Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Five Gas-Saving Habits for Better Mileage

Today, with the price of oil rocketing into the stratosphere and taking everything else along with it, most of us are complaining about prices at the gas pump. Unfortunately, many of us treat the cost of filling up the tank like we treat the weather: we complain about it, but don’t really do anything about it. Fortunately, unlike the weather, there are a number of things we can do to help ourselves that won’t cost us a penny.

Tip Number 1: Don’t mistake your car for a dragster.
We share the road with many people who peel away from a red light, treating the changing traffic signal as the start of a race away from the intersection.

Occasionally, we may have a good reason to charge down the road away from a standing stop. We may need to turn a short distance away, for example, and our inattention has left us in the wrong lane. Or our lane may be ending, we’ll have to merge—and we don’t want to get stuck behind a “slowpoke.” But each time we do so, we waste gas: accelerating sucks fuel like a dry sponge soaks up water, and doing so as a matter of habit or routine will see our mileage plummet as our gas bill soars to new records. Easing our foot down on the gas pedal—starting smoothly and gently after a stop, rather than showing off our car’s muscles—will do wonders for our budget.

Tip Number 2: Spare the brakes and spoil the emir’s profits.
Just like tearing out of the starting blocks at the light will suck up the gas, screeching to a halt not only wears out your brakes—it also wastes fuel. There’s a good reason why mileage in the city is worse than it is on the highway: it’s easier to maintain a given speed than to accelerate up to it. And so a driver who’s constantly dashing away from one light only to screech to a halt at the next one uses more fuel than one who can keep a constant speed and avoid braking at all. And the driver who tailgates will be braking with every flash of the brake lights in front of him—not only making everybody nervous, but also cutting down his mileage.

The best city drivers will try to maintain the speed that will let them sail smoothly through light after light while seeing as little red as possible. And they will ease up on the gas pedal well before they need to stop. Doing so not only saves wear and tear on the brakes; it also boosts gas mileage considerably. Taken together, using a “light foot” on the gas, rather than switching between one “heavy foot” on the gas and another one on the brake, can boost your mileage by as much as a third.

Tip Number 3: Your car gets better mileage going forward than standing still. Hybrid cars achieve much of their phenomenal gas mileage by shutting off their engines whenever possible, and running on batteries whenever they can.

A conventional car doesn’t really have that option: shutting down the engine on most cars means that the car can’t move. Of course, this is less of a problem when the car isn’t moving in the first place.

Shutting off your car at every traffic light and stop sign isn’t really good for the car. And one day, it may even find you on the wrong end of an argument with a disgruntled teamster. But when you’re stuck at a railroad crossing, watching a train, or waiting for someone who’s popping in to a store to buy something, you’re not going anyplace. And despite what your grandfather may have told you, restarting a car with a modern fuel-injection system isn’t really wasteful: in fact, it’s one of the most efficient things you can do.

No matter how efficient the engine, a car that isn’t moving is getting Zero miles per gallon—and eating up gas at the rate of about a half-mile per minute. Even the worst gas guzzler can do better than that. So if you’re going to be stuck in the same place for more than the time it takes the traffic light to change, you’ll be better off shutting down your engine.

Tip 4: Consolidate your trips, as well as your pocketbook.
It’s no secret that a warmed-up engine gets better gas mileage than one that’s still cranking itself up.

Planning your trips to consolidate your errands—making several stops to get all your shopping done in one outing, rather than spreading them throughout the day—has much to commend it. And among the chief advantages you will notice is the effect on your weekly fuel bill.

Tip 5: Don’t pretend that the freeway is the race course at Indy.
Lastly, it’s no secret that speed on the highway carries risks. It also sends more of your money into the pockets of the oil companies.

It takes energy to move a car. The faster you go, the more it takes—not only to power the engine, but to supply the additional force needed to overcome the air resistance that a car traveling at a higher speed will encounter. Estimates vary—and the savings will vary as well, depending on road and whether conditions—but lowering your speed by ten miles per hour can probably boost your mileage by 10 percent.

Every car is different, and some cars are more aerodynamically efficient than others. But each car will have its own optimum highway speed, a function of its air resistance and engine efficiency. Keeping track of your own mileage between fill-ups will let you know what your car’s prime cruising speed is. Once you find it, you’ll have the choice between saving your money, or arriving at your destination a few minutes early. For most of us, the choice should be a no-brainer.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed The Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

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