Save Gas (AND THE PLANET) BY DRIVING SAFE AND SMART
Summer is here, kids are out of school and gas prices seem to continue their upward trend. Not only does the cost of a litre seem to spike in the summer, but we also tend to do a lot more driving, and that can lead to an unexpected wallop in the wallet. There are real ways to save money at the pumps without forking out eighty large for a new Tesla. And the bonus is that driving for fuel economy is also safer, reduces stress and makes our air just a little bit cleaner. So heed the following advice, gentle reader, and have a fun, safe and economical summer of motoring:
There is little empirical evidence here or anywhere else in the world that speeding leads to more accidents, though it certainly increases their severity. But this isn’t a story about speed limits, it’s a story about economical driving, and there is lots of evidence that speeding dramatically increases fuel consumption.
For the mathematicians among us, the reason is pretty straightforward: Wind resistance, or drag, is proportional the square of speed – that is to say that if you increase your speed from 100 km/h to 120 km/h, wind resistance goes up by almost 50%. Actual figures depend on the car you drive, a cube van has more resistance than a sports car, but the increase is proportionally the same. Pushing that much air out of your way needs energy, and that comes from your gasoline-drinking engine.
For the non-mathematicians, including myself, suffice to say that manufacturers tune their cars to provide best fuel efficiency at the speed at which the government tests them, which is around the speed limit. That’s how they get the highest ratings to put on their window stickers. People often ask me why they’re not the getting the advertised economy figures. The truth is those numbers are nigh impossible to obtain in the real world, but you can get darn close. So drive as near to the speed limit as possible, it’ll save gas and reduce stress. After all, a typical 200 km run to the cottage will only take an extra 10 minutes at 110 km/h instead of 120.
It’s true that air conditioning puts extra strain on an engine, so you can save gas by opening up the windows and turning off the A/C, right?
Driving at highway speeds with the windows open is like driving a parachute; your car fills up with fast moving air, which is trying to push it backwards as you drive it forwards. Do up the windows, put on the air conditioning and relax. The reduced drag from having all your windows closed will more than make up for the extra fuel needed to run your compressor, and the cool air will help keep you alert on a long drive. Added bonus: you’ll be able to rock out to “Highway Star” without the sound and buffeting of the wind.
For all the technical wizardry of a modern automobile, we need to talk about where the rubber meets the road. Four patches about the size of the palm of your hand are the only contact your car has with the planet surface, so be sure to optimize it. Have good, seasonally appropriate rubber fitted to your vehicle, and keep a close eye on tire pressure. Friction from the road and high ambient temperatures can make the air in your tires heat up and that will cause tire pressure to fluctuate wildly. Some studies suggest that poorly inflated tires can cost you a 10% loss in fuel economy. Not to mention increased wear and the vastly increased likelihood of a blow-out or a flat.
Check your tire pressure every tank or two. And don’t rely on the notoriously random gauges on most gas-station air pumps. You can pick up a good hand-held gauge for $10 or $15 pretty much anywhere.
No amount of technology can override the laws of physics. Most of the gas you use is for accelerating, and much of the gas you waste is the gas you throw away by braking. Let me explain. With the exception of the regenerative braking systems on some hybrid cars, brakes convert the energy of motion into the energy of heat in the process of slowing you down. It’s why brakes get hot. The gas you used to get up to speed has already gone up in smoke (literally) by the time you apply the brakes, and slowing down doesn’t get you any of that fuel back, it goes to heating up your brakes – but accelerate again, and your fuel pump will respond to your right foot and get you going… with fresh, expensive, gas.
Speeding up and slowing down are realities of driving life, but by looking down the road you can anticipate changes in traffic flow and conditions that will allow you to back off the gas and the brake and put money back in your wallet.
Coast up to traffic lights and accelerate gently away from them; back off the gas before you top a hill so you don’t ride the brakes all the way down the other side; stay at least three to five seconds behind a car you’re following; your passengers will thank you, your wallet will praise you and your insurance company might just have one less call to deal with.
This one might seem obvious, but an engine that grumbles and belches smoke is going to be a thirsty beast. Clean spark plugs, clean oil and a well-tuned engine will save you money in the long run and is less likely to leave you stranded.
The best way to save gas? Don’t drive!
Combine your errands into one trip and avoid unnecessary trips altogether, and you will probably save more gas than through the rest of this list combined. It’s hard to do and takes a bit of a mental shift, but if you keep a running list of to-do’s in the car at all times you’ll soon find that you’re climbing behind the wheel less often.
It still shocks me to see people leaving their cars running while they chat with a neighbour or run into a store. At idle, your car is getting zero miles per gallon (l/100km), nada, zip. You can burn a whole tank of gas and not move an inch. Not only is it the law, it’s common sense. Always turn the car off when it’s in park. “Aha,” you say, “a warm engine is more efficient, so I should warm the car up first, right?”
While you warm up the engine without moving, you are getting the worst fuel mileage in the universe, infinity gallons per mile. And a car takes a long time to warm up at idle. Start your car and drive away slowly, even in winter. No question, it makes absolute sense to avoid hard acceleration for the first few kilometers while the engine is cold, and that is doubly true in winter when the oil gets thick, but your car will warm up much quicker when driven slowly than when standing still.
Follow these tips and you’ll be amazed at how much money you’ll save. Take your husband out to a movie, go for ice cream with the cat, get that dancing Elvis cheeseburger-scented air freshener you’ve always wanted. What you do with the money is up to you,
but you’ll definitely have more of it, less stress, safer driving habits and we’ll all breathe a little easier for it.
Worth it? I think so.
Written by Aladin Jarrah