Getting Better Fuel Efficiency

June 18th, 2008

These days everyone and their mom is posting on the internet about getting better gas mileage. I’ve read a lot of articles that talk about the topic and they all seem to have a few things in common. The first is that a few items are unrealistic and the second being that the rest is basically common sense. I’m not going to bother doing a lot of linking for this article, you can google for the same 80 million pages just the same as I can but I thought I would point out this one article from about hypermiling.

It’s an interesting look at how people can take things too far and put themselves and others in a lot of danger. They do things like tailgate large trucks only a few feet off the bumper, well into the trucks blind spot. They pull off the highway and onto side roads at 50mph without breaking and roll to a stop at traffic lights. I’m all for improving gas mileage and saving every dollar on can on fuel but there has to be a line. I think I have found that line. It’s straddles much improved mileage with safety and courtesy to those driving around me.

The very first step in this process is to actually sort out what your mileage is. If your car has a computer to tell you this number then you are all set, if not you will need to do some simple math when you go to the gas station. Every time you fill you tank you should reset your trip meter to zero and fill the tank. When you go back to the gas station note how many miles you have driven and how many gallons you put into the tank. Take the mileage and divide it by the gallons and it will give you your average number of miles per gallon. If you drove 350 miles on 8 gallons of gas you averaged 43.75mpg. With this information you can chart out how you are doing and if any of your changes made any difference.

The next step is to make a change and see what happens. A lot of people will tell you to empty your trunk and take out all the superfluous stuff from your car. This will make a difference but depending on the weight of the stuff it will likely be negligible. Having a passenger is going to have a larger effect than the spare tire under your car. Make responsible choices. In terms of weight you need to loose a lot of weight to see a real difference in my experience.

Driving style will always be the most significant factor in fuel economy. If you are annoyed or stressed out you will get worse mileage then if you relax and drive calmly. Your ability to make decisions based on the traffic ahead of you will also make a big difference. If you can see a red light coming or another reason to slow down, don’t wait until you need to brake, take your foot off the gas and coast. When the light turns green don’t punch it to get to the speed limit, accelerate slower and more evenly. I’m not going to accelerate in slow motion annoying those around me but I am going to make it more gradual. It’s a fine line but it’s worth it.

I find that people buy/drive cars that fit their personalities. People in smaller cars, sedans, coupes ect are usually more tolerant of slower acceleration then those in SUVs. The larger the SUV the more annoyed the drivers seem to be, regardless of my driving style.

Paying attention to what is happening on the road ahead of me and planning for it while driving has saved me ~4mpg on average.

The other thing you can do to make a big difference in mpg is to use the cruise control both to maintain a constant speed but also to limit your speed to the posted limit. It doesn’t always make sense to set the cruise, here in the northeast the roads can be very hilly and I can do a better job keeping my RPMs down and using the down hills to coast then the cruise can but by and large setting the cruise helps me out a lot. I’m the kind of driver that wants to be going faster, all the time. If I’m on 30mph road I can set the cruise and not focus on how slowly I’m going. I’m not tempted to speed up when the jackass in the pickup trucks starts driving too close to me. Using the cruise where appropriate has saved me an additional 4mpg.

I am typically able to get 41+ mpg in my Honda Fit, which is rated at 34mpg, while driving one day on the highway and six days around town each week. One office is 60 miles away, the other is about 20 miles away, through a dozen traffic lights. Since I’ve been trying to conserve gas I have been able to put in 1-2 gallons less each week which saves me $8 dollars a week, $32 a month, $385 a year, and as gas prices keep going up those numbers continue to get better.

I think there is a clear line between getting great gas milage and being a problem on the road. I don’t drive under the speed limit and on the highway I typically drive above it, depending on the flow of traffic. I have never put myself in a position to cause a slow down on the highway and I find that people who do are a danger to themselves as well as the highway as a whole. One idiot driving like maniac on the highway will cause 100 people to get home 20 minutes later at night and that is simply typical American selfishness. An epidemic in this country. I am able to get 8 miles to the gallon more then my car is rated for without annoying those around me or putting any one in danger. The benefits, however modest, are pure profit for me. I haven’t spend any money to save money. I have performed no modifications to my car, it’s just a difference in mindset while driving.

The biggest thing holding me back from getting better mileage was not being able to stay relaxed while driving. I solved this by listening to podcasts on my iPod while driving. There are so many free podcasts that you are bound to find a few that appeal to you. They are downloaded and sync’d to my iPod automatically each day using iTunes and I am able to concentrate on those instead of getting stressed about sitting in traffic or getting stuck at a red light. I also find that the price of gas directly relates to how likely people are to tailgate. I don’t think I’ve been tailgated more then once since the price went over $3.50/gallon. Makes getting better mileage even easier!


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