You already know that cranking your A/C or jamming your gas pedal at every light can lead to a decrease in your fuel efficiency.
But what about jamming out to music? Does your car’s radio and stereo system use gas?
Yes, your car’s radio and stereo use gas to operate. Electricity is supplied by the alternator to power your car’s music and the alternator is powered by the fuel-burning engine. So it’s not a direct route, but your stereo system does use gas. However, this amount is very small and the typical stock stereo will only be around 0.0016 gallons of gas per hour or around $0.005 per hour if gas is around 3 dollars a gallon.
Of course, more advanced and high-powered stereo systems will use more fuel and those numbers are assuming a stock stereo on a modern vehicle.
That’s the quick answer and should be enough to keep you jamming out while staying well within your gas budget. But if you want to learn more, we’ll explain exactly how we came to these numbers and how they can change based on some specific circumstances.
Let’s get started!
How Your Car’s Stereo System Gets Energy
While high-end vehicles might sport advanced infotainment systems with multiple speakers, subwoofers, and amplifiers, most cars come equipped with a more standard stereo system.Here’s how it’s powered: when you turn on your stereo, it sources electricity primarily from the car’s alternator, which is driven by the engine. As the alternator produces electricity, the stereo system utilizes this power to amplify and produce sound.
Essentially, your stereo operates in a manner similar to other minor electrical components in your vehicle, like interior lights or dashboard displays. Though it does indirectly consume gasoline because the engine powers the alternator, its impact on fuel economy is extremely minimal compared to more fuel-hungry components like air conditioning or your car’s defrost system.
If you want to go much deeper on how your car radio works, beyond just the implications for fuel efficiency, you can check out this video:
Exactly How Much Fuel Does A Typical Car Stereo Use?
Let’s explain who we figured out the typical fuel cost that it takes to run your car’s stereo.
Understanding the Stereo’s Power Demand
The average car stereo, based on factory models, operates around an RMS wattage of 15 watts per channel with 4 channels, totaling 60 watts or 0.0804 horsepower (since 1 horsepower equals 746 watts). RMS wattage stands for Root Mean Square wattage, which sounds more complicated than it is. It’s really just the amount of wattage it takes for continuous power. In this case, it’s the wattage it takes to keep the stereo or radio on.
Fuel Consumption and Dollar Cost
For an engine putting out 100 horsepower and consuming 8 gallons of fuel per hour, demand of 0.0804 horsepower from the stereo implies a 0.0804% increase in power use.
With this added demand, fuel consumption grows by 0.0064 gallons per hour (0.000804 x 8 gallons). Assuming a fuel price of $3.00 per gallon, the stereo’s operation leads to an increased fuel expense of about $0.0192 per hour (0.0064 gallons x $3.00).
Overall, this is a very minor impact on horsepower and fuel costs. Music is more than worth a couple of pennies per hour!
What About Enhanced Stereos?
While stock car stereos tend to be modest in power consumption, adding aftermarket enhancements to your sound system can definitely change things.
Amplifiers, subwoofers, and other additions typically draw more electricity than basic units, potentially increasing fuel consumption. However, even the craziest stereo system is still going to have a very marginal impact on your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and overall mpg.
Subwoofers, which enhance bass frequencies, require additional power, especially during bass-heavy songs. Larger subwoofers, or multiple units, can draw significant power but even the largest subwoofer will still be below pennies-per-hour in terms of fuel costs.
A typical aftermarket amplifier might draw anywhere from 20 to 60 amps. More powerful amplifiers for competition-level audio systems can exceed this range. Remember, a higher amperage draw means the alternator works harder, which can have a minor effect on fuel consumption.
But just as we’ve seen with other aspects of your car’s stereo, even high-dollar systems won’t make much of an impact in terms of fuel efficiency. Especially when compared to other methods like reducing speed or going a bit easier on the brakes.
Does Turning Up The Volume Crank Up Fuel Costs?
Yes, turning up the volume and playing music louder will increase fuel costs but the difference in fuel costs between different volumes will be so small that it won’t make any difference. Just using the radio makes an extremely small impact on your mileage so when we start looking at things like volume levels, we’re really talking about a fraction of a fraction.
Even your heated seats will use more fuel than your stereo at max volume so if you’re ready to jam out, then turn it up to 11!
Does Some Music Impact Your MPG More Than Others?
Yes, playing certain types of music can impact your gas mileage- but probably not for the reason you’d expect.
It doesn’t have anything to do with engine horsepower or your alternator, instead, it’s how certain types of music impact the way you drive. One study found that listening to metal, and surprisingly Balkan folk music, led to increases in driving speed and slightly more aggressive driving overall compared to classical music, no music, and a few other genres.
It’s well-established that higher speeds alone can reduce your mileage and the frequent stops and starts that come with aggressive driving don’t help either.
So your choice of music won’t impact fuel consumption because of the heavy bass or more drums, but it could impact how you drive.
What About When The Radio Is On But The Car’s Engine Is Off?
When the engine is off the alternator isn’t producing any electricity and that means the battery will need to provide all the power for the car’s stereo. With a decent battery and a typical stock stereo system, you should be able to listen to music for a couple of hours before the battery is drained. However, I wouldn’t push it and an older battery could easily be drained after a few hours.
But what about fuel? Is this a way to avoid any fuel costs while jamming out?
Not exactly. When the engine is turned on again, the alternator has to work a little harder to recharge the battery which ends up burning more fuel. Still, this is barely noticeable, and while you’re not going to get a noticeable surge in fuel usage when the alternator recharges the battery, it does mean that fuel is still (indirectly) used even when the radio is playing and the engine is off.
While playing music or listening to the radio does use a small amount of fuel, there are much better ways to save on fuel and improve your mpg. Just like I wouldn’t want to go without heat on a cold day to save a few pennies in fuel, I wouldn’t want to skip my favorite songs on a long drive for a fraction of a cent. For other fuel-burning accessories, like headlights, there’s simply no option to skip them.
Instead, focus on the bigger factors like speed and driving style if you’re worried about saving on gas. Maybe even consider playing some classical music to keep your driving style calm, relaxed and fuel-efficient! Ride safe!