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Get the Best Mileage
© Richard Grossman MD, 2008
The cost of gasoline is over four bucks a gallon and diesel is getting close to five—what a horror! So what did I do? I went out and bought a macho four wheel drive turbo diesel truck!
Can you imagine all the grief that I got from friends about increasing my carbon footprint? Well, most of the time this truck (which already has almost a quarter million miles on its odometer) will stay parked while I drive my Prius. The truck’s former owner told me that it gets 19 miles to the gallon, but I know that a gallon will take the hybrid 52 miles.
I think that a hybrid is a nice gimmick, but it is not the solution to the petroleum crisis. It is too complicated. Furthermore, there is a lot of lithium in a hybrid’s battery, which is toxic to mine and process.
The future holds small, efficient vehicles. Europeans have already recognized this. You’ll find Smart cars and similar vehicles everywhere in Europe. The price of gas there is much higher there—over seven dollars a gallon in many countries.
We have been slow to change our driving habits in the USA. Domestic car manufactures are finally catching on that fuel efficiency is vital, although they have fought this for years. Fortunately, many imported vehicles are quite efficient. My current favorite (not a carefully researched opinion) is the Honda Fit. Two friends have bought these cars and rave about their flexibility and performance. Although it is predicted to get 34 miles to the gallon on the highway, one friend gets over 40!
There are ways to optimalize your car’s efficiency. You probably know that it is important to check tire pressure every month, but let that gauge rest for several months at a time. Try increasing the pressure two pounds above the recommended level when you finally do check the tires—but not above the maximum pressure on the tires’ sidewall. Buying gas in the morning when it is colder and more dense will get you a few more drops per fill up, but the savings sure won’t make a significant difference.
Leave jack rabbit starts for the really rich; they significantly reduce mileage. You know to use your air conditioner when necessary rather than leaving the windows open—especially when going fast. The cruise control is also a big saver of gas since it is smoother than most people’s accelerator foot. A gas engine doesn’t need to be warmed up more than a few seconds; any longer is just a waste of fuel.
My big trick for increasing mileage is to drive so I don’t have to use the brakes—much. I learned this from my driving teacher when I was 16. Whenever you apply the brakes you turn energy into heat and it is wasted. Judicious driving can harvest more of your momentum.
To lay off the brakes safely I leave a little extra space behind the car ahead of mine. That space allows my car to slow down gradually if the one ahead stops, so my momentum is used effectively. I pay attention to the stop lights of vehicles ahead. If one flashes red, I immediately take my foot off the accelerator. Likewise with traffic lights; if I see amber, I start coasting.
Idling is a big fuel waster. One of the tricks my Prius uses to optimalize mileage is to turn off the engine when it is not being used. If you are going to be sitting for more than a minute or so, switch off the ignition.
All of these tricks help to save money. They are also important for the planet’s future. Although we concentrate on the cost of the fuel going into our vehicles, perhaps what comes out of them is even more important. Greenhouse gas emissions released by humans appear to be causing permanent changes to our climate. Storms, floods, forest fires and drought all seem to be worsened by climate change. These natural disasters already have had grave effects on people, but predictions are that the worst is yet to come. It helps that Americans are driving less since the cost of fuel has skyrocketed. Fewer people driving would also help.
What about that diesel-guzzling truck? We bought it to occasionally pull a horse trailer short distances and to share with our neighbors for agricultural work.
Our progeny will appreciate whatever we can do to slow global climate change, including driving less and more efficiently.