You can avoid getting gouged at the gas pump.
Mindconnection has been publishing advice on that topic for many years.
Below these tips are snippets from our e-newsletter, where we have written with such
Here are some we missed:
- De-junk the trunk. It takes energy to haul around junk you don't need.
- Remove all that mechanic's gear you stowed. The heavy toolbox, jack
stands, ratchet set, etc. Think carefully about what's in there; would you
really use it in an emergency, or would you just call a wrecker?
- Unpack the passenger compartment. Unless you're going on a long road
trip, don't pack as if you are. If you don't need it, don't haul it.
- Keep the interior clean. For some people, this just has a mild
psychological effect that tends to reduce lead-footing. For others, it's
part of avoiding the slippery slope of carrying around magazines, laundry,
and other things just tossed into the car and forgotten.
- Avoid ethanol. Not only does it lower your gas mileage, it damages your
fuel system. And consider the fuel-intensive, eco-hostile source of that
I have to chuckle when I read about the consternation people
have toward gas pump prices. In the USA, we pay much less than our European
counterparts do for fuel. And we waste it, accordingly. I spend about $20 a
month on fuel for my car (except for an annual 1200 mile trip), and I get on the
Interstate to drive into work every day. If you don't own or drive a car, this
information won't help you personally, but maybe you can help someone else. Here
are some ways you can cut your car fuel bill:
Have the right car. Mine gets about 33 MPG. You don't need a
miser piece of crap for this--my car turns heads.
Buy the right tires. High-speed tires get better gas
mileage, even at low speeds--they are just better tires.
Maintain your car. Use synthetic oil only, keep the car
tuned up, keep the tires inflated, keep the car clean.
Don't listen to the radio. All that music jazzes you up into
driving more aggressively. Listen to books on tape, and you spare that gas
Plan your trips. I make an "outing" each
weekend--I just keep a list of what I need and make a single trip for
everything once a week. I also plan an occasional stop on the way home from
Don't go out to eat. Not only is this generally a ticket to
obesity and malnutrition, it's another fuel-burning trip.
Share recreation. Use the buddy system, and you share the
fun while slashing the cost. Car pooling does more than just save gas.
Use synthetic oil, only. This is actually cheaper than using
the paraffin-based oils, because of the increase in gas mileage. But, it
also reduces engine wear by orders of magnitude. Don't add that Teflon crap
or anything else to synthetic oil. These oils actually lubricate better than
the Teflon and other junk that claims to extend engine life. At least,
that's what laboratory tests and basic lubrication theory show.
We're all aware of
the high price of fuel, these days. I'm going to tell you some ways to
lessen the pain to your wallet. F***t, though, I want to expose a
"mass stupidity" e-mail that's going around.
Some fool started an e-mail (which seems to pop up
every summer) calling for a one-day boycott of gasoline. Allegedly, this
will "bring the oil companies to their knees by overloading their
Well, hello-o-o-o-o! Anything that creates an
inefficiency in the distribution chain will only raise prices.
Has anyone noticed that the prices have indeed
gone up? There is nothing stopping them from doing so. This means that
creating greater costs of delivery will not lower fuel costs, but simply
raise them--you create the added costs, you pay them. Simple as that.
If you receive a copy of that moronic e-mail (my
apologies to any morons who may be reading this), please write back to
the fool who sent it and explain the facts.
OK, outside of squelching ill-advised price-hiking
activities disguised as consumer action, what else can you do? Here are
some tips, and because I have to buy gas only once every 6 to 8 weeks,
you can take these to the bank:
- Own a fuel-efficient car. I'm not saying to
scrap your accident-inducing, gas-hogging, "I succumb to
manipulative advertising" SUV. Not at all. I am saying that the
next time you are in the market for a vehicle, pay attention to fuel
economy. My car gets in the high 30s (EPA claims about 37, but I do
better than that). And buy a car that doesn't have a
high-maintenance, fuel-hogging, high-priced automatic transmission.
In Europe, most people (80%) have a manual transmission. There are
many, many advantages to this configuration. It's not for
everybody--after all, you have that shifter in the floor. But, if
you have an automatic transmission shifter on the floor, then do
this: Repeatedly bang your head hard on the dash and repeat,
"Why did I not get the real thing?"
- Use synthetic oil. Mobil One or equivalent is
the only way to go. Some people balk at paying $4 or $5 for quart of
oil, and instead opt to pay whatever it is for a quart of
non-synthetic el cheapo stuff. The difference in fuel economy alone
makes the synthetic the better bargain. The molecules of synthetic
oil are uniform in size and shape, so they flow very, very well.
Regular oil contains irregular molecules, which create friction
against each other and don't flow well over one another. This is
basic physics, but if you don't understand the principle, then buy a
bunch of balls of different sizes and experiment with them in a bin
or other suitable container. You'll become a convert instantly,
unless you are totally daft (in that case, you should become a
Congressman). Regular oil also contains paraffin wax, which is hard
at room temperature. When you start your engine on a cold fall
morning, it runs dry until this paraffin melts and the oil pump can
push oil through the engine gallies. With synthetic, you have no
paraffin, but you do have instant lubrication--even well below
- Plan and combine trips. Make grocery lists,
shopping lists, and so on. Learn to do without, between shopping
trips. Think of where you need to go in the next week, and see how
you can get to all of those places driving the least number of miles
reasonable. For example, go to the bank, the library, and the store
on the same trip.
- Car pool. I use a climbing gym that is a
60-mile round trip. I have a neighbor who also climbs there. Guess
what we do?
- Drive sanely. I know, I know. You're an above
average driver. Did you know 80% of people polled say the same
thing? The fact is, 99.99% of us can always improve our driving. I
consider myself in the majority! Look ahead, plan for your stops,
and don't pretend your normally aspirated passenger vehicle is some
kind of racecar. Set an example for folks like me, OK?
- Use cruise control. This should be an obvious
thing, but most of us fail to use this energy-saver unless we're on
a long trip. When I read the studies on this, I thought, "Well,
color me stupid--I've lapsed into the same behavior."
- Wear your seatbelt. This does hold you in place
better, and you are less likely to be pumping the gas pedal. But,
don't do this for fuel economy. Do it so you aren't one of the many
people each year who becomes a vegetable but could easily have
avoided not doing so. Human heads and windshields don't mix. You try
to fight this one, and you will lose every time. Let's not go there.
- Kill the tunes. I listen to books on tape in my
car. It simply does not make sense to listen to hard-driving,
adrenalin-pumping music while trying to control a ton or more of
steel and plastic that's hurtling down the road. Face it--a car is a
lethal weapon. Endeavor to stay calm while at the controls. Your
fuel economy will reflect this decision, as will the general quality
of your driving.
The price of oil is
going up permanently. In the past, it's gone up due to some hissy fit
from OPEC. But now, demand is escalating intensely. In addition to the
profusion of gas-hogging SUVs in the USA (thank you all you SUV owners
for raising our gasoline costs--you know who you are), we have the
industrialization of China.
In fact, even if Americans decided to behave
responsibly with our resources (don't hold your breath for that to
happen), demand from China would still cause prices to skyrocket. Note
to self: Expect the price of fuel to skyrocket, no matter what you do.
Expect the cost of gasoline to triple in the near
future. OPEC simply cannot produce much more--they are already at nearly
100%. Other sources of oil are similarly tapped out (although the
greaseball behavior of the US Congress is expected to continue--and they
have no shortage of crude).
The problem is not with the amount of oil in
existence--there is so much, it's seeping into the ocean by itself. The
problem is our ability to recover it economically.
Thus, demand will continue to rise in relation to
supply--prices can only go up. Way up.
What's your finance tip, here? I wouldn't rush out
and buy oil stocks. But, I would convert your oil burning furnace, if
you have one, to something else. ASAP.
And I would look for a car that gets very high
mileage. Mine gets roughly 38 MPG
--someone who doesn't want to throw money away on fuel costs will use
that as a starting point.
A note to our American audience: Buy a manual
transmission. This alone boosts gas mileage by typically 4 MPG. The
ratio of manual to automatic transmission ownership is just the opposite
in Europe (80:20) as it is in the USA (20:80). You save money upfront in
the USA when you buy a car with a manual transmission.
Rather than spend an extra $2,000 a year (based on
projected 2006 fuel prices) on the fuel wasted by the automatic
transmission, buy the manual--then buy yourself something nice with what
you save--or pay your car off sooner!
If you do have an automatic, remember to
change the fluid and filter every year. This pays for itself in fuel
savings alone--but you'll really enjoy foregoing the $2,500 repair bill
an unmaintained transmission can leave you with. Or the new paint job
you'll need after you pay $50 to the tow truck driver to mess up your
car while dragging it off the bridge you were going over when your
transmission gave out and those kids drove by and threw something gross
out the window onto your car.
The United States
currently imports 53% of its oil. That number would drop to zero if
everybody who has a car replaced it with a 4 cylinder Toyota Camry with
manual transmission (or any other fuel-efficient car). In fact, that move
would allow us to export oil.
But, it isn't
likely that every American will want to be part of the solution rather
than part of the problem. We will continue to see people driving vehicles
that have absurdly low gas mileage, even though their circumstances don't
require such a vehicle. Those people seem blithely unaware that, without
their poor choice of vehicle (collectively), oil companies would not have
racked up record profits recently. It's a matter of supply and demand.
Even if you are driving a fuel-efficient car,
there's more you can do--for the oil problem (which is artificial and
dependent upon poor choices) and for your own finances.
- Buy the right fuel. Buying a higher octane fuel
doesn't make your car run better. A car needs a higher octane due to its
compression ratio. Too low of an octane rating will cause predetonation.
Too much octane causes fuel waste, causes plug fouling, and may damage
- Keep your tires inflated. Most people don't do
this. Not only is your car less safe, but your tires wear out far
faster. You can buy a small pump and a hand gage cheaply. Store these in
your car. Check your tires at least once a month.--more, if you drive on
bumpy roads or if the temperature drops (as it does in the fall).
- Have your tires balanced and rotated. Most folks
don't do this, either. You greatly extend tire life, plus you improve
the ride and handling of the car. This pays for itself in fuel savings,
- Have your front end (and rear, depending on the
car) aligned. This pays for itself in fuel savings alone, but also
extends the life of every component of your suspension. It will also
keep your transmission cooler, thus extending its life as well. Have you
priced a transmission, lately?
- Use synthetic oil. This pays for itself in fuel
savings, alone. Not only will you have better fuel efficiency, but you
will have oil actually present during cold starts. Normal oil does not
provide adequate cold weather lubrication, but synthetic does.
- Don't let your car idle. I used to build engines
from scratch, and also take apart and rebuild engines. I could always
tell if a person let the engine idle, because the build-up from this was
quite evident. As was the scoring on the cylinder walls. There are
compromises in a gasoline engine that allow it to have a broad power
range. That is, it produces power over a broad range of RPM. At very
low RPM, fuel drops out of suspension. Thus, your fuel economy drops,
your oil becomes contaminated, and your engine is damaged. Plus, you
simply waste fuel. Don't let anyone idle your car engine. Also, your car
does not need to "warm up" in cold weather. Start the engine and give
the accelerator a slight extra pressure (you want 2500 RPM) for maybe 15
seconds, if you are worried about a cold engine. Or, use synthetic oil
and don't worry about it.
- Plan your routes. Driving around trying to find a
place is an obvious waste of fuel. Use MapQuest or a similar service,
and bring the directions with you.
- Plan your driving. Combine short trips, so you
aren't repeating that first leg of the journey over and over. Use cruise
control. Learn to anticipate stops--back off the gas a bit as you
approach a traffic light, for example.
- Don't drive. I'm not saying ever--just when
practical. Car pool, take public transportation, walk, or ride a bike.
- When renting, ask for the fuel efficient cars
rather than "upgrading" to the gas hogs. This sends a clear message to
the rental agencies, and will help spread the idea that, yes, you can
drive a car that isn't a gas hog and you can enjoy doing so. If it's a
Honda or Toyota, it's probably an efficient car. Civics, Corollas, and
Camrys all get outstanding gas mileage, and they are comfortable cars.
You do not have to rent a tin can.
While most Americans are in denial
about the cost of gasoline, the fact remains this fuel is becoming an
increasingly more noticeable budget item for the vast majority of US
citizens. As demand for it ramps up in China by millions of new automobile
drivers each month, the law of supply and demand is going to send gasoline
prices only in one direction. Hint: It's not down.
It's interesting to
note that Europeans are way ahead of Americans in fuel conservation. One
reason why is they've had artificially high prices for many years, due to
high fuel taxes. This is why Europeans drive standard transmission cars
vs. automatic transmission cars in an 80:20 ratio, while Americans drive
wasteful and costly automatic transmission cars vs. standard transmission
cars in the exact opposite ratio.
How much do you spend on gasoline, right now? I read recently the
average driver spends $100 a month. How would you like to reduce that to
$15 a month? Or even less? Yes, this is entirely within your grasp. Here
are some steps you can take toward that end:
- Replace your vehicle. If you are in the market for a new car, get
one with a standard transmission and an EPA rating of no less than 36MPG
hwy. The Toyota Camry and several other standard gasoline engine cars
(by Toyota and other manufacturers) easily do this--and better. You do
not need a hybrid car to have great gas mileage.
- Reduce your required driving. There are many ways to do this. For
example, relocate to an urban area (or at least close to work). Millions
of residents of Chicago, NYC, and other large urban areas pay $0 per
month for gasoline, $0 per month for car payments, and $0 per year for
maintenance costs--because they don't own cars. Many of them carry
driver's insurance for those few times per year they drive a rental car
on vacation or company business. Another way to reduce driving is to
telecommute--if you can get your boss to agree to one day a week, you
will reduce your commuting costs by 20%. If the telecommuting is "no
go," how about working four 10 hour days?
- Reduce your optional driving. Combine trips--which means plan
your trips. How many trips do you make, per week--other than work? Don't
go to the grocery store in the AM, the bank in the afternoon, and the
hardware store in the evening. Hit all three on the same trip. If this
doesn't seem very exciting to you, then make a game out of seeing how
few trips you can take each week and reward yourself for improving your
- Allow extra time. What happens when you are running late? You drive
faster. This consumes more fuel. So if you know your destination is 15
minutes away, allow 20 minutes for the trip and also some time for
finding a parking spot. You will arrive more relaxed, and on less fuel.
- Turn off the music. Listening to music, especially certain kinds of
music, will cause you to drive faster. Why do you need music to drive?
Driving is not a dance competition. Enjoy the silence in today's noisy
world, or listen to recorded books so your driving time gets put to
- Think of new ideas. The list here is just the beginning. If you make
a habit of looking for ways to reduce your fuel consumption, guess what?
You will find them. And you'll find ways that make sense for you.
I personally do not want to live in an urban area--but I do enjoy living
in nearby suburbs (most of the urban "go to" places are within 12 miles
of my home, and the suburban "go to" places are quite a bit closer than
that). So, my tip about choosing an urban area--not appropriate for
me--may not be appropriate for you, either. Or maybe you don't want a
small fuel-efficient car because you need one vehicle that can double as
your work truck. What I wanted to do here is spur you on to thinking of
things on your own. Get the fuel reduction mindset, and the ideas will
Automakers are now coming out with
7 and 8 speed automatic transmissions.
- Upside: Increased fuel
economy of 3% to 7%.
- Downside: Increased weight,
loss of passenger space, increased cost, increased complexity, increased
In the brainpower notes above,
we addressed the idea of learning from others. When it comes to
automobiles, Americans simply do not do this.
Europeans have already been
using a solution that trumps these new transmissions, and they have been
doing so for decades. Why are we so slow on the uptake? I don't know, but
we are also the only "civilized" country with a federal income tax and a
massive bureaucracy (larger than our combined Army, Navy, and Air Force)
of psychopathic nincompoops who pretend to oversee it (while, in
actuality, using their positions to brazenly rob the government and
individuals--see the GAO reports).
In the USA, only 20% of cars
have manual transmissions. In Europe, where fuel prices have long been
much higher than in the USA, only 20% of cars have automatic
Automatic transmissions are
fuel-hoggers, and they are also costly to buy and maintain. Unless you
have some medical reason to have one (not likely) or are just too stupid
to figure out how to shift gears (also not likely), it usually makes sense
to choose a manual transmission over an automatic. Here's why:
- Upside: Increased fuel
economy of 3% to 12%. Decreased weight, increased passenger space
(possible), lower cost, lower complexity, zero maintenance.
- Downside: Lower trade-in
value. But you already got your money, and then some, upfront. Another
downside is you can't use your right hand to run your cell-phone,
laptop, curling iron, or other distractions while in city
If Americans had manual
transmission cars in the same ratio as the Europeans do, our gasoline
prices would be lower because demand would be lower relative to supply.
With some 100 million cars averaging over 10,000 miles a year, even a 5%
improvement in gas mileage would add up. Think how thrilled you'd be if
someone handed you a check for the cumulative savings in gasoline--it'd be
a huge check!
100 million times 10,000 times
5% times 20 MPG times the price of gas at your pump....
It seems we manual transmission
drivers should get a rebate for doing our part to reduce fuel prices. In
fact, we already do!
Now, here's another way of
looking at this. Suppose you drive a manual transmission car, and do the
- Every time you put ten
gallons of gas in the tank, you pump most of a gallon onto the ground.
That's about the fuel difference between an automatic and a manual.
- Every year, you whip out $50
and simply burn it. That's the annual fluid and filter change for an
automatic (we aren't even counting the time involved to have this done).
Of course, most automatic transmission owners don't do this. So they
simply pay more in fuel costs until they get hit with that $1200 repair
bill when the unmaintained transmission locks up when they are on their
way to an important meeting.
I'm not saying everyone who
owns a car with an automatic transmission is a fool. I am saying that
doing so is a costly proposition and you can save yourself quite a bit of
money by choosing a manual transmission. Further, the sheer mass of people
driving automatics tilts the supply vs. demand curve toward everyone's
There may be reasons why, in
your case, driving an automatic is worth the extra cost. I'm not you, so I
can't say. But I can tell you that most of the "reasons" people have are
not the result of honest evaluation.
For example, "It's too hard."
Well, today's (post 1980) manual transmissions are pretty easy to operate
and most have some form of powered assist (similar to power steering). I
have driven manual transmissions after a hard afternoon of climbing, so
hard that I can barely close my hands anymore. I've driven them with
broken fingers, a sprained wrist, and inflamed tendons. The physical
effort required to shift gears simply isn't very much.
So rather than plop down an
extra $2,500 for a new-fangled 8-speed transmission, spend $2,500 less
to get even better performance from a manual transmission. Use the money
for something you enjoy, or invest it for retirement.
The cliché about "reinventing
the wheel" hits really close to home, here. Don't pay for that
How to save on gas at the pump.
You may be bothered by high
prices at the gasoline pump, but I'm not. I look at my annual gasoline
consumption, and I really don't have a problem. When you buy gasoline once
every six weeks or so, a few extra dollars isn't a big deal.
But, it wasn't always this way for me. At one time, I bought gasoline
just about every other day--and a full tank at that (this is what happens
when you drive a 500hp, wheelie-pulling hot rod with a 4.30 rear gear and
I have learned how to unchain myself from fuel prices, and I'm going to
share that with you right here. You may not be able to use all of these
tips, but do your best. If something sounds like you can't use it, put
your mind to work to figure out how you can. You may be surprised at how
possible the "impossible in my situation" actually can be when you are
determined to "make it so."
- Cut the commute. This is the best thing you can do. So, this one
bullet point is going to be quite a bit longer than the others.
If you drive, say, 12,000 miles per year mostly because you have a
half-hour commute to work every day, you have a huge opportunity to save
both fuel and time. Many people feel they need face time at the office,
or they will be marginalized.
Let me ask you something. When is the last time you got the same $13
million bonus your CEO got? I thought so. You see, you are already
marginalized. Rather than spend enormous resources hoping to improve
your situation by 1%, why not reduce your resource costs by as much as
90%? Getting a meaningless promotion or a tiny raise doesn't justify
working yourself to the bone. Stop running the fool's errand.
If you don't already telecommute, work your way into this gradually.
Some companies began their own programs, by having certain job
categories telecommute one day a week. This reduced facility costs, and
they expanded a bit here and there. Telecommuting depends on trust and
discipline. It's not for everyone, and it simply won't work with some
jobs. But see what you can do. And do bring up the idea of "rotating
days," where, for example, some folks will telecommute on Mondays, some
on Tuesdays, etc. This frees up parking space, and confers many other
Remember, telecommuting doesn't mean having a day off. It means working
from home (or a close by satellite office) and being available via phone and Internet.
Most companies claim huge productivity improvements with telecommuting,
and the reasons why should be obvious.
Another option is what many construction companies do--and they do this
to save hugely on daily mobilization costs. Work four 10 hour days. The
day off can also rotate.
- Have the right model of vehicle. I drive a 4 cylinder late model
Camry. It gets nearly 40 MPG--who needs a hybrid? Note: the standard Camry gets
about 10% less fuel economy than mine does, because the standard Camry has the wrong transmission.
- Have the right transmission. An automatic transmission is very
expensive. It sucks down fuel, and it requires annual maintenance (which
most people don't do). In the USA, 20% of drivers have manual
transmissions. In Europe, 20% have automatics. Why the difference?
Europeans have had high gasoline prices for decades and they opt for
fuel economy. If you spend $2,000 a year on fuel with an
automatic, you essentially get a $200 fuel rebate every year. Plus, you
save a princely sum at purchase time.
- Use the right oil. Cheap oil in your engine is very costly. I use Mobil One, which costs about
3 to 4 times as much to buy
as regular, paraffin-based oil. But I get that money back, and then
some, in fuel economy. I can't say empirically that it extends the life of my engine,
because I don't keep a car long enough to determine that.
Also, the cheap oil does not lubricate your engine during starting.
That's because the wax in that oil has to melt. Synthetic, by contrast,
is always present and always lubricates. That's why you'll see synthetic
rated for subzero starting. The "regular oil" will probably be fine if
you start your car when outside temperatures climb above 150 degrees
Fahrenheit. But I will take a wild guess here--you don't do that most of
the time, right?
- Change that oil frequently. I had a street rod that shifted from
first to second at 7,200 RPM. The
stock engine was factory-rated not to exceed 5,500 RPM. This one was
designed to exceed 10,000 RPM. That's a lot of
speed for an eight
cylinder engine. On top of that, I went through nearly 50 bottles of
nitrous oxide in one summer alone.
People were saying that engine must be about worn out. So, we yanked it
out and took it apart. Not a single indicator of wear, anywhere. It
mic'd out "new." Now, I did change oil every 500 miles--that's
excessive maintenance, but this was excessive duty. I point this out to show that the oil change frequency
has huge influence on engine wear. For the same reason, it has huge
influence on fuel economy.
Here's the reason why. Oil gets contaminated, over time. Each time you
start your car, you put some unburned fuel in your oil. Condensation
puts water in your oil (which is why short trips that don't heat up the
engine mean you need more frequent oil changes), greatly lowering
lubricity. You can't filter out these chemical contaminants. Your oil
filter removes aspirated dirt, it removes carbon, and it removes the
tiny metal fragments from normal engine wear. This last item goes to
nearly zero, if you use synthetic oil.
- Stay balanced. I have my tires balanced (and rotated--this is free
when done with balancing) every 5,000 miles. This prevents a loss of 2
to 10 MPG. It also greatly reduces wear and tear on the suspension.
Unless you have a passion for replacing ball joints, springs, shocks,
tie rods, and other suspension components, I suggest you go no more than
5,000 miles without a balance check.
- Care for your tires. Inflation and rotation. Keep up with these, and
you prevent a loss of 2 to 10 MPG. Not to mention the safety
ramifications of under-inflated tires. Any time the temperature drops,
check your tires. It is not a hard thing to do, so do it every week if
If you replace tires, go with a highly efficient tire. You won't be able
to know the efficiency of a tire without asking a tire specialist. Also,
make sure your tire is rated AAA--or you're getting a cheap tire. You
may need to balance some things in the equation so you get the right
tires for your car--don't focus just on efficiency.
- Cut your speed. This one is a bit over-rated. I did a test over a
500 mile trip, and found that with an average speed of 78 MPH the car
still got 35 MPG. The same trip averaging 65 MPH resulted in 38 MPG. So,
not a lot of difference. But every little bit helps. Maybe an average
speed of 55 MPG would have gotten me to 40 MPG--but the tune "I can't
drive 55" just seems to be a national theme song.
- Change gradually. Your acceleration and deceleration methods have a
great influence on your fuel economy. Anticipate stops, and try to rely
more on intelligent driving than on your brakes.
- Kill the radio. I listen to audio books, or have dead silence, while
driving. On those rare occasions I play the car radio, I always feel
like going faster and driving more aggressively.
- Keep your distance. Contrary to the propaganda, speed does not kill.
Relative position does. People who tailgate are not only dangerous, they
needlessly waste fuel because of the reactionary driving methods required by
following too closely.
Use the 2-second rule. That is, pick an object
(e.g., an overpass) and count off two seconds between the time the car
in front of you passes it and you reach it. If you get there in less
than two seconds, you are following too closely.
In wet weather, allow three or four seconds.
In December of 2000,
I drove the black ice stretch of I-80-- following one of the worst winter
storms I can remember. It was well below zero, and the ice had been
polished by windborne ice particles for days. As I approached the
location of this black ice, I allowed 12 seconds between my car and the
one in front of me. And
guess what? I never had to slam my brakes once. The ditches along that
whole stretch of road were lined with cars--sometimes three deep!
Interestingly, I noticed anybody who tailgated me was never there very
long--but became just another ditch denizen.
- Combine trips. By making fewer trips, I eliminate much of the
mile count I would otherwise entail. Before I go to one place, I
determine if there are other places near there that I should also go to.
Go thou and do likewise.
- Be thinking in terms of fuel savings. This is what I began doing
years ago, and now I am in the position of not really caring about the
pump price of gasoline. Commuting by jet is another matter, but much of
that can be eliminated by applying the principles of telecommuting.
What would be the effect on our economy and our international position,
if every American followed each of these bullet points thoroughly? You
already know the answer. Pass this eNL on to others so that together we
can get that process rolling--no pun intended. To our non-USA readers, ditto.
How to save on gas at the pump--Part Two!
Thanks for all the
positive feedback on the gasoline savings tips featured in our previous
issue. I decided to respond to your kind words with more good stuff.
There's an automobile research site that may be helpful to you. According to
two best ways to get more miles from the same fuel are:
- Use cruise control. Letting a computer maintain your speed can
increase your mileage by 14%.
- Instead of a lead foot, use a feather foot. Drivers who stomp on the
accelerator burn more than one third more fuel than their less
aggressive counterparts. Nobody cares how fast your car accelerates
(except on the highway onramp, where dawdling is illegal and unsafe).
Edmunds recommends going from zero to 60 in 20 seconds, rather than 10.
Bob Golfen recommended, in The Arizona Republic, to keep your
vehicle well-maintained. Taking information from his piece and adding some
of my own (I used to be an auto mechanic--paid for two years of college
that way, plus did extensive work on the race car circuit), I offer these
- Keep your tires inflated to the right pressure. Few people do this.
Your tire pressure changes as the temperature goes up or down, plus
tires naturally lose air over time. Under-inflation not only wastes fuel,
but also decreases safety. BTW, the advice to let some air out of your
tires for winter traction is wrong--especially with radial tires. The
shape your tire's footprint takes when under-inflated reduces traction,
plus the stress weakens the sidewalls. Underinflation of tires also
accelerates ball joint wear and shortens shock absorber life.
Additionally, consider the effects of a compromised suspension on your
own back. There is no upside to underinflation, but the downside is
- Keep your oil and filter clean. This doesn't necessarily mean to
change your oil and filter at the recommended intervals--they may be
dirty long before then. If you idle your engine, you load your oil up
with contaminants. Never allow your engine to idle for more than a
minute or so--not even to "warm it up" in the winter time (it's better
to just drive it slowly for the first minute or so). If you are one of
those wasteful people running an automatic transmission, put the car in
neutral when you are at a stoplight. Why not idle? Because the fuel
drops out of suspension at low velocity (due to the shape of your intake
manifold plenum, which is designed for a broad RPM range). Your engine
can aspirate a limited amount of this raw gas, before it starts washing
past your piston rings and into your oil. It does not lubricate.
- Keep the junk out of your trunk. I am amazed at how many people have
pigpens for cars. Don't store things in your car! For the trunk, you
need a small emergency tool kit, a spare blanket, and a small air
compressor--plus the spare tire stuff that comes with your car. That's
it. If you have anything else in there, get rid of it.
- Take a good hard look at your passenger compartment, too. Keep it
pristine. Keep only what is necessary. If you are unsure what is
necessary, take everything out of the car and put it in a bag. Now, take
out three items you think are most important and put those in the car.
Don't put anything else in the car for one week. When the week is up,
ask yourself if you really need to tote around that other stuff after
all. Make a note on your calendar to repeat this exercise in 6 months.
- Inspect the intake air filter once per month, rather than replace it
at the recommended interval. Driving through one dust cloud is enough to
clog this filter, and that reduces engine efficiency. So, take it out
and check it. Do that before you embark on long trip, too.
- Buy quality gasoline. Name brands tend to be more consistent, while
cheap brands at cheap stations tend not to be "sticked" enough (checked
for water), may be in less than optimum tanks, or may be lower quality
to begin with. There's also the issue
of additives. Shell, for example, costs a bit more--but your engine runs
cleaner and more efficiently on their fuel--this isn't just marketing hype. You can
identify the best gas stations for your gas by pulling up to one at near empty, then
filling your tank with an exact quantity (e.g., 15 gallons). Drive your
car and check your mileage. Of course, you need to account for
variables, so a difference of 2 or 3 MPG may not be conclusive. But
you'll weed out the real crappers pretty fast.
- Keep the engine tuned up. This isn't much of a challenge today,
because there's not much to it. But part of good engine care is keeping
the engine clean. My rule of thumb is this: If you can't safely eat off
it, it's not clean enough. A bit radical, perhaps, but at least remove
all grime. Does a dirty engine matter? You'll know the
answer to that the next time you go to add oil and accidentally nudge
some sludge into your engine. Or, if a rushed mechanic works on your
- Keep fluids at their proper levels. If your power steering pump is
grinding away, that's costing you gas mileage. Ditto for the
transmission (if you have an automatic, especially) and differential
gear (check at the recommended interval). A low radiator can result in
premature wear on your coolant pump--or even cause major engine
failure--so check the level about once a month.
- Keep the chassis tuned. Your shock absorbers, springs, tie rods, and
so on can dramatically affect your gas mileage. Have these things
checked when you have your tires balanced and rotated. A front end
alignment check at the same time is generally advisable, if you have
been driving over any rough surfaces--otherwise, get that done per the
- Use the air conditioner, rather than roll down the windows--at least
at high speeds. The mileage difference grows as your speed increases.
Roberto Santiago recommended, in the Miami Herald, to car pool.
That's great advice. Pool with four people, and you cut your fuel usage by
50% to 65%. Not a bad deal at all! But I still prefer telecommuting
whenever possible--you cut your fuel usage by 100%.
Amazement and incredulity are two words that describe my
reaction to the latest proposals for solving our "energy crisis." We don't
have an energy crisis. We have a common sense crisis.
Why is the USA (like other industrialized nations)
dependent on Mideast oil? Why are our dollars eventually going to terrorist
groups spawned in that region (making the IRS, a home-grown terrorist group,
The common "wisdom" is that US demand is high and we
don't produce enough oil at home. And this is why, so the "logic" goes, that
we have to buy from abroad.
This reminds me of the story about the guy who is
looking for his lost wedding ring under a light post, even though he's sure
he dropped it half a block away. When asked why he's looking so far from
where the ring must be, he replies, "The light's better over here."
Today is the 12th of March. The USA can completely go
off foreign oil by the 13th of March, if it really wanted to. The solution
is very simple: stop wasting oil. If each of us did our part, the USA would
actually be exporting oil.
Here are some easy ways to reduce oil consumption
- Drive a fuel efficient car. For example, I drive
a fuel-efficient Toyota Camry. I have a 5-speed manual transmission,
which boosts my fuel economy by an estimated 10% more. If we doubled our
fleet average--very easy to do--we'd be off that oil immediately. Trade
in that gas hog for something more sensible. At the very least, insist
on a manual transmission for your next car.
- Don't drive to work. If I remember right, about
70% of our jobs here are knowledge worker jobs. If every knowledge
worker telecommuted--well, do the math. Once again, we'd have no more
need for foreign oil.
- Drive less to work. It's stupid to live in a
suburban mansion and commute 60 miles one way. It is also very
fuel-intensive. Relocating closer to work is beneficial in many ways.
People who "must" commute long ways each day need to get a reality
- Drive less. A lot less. Most people don't plan
their trips very well. My guess is half of all trips people take by car
are unnecessary. Add in car pooling and other driving reduction
strategies, and you have major savings in fuel consumption.
This is just a quick look comparing the widely touted
"solutions" to dependence on foreign oil to what we could do with just
common sense and a little discipline. As a society, we choose to fund
terrorism. And I don't mean just by re-electing officials who have failed to
abolish the IRS. We are also doing that by integrating wasteful fuel habits
into our daily routines. And we can change those routines in an instant.
We don't need the government to "solve" the fuel
problem with more of their stupid and costly programs. We don't need
multi-billion dollar research programs into exotic fuels. We just need to
apply our brains a bit and more intelligently use what we have.
This is true of most problems we face. Think on what
you can do to to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Then, set the example for others. Eventually, people will move in synch (see
And here's the bonus. When you get in the habit of
using those mental muscles, they become stronger.
Anyone selling car parts that increase your gas mileage--special
spark plugs, special fuel injectors, special carburetors, special air
filters, etc. The sales pitch for all of these rip-offs requires you to
ignore basic physical laws, especially in the area of thermodynamics.
If this person has such a great item, why hasn't an automotive company
like Toyota copied the technology or bought the rights to it? These
companies are investing billions of dollars into increasing the fuel
economy of their cars, but they aren't using $40 "high mileage" spark
plugs--that should tell you something. Smart people aren't buying what
this huckster is selling.
If this person has such a great item, why isn't s/he just doing
aftermarket makeovers and keeping the actual technology secret? If
someone guaranteed you could drive in with a 15 MPG SUV and drive out
with a 45 MPG SUV for a small investment of $2,000--wouldn't you be
insane not to accept the offer? (Assuming you weren't already insane by
dint of owning an SUV in the first place). But because the results would
never come, the promoter won't put his/her money where his/her mouth is.
SUV owners are now desperate to get rid of the pieces of crap they
drive. Why aren't they flocking to shops that can install special spark
plugs to triple their gas mileage?
If you use synthetic motor oil in you car, you get less engine wear and
better gas mileage. But why is this? There are two reasons:
- All of the molecules are the same size, so internal friction of
the lubricant is greatly reduced.
- There's no paraffin wax in this oil, so it doesn't have to heat
up to get it lubricating properly.
Regular motor oil doesn't have these benefits, because:
- The molecules are of varying size, so internal friction of the
lubricant is greatly increased.
- There's no paraffin wax in this oil, so it doesn't have to heat
up to get it lubricating properly.
One of the dumbest products on the market is the synthetic blend
motor oil. You pay extra to have synthetic motor oil in the mix, but you
still end up with molecules of varying sizes and you still have that
Save money. Buy synthetic motor oil. A blend gives you none of the
Remember $4 a gallon gasoline? Remember Arnold's famous line in the
Terminator, "I'll be back"? These two will soon have a high
correlation. And you can look for gasoline to shoot right on past $4.
Maybe twice that by this time next year. But why wait until
then to save money? Two quick tips:
- First of all, drive less. You're smart enough to figure out how
(and we covered it in past issues).
Come up with a plan, and make it happen.
- Second, "deposit" the difference between what you actually pay
and what you would have paid (with gasoline at $8/gallon) into a special "account." It need not
be an actual bank acct. If you're a mortgage holder, applying the
difference to your principal is not a bad idea. You could invest the
difference into tools, books, workout equipment, or other
expenditures that put you in a better overall position. By making
your gas seem more expensive this way, you'll be more motivated to