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Increasing Mileage by Driving More Efficiently
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Steve Sailer posted recently soliciting advice on making a vehicle purchase that will reduce his fuel costs. I regularly hear complaints about EPA fuel economy estimates being unattainably high, even after they were adjusted downward. I don’t mean to question anyone’s integrity, but I don’t buy it. They are attainable, and surpassable, if you drive parsimoniously. In fairness, I live in the Kansas City metro area, which despite having 2 million people, isn’t even among the top 50 most congested places in the country, so I’m enjoying a bit of a built-in advantage.

I drive like a grandpa and I get nearly 28 mpg in my ’97, V-6 Taurus. The EPA puts it at 17 city, 26 highway. About 75% of my driving is the latter, which still puts me four miles above the estimates. At 15,000 miles, that translates to an annual savings of around $250 at current gas prices. Not a large amount, but not pennies either. And, apparently, most drivers do not even attain the EPA estimates, so the savings are comparatively even more substantial.

Parenthetically, yes, I know GL model is only 145 horsepower (with one of the most aerodynamic bodies on the road, which is why it was used for so long in NASCAR racing), but that is irrelevant to the question of underperforming or outperforming EPA fuel efficiency estimates.

How to optimize your fuel economy? Here’s what I’ve done, with much success:

– Never take the RPM above 2,500. This is a measure of how hard your engine is working. By watching it, you are essentially watching an efficiency gauge. It means accelerating slower out of stops. Before your automatic shifts, it’ll want to float above that mark (this is a major reason manuals get better mileage), but if you decelerate just a bit, it’ll shift earlier.

– Top out at 60 mph, give-or-take a few, in cruise control as much as possible. Fuel efficiency plummets past this speed for most vehicles (assuming your engine isn’t a V-10), as can easily be witnessed by watching how your RPM will climb around 100 for every couple of mph you tack on. That math isn’t working out in your favor.

– No windows or A/C. This is death, I know. But both cut about 10% away from your efficiency. Run the vent, or consider the sweating out a cathartic experience. The A/C consumes the same amount of energy irrespective of speed, so if the ascetic practice doesn’t work for you, use the windows when you’re cruising around in the city (the faster you’re going, the more drag open windows are creating–having them down becomes less efficient than the A/C at around 45 mph) and the A/C when you’re on the highway.

– Keep the tires near their maximum recommended PSI (usually in the low forties) and make sure they are evenly inflated.

– Stay in one of the center lanes while on the highway. You don’t want to be a jerk and keep swifter drivers from passing, but staying in the far right lane is an efficiency killer, because you’ll inevitably have to take off the cruise control as people merge on and off.

– Try to make city driving as much like highway driving as possible. Anticipate signal changes from afar. The left turn lane travelling opposite you will directly precede your green light. Scout that out from a distance, and begin breaking lightly or picking up as appropriate. If you’re not in danger of missing the signal change, coast forward, even if you have three blocks to the light. It’s satisfying to zip by the hothead who just blazed by you only to stop at the intersection that you just cruised through (as you were cruising by him).

– If you’re idling, waiting to pick someone up, do so in drive. The engine burns more gas in park and neutral. Better yet, just turn off the engine. Your starter (via the battery) is what gets the workout when you ignite, not so much the engine. Unless it’s less than a minute or so, you’re better off killing it.

If you have the gumption, try these things for the entire duration of your next tank. To get an accurate reading of your mpg, you’ll need to stop fueling at the ‘click’ (don’t top it off), and reset your short odometer immediately after filling. When you fill up the next time, again stop at the click, take the miles driven and divide it by the gallons you have just put in to get your new mpg.

You’ll be surprised to see you’ve extended your output somewhere in the vicinity of 50-100 miles, depending on tank size.

Why so much effort to save $5 a week? Well, it’s a game. It’s a better utilization of competitive disposition on the road than other manifestations of that competitive nature are! It assuages some of the guilt by lowering the amount of gas you have to buy, sort of like eating all the food on your plate instead of throwing some away–supply and demand dictates that in either of the ‘bad’ behavior cases, you are making the respective commodity more expensive for everyone else. And since American vehicles account for one-tenth of daily oil consumption, if we all knocked off 15% of our gas usage, we’d be saving more than one million barrels each day, or keeping $30 billion in revenue out of the hands of some of the uglier places on earth each year.

I should purchase a more fuel efficient vehicle, and I will, when it becomes economically sane to do so. But these savings have no accounting cost–indeed, they’re likely a net benefit. My car, despite the notorious acronym, has 130k miles on the original engine and transmission, and runs like a champ. A steady pace is easier on you when you scamper, and it’s easier on your car when you drive (there’s a joke among runners and bikers that driving hard is a way of compensating for slothfulness on foot, sort of like guys driving big trucks, but not as vulgar).

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
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  1. Anonymous [AKA "Amy Alkon"] says: • Website

    Good advice, and I'm into the game (and thanks for the link). I drive a Honda Insight (60ish mpg hwy, 45 or so in stop and go traffic in town). I love my car and totally recommend it.

  2. Miss Alkon,

    Well thank you for providing a link to exactly what I was looking for!

    You have to be careful not to let your focus on the game stoke the misanthropic streak too much, as that sort of thing has a tendency to do, I suppose.

    That being said, I really want to get a bumper sticker that says something to the effect of "Relax, I'm teaching you to be a better driver," since the short-sightedness of so many stop-go-stop-go leadfoots nets me angry glares from them as they tailgate, eager to get up to that red light with more haste so that they can be sure to stop abruptly instead of rolling on through.

    Also, for biking, I'd like to get a shirt that says something to the effect of "I'm lowering our healthcare costs, you're funding Al Qaeda, and you want me to get off the road?" on the back. But I've been physically hit by cars twice before, and the third time might be the (death) charm, so up to this point I've held back. Plus, that's probably too much verbiage for a shirt. Maybe just "Stop funding Saudi orgies" would work.

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    If you live in an urban or urban-surburban area like I do (northern NJ in the NYC metro area) try a motorcycle. Not a giant Harley hog or a stupid racing bike crotch-rocket, but a nice touring bike like a Honda nighthawk, Triumph, Suzuki, etc…
    You get really great mileage and can park just about anywhere. I have a Triumph Bonneville with luggage bags that is great. Besides saving money on gas, ease of parking and the fact that they are really fun, don't forget the fact the babes dig motorcyles!

  4. Anon,

    My old Kawasaki doesn't run well enough to take on the interstate anymore. Funny you'd suggest as much, as I've been considering a Nighthawk for some time now. But in eastern Kansas, so many days are unridable due to bitter cold/wind (basically Nov-Feb), thunderstorms (Apr-June), so I'm not sure if I can justify it.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I've taken my bike on the highway(NJ Tpk GSP, Rt. 80, etc…)maybe 5 times. I didn't buy it for that though. I got it for the around town type of stuff. I live out by Giants Stadium. I got the bike to take around town and into the city, short trips, to work, etc…things that would really kill auto fuel efficiency.
    If you live close enough to town, a bike may be worth it and I don't know what traffic conditions are like in KC but if you are far out and only have so many good riding days a year, then it is pretty much a toy for good weather(nothing wrong with that though). Have you tried coveralls for cold weather? They are not cheap, but you will be pretty comfortable. Many have pads as well. As it is, I hate riding in very hot temps and wet/snow conditions(I am worried about other drivers), but just cold itself doesn't bother me so much. In any event, having a motorcycle has given me an excuse to get some pretty cool threads.

    On an unrelated note: I have to be in Kansas City MO/KS for business. Is there a good bar "strip" nightlife district or something like that? I'd rather find out from a local than from some website.

  6. Anon,

    It would be a toy for me, which is why I'll probably just keep thinking without actually acquiring. I've not done the coverall thing, and I don't mind the cold so much, either. Rain is almost unbearable, and heat isn't much fun but still cooler than driving in my car, because, well, see the post 🙂

    Regarding the KC metro: Westport is definitely 'the place' to be for the nightlife. There's not really anything else that comes close.

    The Plaza is good if a significant other is with you, but not if you're alone. They're nearby one another, in any case.

    Lawrence, college town home to KU, is about 30 miles due west of KC, and needless to say it has quite the night scene, too. It's a straight shot down I-70, so it wouldn't be much more than half an hour from wherever you'll be staying.

  7. 'Westport' is on Westport road, which is about 30 blocks south of the heart of downtown, by the way.

  8. AE,
    Thanks. If I have any free time I'll try to get out and have a few.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Whenever I actually use my car (usually bike), I practice most of those methods you have noted. I always have my windows down in the summer, however (black interior = incinerator). The new EPA estimates say 24 highway, but I get about 25-27 altogether (75% city). I proudly boast to my friends that I keep CC locked at 62 on K10.

  10. Excellent advice, AE. I've been doing this for close to a year now and it helps on gas quite noticeably. My route to work is routine, and I've memorized the patterns of the traffic lights to the point that if it's off it throws me out of whack. I can time it at one intersection to the point that i can take my foot off the accelerator about 1000 ft in advance of an intersection, coast toward the intersection, and then have the light turn green again about 100 ft before I reach the intersection. Having a digital mpg reader is uselful in telling me what speeds are most efficient.

    One excellent addition to the roadways here in Chicago is what I presume to be roadway sensors that keep the lights on the main arteries green if there is no traffic waiting at the opposing street of an intersection.
    My Passat can get up to about 28-30mpg at if I travel at a steady pace between 40 and 60mph. I also drive a lot through industrial areas to get to and from work and tail 53' trailers at about 4 or 5 car lengths. My absolute maximum was 34.8 mpg doing that. Not only does it save gas, it's actually a good way to avoid tickets if I'm going 40 in a 30 one.

  11. Andy,

    Wow, to get that kind of mileage in Chicago is impressive. I was there about a year ago, and compared to my stomping grounds, the traffic is a nightmare. Driving on Sunday afternoon was like Monday morning here.

    Regarding the default green on the major thoroughfares: I don't see why they do not have more staying power. Why not require another vehicle to be waiting for 30 seconds+ when it is coming from a backroad? It would be much more efficient to have to wait at one light for a couple of minutes than to have to wait at several for 15 seconds, as tends to be the case during busy traffic times, even when you're on a heavily traveled road.

  12. Anon,

    You have also beaten the EPA estimates. Not that anecdotal evidence constitutes statistically significant data, but we are talking more than just a survey of one here.

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