Steve Sailer posted recently soliciting advice on making a vehicle purchase that will reduce his fuel costs. I regularly hear complaints about EPA fuel economy estimates being unattainably high, even after they were adjusted downward. I don't mean to question anyone's integrity, but I don't buy it. They are attainable, and surpassable, if you drive parsimoniously. In fairness, I live in the Kansas City metro area, which despite having 2 million people, isn't even among the top 50 most congested places in the country, so I'm enjoying a bit of a built-in advantage.
I drive like a grandpa and I get nearly 28 mpg in my '97, V-6 Taurus. The EPA puts it at 17 city, 26 highway. About 75% of my driving is the latter, which still puts me four miles above the estimates. At 15,000 miles, that translates to an annual savings of around $250 at current gas prices. Not a large amount, but not pennies either. And, apparently, most drivers do not even attain the EPA estimates, so the savings are comparatively even more substantial.
Parenthetically, yes, I know GL model is only 145 horsepower (with one of the most aerodynamic bodies on the road, which is why it was used for so long in NASCAR racing), but that is irrelevant to the question of underperforming or outperforming EPA fuel efficiency estimates.
How to optimize your fuel economy? Here's what I've done, with much success:
- Never take the RPM above 2,500. This is a measure of how hard your engine is working. By watching it, you are essentially watching an efficiency gauge. It means accelerating slower out of stops. Before your automatic shifts, it'll want to float above that mark (this is a major reason manuals get better mileage), but if you decelerate just a bit, it'll shift earlier.
- Top out at 60 mph, give-or-take a few, in cruise control as much as possible. Fuel efficiency plummets past this speed for most vehicles (assuming your engine isn't a V-10), as can easily be witnessed by watching how your RPM will climb around 100 for every couple of mph you tack on. That math isn't working out in your favor.
- No windows or A/C. This is death, I know. But both cut about 10% away from your efficiency. Run the vent, or consider the sweating out a cathartic experience. The A/C consumes the same amount of energy irrespective of speed, so if the ascetic practice doesn't work for you, use the windows when you're cruising around in the city (the faster you're going, the more drag open windows are creating--having them down becomes less efficient than the A/C at around 45 mph) and the A/C when you're on the highway.
- Keep the tires near their maximum recommended PSI (usually in the low forties) and make sure they are evenly inflated.
- Stay in one of the center lanes while on the highway. You don't want to be a jerk and keep swifter drivers from passing, but staying in the far right lane is an efficiency killer, because you'll inevitably have to take off the cruise control as people merge on and off.
- Try to make city driving as much like highway driving as possible. Anticipate signal changes from afar. The left turn lane travelling opposite you will directly precede your green light. Scout that out from a distance, and begin breaking lightly or picking up as appropriate. If you're not in danger of missing the signal change, coast forward, even if you have three blocks to the light. It's satisfying to zip by the hothead who just blazed by you only to stop at the intersection that you just cruised through (as you were cruising by him).
- If you're idling, waiting to pick someone up, do so in drive. The engine burns more gas in park and neutral. Better yet, just turn off the engine. Your starter (via the battery) is what gets the workout when you ignite, not so much the engine. Unless it's less than a minute or so, you're better off killing it.
If you have the gumption, try these things for the entire duration of your next tank. To get an accurate reading of your mpg, you'll need to stop fueling at the 'click' (don't top it off), and reset your short odometer immediately after filling. When you fill up the next time, again stop at the click, take the miles driven and divide it by the gallons you have just put in to get your new mpg.
You'll be surprised to see you've extended your output somewhere in the vicinity of 50-100 miles, depending on tank size.
Why so much effort to save $5 a week? Well, it's a game. It's a better utilization of competitive disposition on the road than other manifestations of that competitive nature are! It assuages some of the guilt by lowering the amount of gas you have to buy, sort of like eating all the food on your plate instead of throwing some away--supply and demand dictates that in either of the 'bad' behavior cases, you are making the respective commodity more expensive for everyone else. And since American vehicles account for one-tenth of daily oil consumption, if we all knocked off 15% of our gas usage, we'd be saving more than one million barrels each day, or keeping $30 billion in revenue out of the hands of some of the uglier places on earth each year.
I should purchase a more fuel efficient vehicle, and I will, when it becomes economically sane to do so. But these savings have no accounting cost--indeed, they're likely a net benefit. My car, despite the notorious acronym, has 130k miles on the original engine and transmission, and runs like a champ. A steady pace is easier on you when you scamper, and it's easier on your car when you drive (there's a joke among runners and bikers that driving hard is a way of compensating for slothfulness on foot, sort of like guys driving big trucks, but not as vulgar).