mechanic or a service center of your vehicle manufacturer to protect your engine from overheating damage.
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