electronic translators, electrical exam prep, scanners, spy gadgets, dvr, hidden cameras, weather radios
Bookmark and Share
Products Articles  Book Reviews  Brainpower Newsletter Contact Us      Home  Search

Save On Gasoline Costs

Finance Article Index Page

by

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 advice.

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 ethanol.

2002-05-06

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 pedal automatically.

  • 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 work.

  • 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.

2002-07-30

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.

2004-05-20

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 distribution chain."

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 freezing.
  • 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.

2004-06-19

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.

2005-05-24

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.

  1. 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 your engine.
     
  2. 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).
     
  3. 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, alone.
     
  4. 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?
     
  5. 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.
     
  6. 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.
     
  7. 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.
     
  8. 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.
     
  9. Don't drive. I'm not saying ever--just when practical. Car pool, take public transportation, walk, or ride a bike.
     
  10. 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.

2005-08-07

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 score.
     
  • 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 brainpower-building use.
     
  • 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 come.

2005-08-21

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 maintenance.

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 transmissions. Hmm.

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 traffic--bummer.

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 following:

  • 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 detriment.

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 foolishness.

2005-09-11

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 nitrous oxide).

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 benefits.

    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 you want.

    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.

2005-09-25

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 www.edmunds.com, the two best ways to get more miles from the same fuel are:

  1. Use cruise control. Letting a computer maintain your speed can increase your mileage by 14%.
  2. 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 tidbits:

  • 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 potentially huge.
     
  • 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 car....
     
  • 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 recommended interval.
     
  • 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%.

2006-03-12

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, jealous)?

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 dramatically:

  • 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 check.
  • 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 Sync).

And here's the bonus. When you get in the habit of using those mental muscles, they become stronger.

2008-07-20

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?

2010-06-20

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:

  1. All of the molecules are the same size, so internal friction of the lubricant is greatly reduced.
  2. 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:

  1. The molecules are of varying size, so internal friction of the lubricant is greatly increased.
  2. 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 wax.

Save money. Buy synthetic motor oil. A blend gives you none of the advantages.

2011-03-20

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:

  1. 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.
     
  2. 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 use less.

 

Articles | Book Reviews | Free eNL | Products

Contact Us | Home

This material, copyright Mindconnection. Don't make all of your communication electronic. Hug somebody!