By Marcie Barnes
I hear a lot of people complaining about high gas prices. A lot. Although I feel for people who are forced to make choices say, between food and gas to get to work, I am also glad to see the issue become top of mind for most Americans because quite frankly, the higher cost of gas is (finally) forcing us to start talking about long and short-term solutions to the issue. We've got to stop putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I was just reading this article, Major Arctic sea ice melt is expected this summer about how the South Pole is beginning to melt along with the North Pole. Scary stuff, in my book.
So, in thinking about ways I can personally try to reduce the amount of emissions I produce, I stumbled upon a phenomenon called hypermiling, which sounds like some kind of phenomenon found at a Hannah Montana concert, right? Not exactly, hypermiling is the practice of doing things such as over-inflating tires, keeping the vehicle properly maintained, changing driving habits, and coasting in order to maximize fuel efficiency. I have read that some also use the racecar technique of "drafting" - but at least in my state - that's called tailgating and it's against the law. To be used by professional drivers only, please. Here is a little more detail on some of the legal techniques with my suggestions added:
Maintenance: Your Tires and Your Engine
As mentioned, high tire pressure means that less energy is required to move the vehicle. However, it will also cause your tires to wear faster. I think the best advice is to keep them properly inflated, maybe a little over. And if you want to feel like a racecar driver, ditch the drafting and get your tires filled with nitrogen. Nitrogen does not expand or contract like regular air, so it offers a consistent air pressure and a "smoother and safer ride". Apparently, under-inflated tires can lower fuel efficiency by approximately 1.4 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires, so you definitely want to keep those tires properly inflated. Of course keeping your engine in proper working order is a priority. Hypermilers often recommend synthetic oil because it lubricates the engine better. Keeping your air filter clean also helps engine performance greatly.
Get the Junk out of the Trunk
Drivers can also increase fuel economy by driving a lighter-weight vehicle and getting rid of unnecessary weight. This does not include passengers, of course, as long as you are preventing another vehicle from being on the road by riding together.
Efficient Speeds and Less Braking
You get your best fuel efficiency while "cruising" with your foot off of the pedal (and with the transmission in the highest gear). I am lucky that I have a car with a built-in display for MPG, so I can see in real time what kind of mileage I am getting. This has helped me re-train my behavior in driving. Instead of the typical "get from point A from point B in the fastest manner possible" behavior, I now drive as if my brakes are about to go out. The more braking you are doing is directly correlated to how much gassing you are doing. This is where coasting comes in. I find myself deliberately looking ahead for brake lights, red lights, yellow lights, etc. and if I see a slow down coming up down the road, I immediately take my foot off of the gas and try to make it to the stopping point using as little brake power as possible. Saves gas, saves brake pads. This article from CNN says you can save 30% by driving this way. That's like getting a $1 discount per gallon with today's gas prices!
"If the engine is designed for high octane then higher octane fuel will result in higher performance (with full-open throttle), but not necessarily fuel cost savings, since the high-octane is only needed with the throttle fully open" (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypermiling) - ok, so I've been putting Premium in my car all this time, but apparently if I vow not to put the pedal to the medal, it sounds like I will be fine with a mid-grade. Maybe not. I talked to a few people in the know and the consensus is that higher octane fuel is analogous to putting Teflon in your gas to protect your engine:
"Its like trying to cook an egg on a hot, greasy pan vs. a warm sticky surface. One is quick an easy and leaves no mess.....the other leaves a mess, deprives you of eating some of your egg, and takes longer." (anonymous source)
My car actually requires an octane rating in between premium and mid-grade, so I am going to start pumping half of each to save a little. It'll take extra time, but such is the life of a proper hypermiler :) In the end, it helps save money for me and the environment at the same time.
...I understand this driving style may be a bit - emasculating - for some of you - ahem - racecar driver types out there, but get over it, or stop complaining about gas prices. Our planet needs your help.
Image credit goes to slightclutter on flickr.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
By Marcie Barnes