Build a gas guzzler meter

Take an accelerometer, add a microcontroller and display, and watch the dollars fly out of your carburetor.
A meter clipped to a visor in the front of a car that reads 1.71.
The Gas Guzzler Meter in action. Dave Prochnow

Editor’s note: We have, unfortunately, lost access to the code that was originally used to program this project, and the build itself involves outdated technologies and products. Instead, check out our story about how to save gas while driving (without ruining your car).

Pain at the pump continues to reach new levels of misery every day. While most of us can’t afford to trade our current gas guzzler for a more fuel economical model, it would be nice to adopt some new driving skills that will translate into greater fuel economy. But where do you start? How do you know if your current jitney is a fuel sipper or a gas guzzler?

The Gas Guzzler Meter is an attempt at putting an immediate dollar value on your current driving techniques: a digital meter that displays exactly what you’re spending as you motor along. Stomp on the pedal and see the bucks zoom out your tailpipe faster than a NASCAR driver competing for the Nextel Cup.

Before we begin this project, however, please heed these words of caution: the Gas Guzzler Meter is not a precisely calibrated scientific measuring instrument. Rather it is a playful, tongue-in-cheek study on managing your own personal fuel economy. While many of the calculations are based on Environmental Protection Agency studies, some of the variables are “best guess” approximations. Feel free to modify our code for achieving more accurate results. The Arduino Sketch code has been thoroughly documented for helping you insert your own variables and calculations.

These sources were used for developing our gas consumption and fuel economy calculations:

A DIY fuel cost meter.
The Gas Guzzler Meter. Dave Prochnow


  • Time: 8 hours
  • Cost: $58.59
  • Difficulty: moderate


  • Rock bottom Freeduino kit plus (Wulfden at Hawk’s Mountain #RBFK+; $12)
  • Parallax Memsic 2125 accelerometer (Mouser #619-28017; $29.00)
  • Kingbright LED green display (Mouser #604-BC5612GWA; $2.73)
  • PacTec plastic box (Mouser #616-69313-510-000; $2.19)
  • Hammond nylon belt clip (Mouser #546-1599-CLIP; $1.00)
  • 220-ohm resistor (Mouser #660-CFS1/4CT52R221J; $0.03)
  • SPDT switch (SparkFun Electronics #COM-00102; $1.50)
  • 8-pin IC socket (Mouser #571-1-390261-2; $0.15)
  • Hookup wire (RadioShack #278-1224; $5.99)
  • 9-volt battery snap (All Electronics #BST-3; $1.00)
  • 9-volt battery (local purchase; $3.00)
  • PopSci‘s custom Arduino Sketch code (free)


1. Build the Rock Bottom Freeduino Kit plus. You will need an FTDI USB TTL-232RL cable for programming the Sketch code onto the Freeduino. Download our Sketch code and burn the PDE file onto your Freeduino.

2. Drill eight holes (matching the configuration of the 8-pin IC socket) in the plastic box’s lid. Solder three short lengths of wire to pins 5 through 7 of the socket. Route these wires through the holes in the lid and into the inside of the box. Mount the socket to the box’s lid. Solder a jumper between pins 4 and 5 of the socket on the inside of the box.

3. Drill three holes (matching the alignment of the SPDT switch) in the plastic box’s lid. Mount the SPDT switch to the outside of the lid with its leads routed through these three holes.

4. Cut two slots in the upper and lower sides of the plastic box’s front panel. These slots will receive the LED display’s pins and wires. Mount the LED display to the outside of this front panel with its pins centered in the two slots.

5. Solder one lead of the 220-ohm resistor to pin 6 of the LED display. Solder one of the Freeduino GND pins to the other lead of the resistor. Use the wiring guide in the Sketch documentation to connect both the Parallax accelerometer and the LED display to the Freeduino pins.

6. Wire the black lead of the 9-volt battery snap to the G pad of the Freeduino’s voltage regulator. The red lead is soldered to one of the outside pins of the SPDT switch. Connect a short wire between the middle pin of the SPDT switch to the +V pad of the Freeduino’s voltage regulator.

A DIY gas cost estimator in pieces on a white surface.
The Gas Guzzler Meter assembly. Dave Prochnow

Now take your Gas Guzzler Meter for a test drive. Just clip it under one of your front windshield visors and turn it on. Ensure that the accelerometer is perfectly level and its arrow is pointing toward the front of your automobile. The display shows a calculated value for the amount of money being consumed by your engine. This value is displayed in US dollars format (X.xx). Impress your friends, drive responsibly, and keep those dollars in your pocket.