What is Eco Mode? (A Brief History and How It Works)

What is Eco Mode

When you get into a new vehicle, you get bombarded with features you’ve probably never seen before. That’s mostly because automakers are developing new features left and right, to take a lead in the highly competitive car market. 

One of the new features that can be found in almost all of the new vehicles is Eco Mode. 

But what exactly is Eco Mode, and how does it work? More importantly, when should you be using it?

Just keep reading, and we’ll break down all the nuts and bolts of Eco Mode. You’ll know everything you need and more!

What is Eco Mode?

The term actually stands for the economical mode of the car. In layman’s terms, Eco Mode is a feature that improves fuel economy for your vehicle through various measures. 

Once you press the eco mode button, it changes the basic functions of the car and enables you to drive many miles with just a liter of fuel gallon of gas.

While it helps the driver to save up on fuel, the option comes with a tradeoff in performance, especially if you tend to be a more aggressive driver.

A Brief History of Eco Mode

The history for Eco mode is more complicated than you might think. That’s because each manufacturer has a specific “Eco mode,” and regardless of the same name none of them work the same way.

Each manufacturer has proprietary information guarding their individual systems, but that doesn’t mean we can’t break down the fundamentals and when vehicle manufacturers’ introduced them.

2006 Toyota Prius came with an Eco mode – but it only worked when the vehicle was going under 34 miles per hour and it didn’t offer much for improved fuel economy. However, through the years, the option has improved drastically.

In 2008, the Nissan Leaf hybrid introduced an Eco mode option that improves fuel economy by up to 10 percent. Honda introduced its first Eco mode option in 2009, and both Ford and Chevy added the feature to their lineup in 2012.

Today you’ll be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer that doesn’t offer an Eco mode option for at least some of their vehicle lines. The modes’ effectiveness varies by manufacturer, and there’s no doubt that some brands simply offer the feature as a marketing tactic despite minimal improvements to fuel economy.

On the other hand, other vehicles, like the Honda Accord, Nissan Leaf, and newer Toyota Priuses, have Eco modes that significantly improve fuel economy.

How Does Eco Mode Work?

As we mentioned earlier, each manufacturer implements Eco mode is slightly different, and the exact science behind each brand is often proprietary. But the fundamentals of how each system works is common knowledge, and it stays relatively standard across different brands.

The most common way that Eco mode works is by limiting engine performance. If you put the pedal to the metal and jam it against the floorboard, you’ll get a wide-open throttle, resulting in maximum fuel throughput to keep up with the additional airflow.

Eco mode restricts the fuel flow and the result is less power. But it doesn’t just do it with a wide-open throttle; it does it at every point. This means you’ll get a less responsive engine, and you’ll often notice a notable drop in power during acceleration.

Another option that some manufacturers tie into Eco mode is a stop-start feature. This feature actually shuts off your engine when you’re not driving, increasing fuel efficiency since you’re not burning fuel while you’re idling.

Is Eco Mode Worth It?

If you’re looking to cut on fuel costs, the answer is almost always yes. Even though some vehicles don’t have a great Eco mode installed, this is typically for older models that introduced the option when the technology was just getting started.

Today’s vehicles can save between 5 and 10 percent when driving in Eco mode, as the option spends less fuel and lowers the maintenance costs.

 Put it this way – if you drive your car 1,000 miles per month, and your vehicle gets 30 miles per gallon without Eco mode, you’ll use 400 gallons of fuel per year. If the average cost per gallon is $2.50, that’s $1,000 a year in fuel.

If you turn on Eco mode, some vehicles can drop that number to just over $900 a year – that’s $100 in savings by merely clicking a button!

How Popular/Common is Eco Mode?

While Eco mode is reasonably new, it’s quickly gaining in popularity. Before 2008 only a handful of vehicles offered an Eco mode, namely the Toyota Prius, and most of them hardly did a thing. Since then, just about every auto manufacturer has added a vehicle with an Eco mode setup to their lineup.

In fact, even markets with vehicles that aren’t traditionally “green” have added vehicles with Eco mode options to their lineups. That’s why new vehicles like the Chevy Silverado have Eco mode setups that you can use to improve your fuel economy with the click of a button!

Can You Drive with Eco Mode on All the Time?

Most drivers can simply press Eco mode on and then never worry about it. However, there are a few circumstances where you’ll want to make sure that you have Eco mode off. For instance, if you’re driving that Chevy Silverado with Eco mode while you’re trying to haul something, you’ll find that the option is a significant deterrent.

While it won’t damage your engine or transfer case like many people claim, you’ll find that you don’t have the necessary torque to really get moving down the road. In addition to turning Eco mode off while you’re hauling heavy loads, you should turn it off whenever you anticipate that you’ll need to accelerate quickly.

While this can be hard to anticipate, common examples include trying to merge onto busy freeways and managing stop and go rush hour city traffic. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need to speed up quickly to avoid an accident and not be able to do it!

Is Eco Mode Bad for Your Car?

Absolutely not! Eco mode restricts engine performance, but this is in no way harming your engine or doing any kind of damage to your vehicle. In fact, since your engine isn’t running as hard, you might actually be keeping your vehicle’s components from wearing out as quickly.

However, any extra longevity will likely be negligible. But while many people claim that running your vehicle in Eco mode is hard on the transfer case and the rest of the driveline, this isn’t the case.

Pros of Eco Mode

There is one main advantage to Eco mode – it improves your fuel economy! Even better, if you don’t want it on, you can quickly turn it off with the click of a button – and as soon as you want to boost your fuel savings, all you need to do is click the button to turn it back on!

  • Improved fuel efficiency
  • Quickly turned on and off

Cons of Eco Mode

While you get better fuel economy with Eco mode, you definitely lose power. And if you’re used to accelerating quickly, you’re going to notice a difference. Moreover, if you’re trying to get some torque, whether you’re towing something or struggling to get up a steep incline, Eco mode isn’t going to be worth it.

Of course, all you have to do is click a button to turn it off! You don’t have to like Eco mode; if you don’t want to use it, just don’t turn it on!

  • Reduced power output
  • Reduced torque to wheels

When Should You Turn Eco Mode on?

Anytime you want to save fuel, of course! If you’re using your vehicle as a daily driver to and from work, chances are you can keep Eco mode on all the time. If your vehicle has an Eco mode option, there are only a few circumstances that you should turn it off, and even if you forget, it won’t damage your vehicle at all!

When Should You Turn Eco Mode off?

You should turn Eco mode off when towing or hauling heavy loads. If you weigh down your vehicle, you’re going to want as much torque to the wheels as possible. Eco mode limits this power and torque by design – making it a terrible choice if that’s what you’re using your vehicle for.


While Eco mode might be new to you today, there’s no doubt that manufacturers will equip more and more vehicles in the future with something similar. That’s because there are almost no disadvantages to offering a vehicle with an Eco mode option.

With the click of a button, you can save money, and if you ever need the extra power, all you have to do is turn Eco mode off! Eco mode vehicle’s are the way of the future, and you can expect them to be incorporated into more and more vehicles. 

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