How does F-150 get same mileage in city, highway driving?

Ray Magliozzi
Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk:

My newspaper featured an ad for the 2021 Ford F-150 pickup. The ad said it has an Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimate of “24 mpg city/24 highway/24 combined.”

That sounds crazy to me. How can you get the same mileage making all the starts and stops in city driving that you can just flowing down the highway? — Matt

RAY: With a hybrid powertrain, Matt.

Those figures are exactly right. Well, they’re exactly what the EPA reports for the hybrid F-150 four-wheel drive under ideal conditions. The two-wheel drive did even better. Your own mileage may vary, as they say. And it almost always varies for the worse. But I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the real world, city mileage in that truck turned out to be better than highway mileage.

Here’s why. The F-150 has a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine that’s tuned to work with a 47 hp electric motor. Around town, the truck makes good use of that battery-powered electric motor, using it for lots of the typical stop-and-go driving that ruins gasoline engine fuel economy.

When you need more power, like when you want to accelerate quickly or if you’re pulling a heavy load, the gasoline engine kicks in, too. But in stop-and-go traffic, the electric motor does a lot of the heavy lifting.

On the highway, things are reversed. You’re primarily using the gasoline engine, with a boost from the electric motor when needed, like when you’re carrying a horse trailer full of in-laws to a family reunion.

If you want to get a general sense of where the hybrid powertrain helps the most, just compare the hybrid F-150 to the regular F-150. A non-hybrid four-wheel drive F-150 with a similar 3.5L V6 gets 18 mpg city (vs. 24 city for the hybrid) and gets 23 mpg highway (vs. 24 highway for the hybrid). So the hybrid improves the highway mileage by about 4% but boosts city mileage by 33%.

The other cool thing about the hybrid F-150 is that it also comes with an AC inverter that lets you use the hybrid battery as a source of electricity when you’re working at a job site. Or if you live in Texas. With the standard 2.4kW inverter that comes with the truck, you can plug in your air compressor, your power washer or your tool chargers. And with the larger, optional 7.2kW inverter, you can plug in your 80-inch OLED TV, your LG French door refrigerator-freezer and your heated hot tub.

Honda Fit noise issue likely starts with the starter

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2016 manual Honda Fit. Sometimes upon ignition, there is a loud whirring noise under the hood that lasts a couple of seconds.

The car runs well, but the noise concerns me. Any thoughts? Thanks. — Alan

RAY: I have three thoughts, Alan. The first thought is: When the heck is Season 6 of “Better Call Saul” going to arrive?

My second thought is that you could have a slipping belt. A cold belt that’s worn out will often slip right when you start the car. And then, within a few seconds, the slipping friction heats it up enough so it grabs, and the noise stops.

My third thought — which is the thought I like best — is that you have a bad starter drive. When you turn the key or push the starter button to start the engine, there’s a small gear called the starter drive that shoots out of the starter and engages with a bigger gear — called the ring gear — on the flywheel.

Turning the flywheel is what gets the engine going. Once the engine reaches a certain speed and is running on its own, that starter drive is supposed to retract back into the starter. At that point, the starter’s job is done.

But if your starter drive isn’t retracting right away — if it’s sticky or lazy due to a faulty overriding clutch — it’ll grind against the ring gear after the car starts and make a whirring, gnashing noise.

It can last a few seconds until the drive finally retracts. And, as you can probably imagine, it’s not great for the ring gear, so it’s something that should be fixed.

So my fourth thought — a bonus thought — is that you should take it to a mechanic, Alan. Leave the car with him overnight if need be, so he can hear the noise. A trained mechanic will be able to tell the difference between a bad starter drive and a slippery belt in two seconds. Or as we call it in the business, “two hours of labor.”

Good luck, Alan.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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