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Your Right Foot and Your Bank Balance: Driving Economically

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On: Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 11:29AM | By: Nick Bakewell

Your Right Foot and Your Bank Balance: Driving Economically

These are trying times for those of us fortunate enough to be able to drive cars (it may be a necessity, but it’s not a right); the modern motorist is beset from all sides by inquisitions and assailants. We’re told that our cars are singularly responsible for the planet’s impending death by asphyxiation, that cars as a whole are more dangerous to the human populace than all world wars combined, that cars are the primary contributor to the proliferation of obesity, etc, etc. The list goes on, and while some of that may or may not be true, one issue plaguing the modern driver is readily apparent: the cost of fuel.

As the number of cars and drivers continue to grow, so too does the rate at which humanity consumes oil. So it is, with supply and demand, that the cost of this ever-more-limited resource becomes increasingly prohibitive. Suddenly, all those big, gas-guzzling SUVs that seemed all the rage a few years ago, are like lead weights attached to their owners’ bank balances. Being—or seeming to be—“green” has an enormous marketing cachet in these increasingly austere times; just look at the sales figures for the Toyota Prius, or the list of Hollywood A-listers who own one. Automakers would love you to think that the only way to sidestep insolvency every time you go to the pump is to buy one of their hybrid or fully electric vehicles. This need not be the case; for one, electric cars are ruinously expensive and hopelessly impractical. What I want to delineate for you here are a few things you can do to make a tank of gas stretch as far as, if not farther than, the batteries in an EV.

Your right foot is directly tied to your purse strings
A car uses gasoline any time it’s running, ranging from tiny sips at idle to full on frat-boy chugging when you have the throttle pinned wide open. It stands to reason that the harder you mash the throttle, the more fuel you’re burning; that much is just common sense. Therefore, the first order of business in changing the way you drive is to prepare to be the proverbial tortoise. Be judicious in your throttle application, try not to let the engine creep above 2,500RPM. Accept that you’ll be a little slower to get up to cruising speed on the highway. Start looking around for things that will affect your throttle inputs: is there a hill coming up, for instance? When you arrive at the incline, back off the throttle as much as you can without compromising your car’s ability to actually get up the hill. Once you’re over the crest, gently apply a little more gas in order to build the most momentum with the least resistance while you’re heading downhill. Also, when driving around town, try to keep your car in higher gears as often as you can. The sooner you change up, the lower your revs, the more fuel you save.

Always be aware of your surroundings, most crucially because of your right foot’s other function: braking. Whenever you brake, you are effectively wasting fuel. It took a certain amount of fuel to get up to a certain speed, and once there it takes a lot less energy to maintain that speed. Thus, when you brake, you’re creating a need to expend more fuel to get back to the speed you were originally going; make sense? With that in mind, try to keep an eye out for things—mostly other drivers—that will necessitate braking; if you can maneuver around them instead of slowing down and then speeding up again, you’ll save a little bit of extra fuel, which, over the course of time, really adds up.

A common misconception about driving economically is that running the A/C causes your MPG to plummet. Not so; granted, the A/C can steal a few horsepower from your engine, it’s nothing too significant. Driving with the windows down at highway speeds, though, can cause a loss of up to 5MPG, because of the detrimental effect it has on the car’s aerodynamic profile. The ideal option is to use neither, but if you live in, say, Texas, that’s just not an option.

Always make sure that everything on your car is in good working order: an engine in desperate need of an oil change, underinflated tires, worn out filters, etc., all of these can be detrimental to your economy figures. Reinflating a set of tires up to their proper PSI can give you a boost of up to 7MPG, for two minutes of work and a dollar at 7-11.

As with all things automotive, weight can be a crucial factor in determining the effectiveness of your bid for fuel economy. The more your vehicle weighs, the harder it has to work to haul itself around. So, if you’re the type of person who keeps their car as a sort of “second closet”, do yourself a favor and clean it out. You might find that it saves you a few bucks somewhere down the line.

Finally, to return for a moment to the all-important right foot: keep your cool. A calm driver is an economical driver. If you maintain composure, resist the urge for exuberant acceleration while staying aware enough to avoid unnecessary braking, then I believe you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference you can eke out of your car. While it’s true that gas prices are only going to go up from now on, you needn’t be suckered by fatuous promises of impossibly unrealistic economy, or be forced to learn to live with an electric car. Just adjust the way you drive, and you’ll find it makes a world of difference.


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