Okay, this week I'm going to help us all break our addiction to oil. I know it's a big job, but I'm willing to work at it and I'm sure you are too--and I think we can do it in the next few months if we work together. With the oil continuing to foul the Gulf Coast, I think it's important for us to at least try to use a little less gas, and saving money is just the added bonus. Unfortunately, the single biggest factor in fuel efficiency is YOU.
Your driving habits are wasting you money.
First, you need to know what kind of mileage you are getting in the first place before you can work on getting more. This is one of the things your father probably tried to tell you when you were young, but he was right--you weren't listening. All you remember was that you were supposed to be back by 11 PM and to fill up the tank. The easiest way to figure out your mileage is to make a note of your odometer reading at fill up time, then next time you're at the pump (and you HAVE TO fill up till the pump stops, both times
) make a note of how many gallons it took and the current odometer reading. Subtract to get how many miles you've driven, divide miles by gallons and you have miles per gallon.
Of course, you need to have an accurate odometer that works. You can also look up every car sold in the USA since 1984 at FuelEconomy.gov
, and see what you are officially supposed to be getting. Once you know how many MPG you are currently getting, then you can try to improve.
Everyone will tell you the single best thing you can do to get better mileage is to slow down. Sure that will work, but it's not much fun and you'll be late. I like to drive fast, but if you want to drive fast and get good mileage you need a motorcycle--and that's a whole other blog post. I've been collecting fuel saving tips from sites around the internet and some of the best MPGs ever are being recorded by the mileage geeks over at HyperMiler
, and CleanMPG
--but you don't really want to go there. Their conversations are geeky, technical, a bit esoteric and not much fun. I tried to use only tips that were simple and proven to work from sites around the web with documentation to back them up.
So let's get down to it.
I joked about slowing down, but seriously DO IT. It's a simple fact: the faster you drive, the more air you have to push out of the way. In a steady cruising test, a BMW 535 got 25 mpg at 65 mph. At 50 mph it got 7% better mileage and at 80mph it got 8% worse mileage. For your own safety, and too keep from being late, keep up with traffic--but remember 1 mile per minute = more miles per gallon
In the same vein, you should drive smoothly. Look ahead: if the light is red, just coast, don't speed up. Accelerate only as quickly as needed, when needed. Brake as little as possible. In short, drive like you are taking your grandmother to a church picnic and she's got a big bowl of ambrosia in her lap. You'd better be smooth--you don't want to mess her Sunday dress!
To save gas, and increase the fun of driving (once you have successfully delivered Grandma...
), learn to corner while maintaining as much speed as possible--but always staying safe. If you drive an SUV, don't corner so fast that you're only using two wheels--though that would reduce your rolling resistance, if you could keep it up the whole time. Don't slow more than necessary for the corners. If you ever watch a spec class car race, where everyone is driving nearly the same car, watch how the fast guys are able to win by cornering while maintaining their momentum. Turn in too hard and you will lose momentum and waste gas. Slow down more than necessary and you waste gas having to accelerate out of the corner.
From the reports I've read and compared, try not to use AC. Driving without the AC will save you more than 6% and maybe up to 13%. AC uses much more gas around town at low speeds than when you are on the freeway. You can leave the windows open, though. Those numbers are for AC versus windows down. If you can bear it and you have a strong antiperspirant, not opening the window will net you an additional 1.5-3.5% increase in mileage. If you own a convertible, you'll get 4% better mileage with the top up versus down at highway speeds. But do you care? If you wanted to drive with the top up, you wouldn't have bought the convertible.
A few more suggestion about you--and your driving habits--and we'll wrap it up. Mathematically, in order to increase your average
MPG, the best thing to do is minimize your zero MPG (when you aren't moving, but the motor is running
) and near zero mpg. If you are sitting in the parking lot with the car running while you fasten your seat belt, adjust the mirror and pick out a tune on your iPod, you're wasting gas. Turn off the car as soon as it's parked and do all your fiddling with stuff before you start it. If you are sitting at the drive-thru waiting for your McRib, turn off the car. Anytime you are not moving for more than a minute and you can do it safely, you save gas by shutting the motor off.
Anytime you are in reverse, you are actually getting negative MPG, so try to pull through a parking space so you can just pull out. At the very least, pick a nice space you can pull in and out of with minimal effort. And don't waste gas driving around the lot looking for the best/closest spot. Pull into the one furthest from the mall, and not only will you save gas, you will get some exercise, and maybe have less of your own weight to haul around. Just between you and me, I know all about that ten pounds you've been lying about since Thanksgiving.
In a few weeks, I'll post part two and get more into things to do to your car to make it more efficient. In the meantime I'm going to try to putting these suggestions to work in my own driving.