By Kim Robson
Let’s have a show of hands: How many of us actually believe the wildly fluctuating price of oil has anything to do with supply and demand? How many of us believe it has more to do with oil companies’ breaking their own profit records each and every fiscal quarter? Interesting. Just as I thought.
Unless you happen to live in a city with excellent public transportation, like Manhattan or Boston, you probably need to drive a car on a regular basis. Those of us in California or Texas simply can’t get by without one. Yet the price of filling up the gas tank can strain or bust a budget, depending on the volatile price of a barrel of oil that day. However, there are many things we can do to get the very best gas mileage out of our vehicles.
Slow It Down: Your car’s advertised fuel mileage can vary quite a lot depending on your speed. The MPG number on the sticker is based on driving smoothly, on a level surface, and steadily at 55 miles per hour. But you’ll be shocked to see how quickly it plummets for the lead-foots:
- 3% less efficiency at 60 MPH
- 8% less efficiency at 65 MPH
- 17% less efficiency at 70 MPH
- 23% less efficiency at 75 MPH
- 28% less efficiency at 80 MPH
Smooth & Steady: Cars consume the most gas when accelerating. Avoid jack-rabbit starts; instead, press the gas pedal slowly and smoothly. Conversely, avoid over-braking in traffic. The less you ride your brake pedal, the less you’ll have to accelerate again. Practice keeping a smooth, steady pace while maintaining a safe distance from the car in front of you.
Choose Your Car Wisely: Do you really need that enormous SUV to drive yourself to Starbucks? If you’re thinking of a new car, give the compact cars a look. They are surprisingly roomy inside. With the back seat of our Toyota Yaris folded down, we can get a whopping 25.7 cubic feet of cargo space – more than a Lincoln Town Car! The best part is that it regularly gets us 42 MPG.
Manual transmissions allow for more driver control of shifting and, therefore, always get better gas mileage than their automatic counterparts. If you do have an automatic transmission, try to use the cruise control whenever possible, as it keeps the car at a steady pace.
Turn Off the AC: The compressor that runs your car’s air conditioner puts an additional power load on the engine, using more gas. Clearly, depending on where you live, going without AC is not always an option. However, do practice these tips:
- Park in the shade whenever possible so the car isn’t an oven when you get in, and leave the windows cracked.
- Roll all the windows down and blast the air vents for a few seconds to blow hot air out before starting the air conditioner.
- Once you’ve sealed the car and gotten it cool, switch to recirculating air to conserve the cool you’ve already made.
- Turn off the AC a couple of minutes before reaching your destination. The cool air recirculating in the cabin won’t heat up in that time.
Reduce Weight: No, not necessarily you personally; that’s another topic. I’m talking about the literal junk in your trunk. Is your car full of books, gardening supplies, water bottles, canned food, sports equipment, free weights, gold bricks, etc.? Unless you’re actively transporting said items from point A to point B, clear that stuff out. It’s like paying to carry around another person or two everywhere you go.
Reduce Drag: Remove and store bike or ski racks, luggage racks, or cargo containers if you’re not using them. Also, close your windows: an open cabin dramatically increases the air drag on your car. Aerodynamics depends on the car’s moving through space like a bullet. Try to keep a balance between having open windows and using the AC. If you have a pickup truck, driving with the tailgate down does NOT reduce drag; contrary to common thought, this actually increases it.
Shut It Off: An idling engine uses gas. Some think that the act of starting the engine uses more energy, but it’s not true. After about 20 seconds of idling, you’ll have used that same amount of energy. So if you’re waiting for a long railroad crossing, or waiting outside your kid’s school for pickup, or any delay that will be more than 30-60 seconds, turn the engine off.
Check Your Tire Pressure: You’ll get maximum efficiency from your tires if they are inflated to the manufacturer’s stated PSI. Under-inflated tires increase drag friction on the road.
Carpool: We’ve discussed ride-sharing before on Green-Mom. Besides carpooling to work, consider ridesharing on long car trips, offering an elderly neighbor a ride to the doctor or to get groceries, or carpooling to group events, parks, clubs, churches or schools. There are great websites such as eRideshare.com and RideshareList.com that will connect you with other commuters who want to rideshare. Both sites are completely free and easy to use.
As you can see, just because we’re forced to purchase gas doesn’t have to mean we’re forced to waste it. Some simple changes to your driving habits can make an enormous difference in how often you open your wallet at the gas station.