RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The news that President Obama is pressuring automakers to finally improve fuel economy on their outdated gas-guzzlers promises big benefits for the planet and our wallets—in two years, after the rules go into effect. But most of us want to cut down on gas use now, especially since gas prices have risen nearly $.30 per gallon over the last three weeks, and will likely climb higher as the summer wears on.
Obama’s plan calls for a 40 percent improvement in fuel economy for all vehicles. But we’ve compiled a list of tips that will save you that, and then some, if you change the way you drive. (But first you have to calculate your actual fuel usage. Use the calculator at drivesmarterchallenge.org.)
1. Let up on the lead foot. Based on results from a road test of common fuel-saving tips performed by the automotive information site Edmunds.com, the most effective way to save gas is to turn your lead foot into a feather foot. In their tests, they cut mileage by an astonishing 31 percent simply by taking 15 seconds to get from 0 mph to 60 mph, rather than 10.
2. Stick to the limits. You’ll get the best gas mileage driving between 60 and 65 mph on the highway, using 12 to 14 percent less gas, according to Edmunds.com. And in many cases you’ll also avoid a speeding ticket. Try not to be intimidated by those drivers barreling past you at 90 miles an hour; just stay in the slow lane and wave as they pass.
3. Know when to cruise. Cruise-control can cut your gas use, on average, by 7 percent and may save as much as 14 percent, per Edmunds.com. In addition to keeping you at a steady speed, the testers found, it heightens your situational awareness, so you’re more likely to change lanes rather than slam on the brakes when you come upon a slow-moving 18-wheeler. But there’s a caveat: Using cruise-control in hilly areas can actually cost you, according to many “hypermilers,” drivers obsessed with saving gas by modifying their driving habits. Systems can accelerate too aggressively up hills (costing you mileage) and then use gas on the way down, rather than coasting, to maintain the same speed. So control your own speed on hills, speeding up smoothly and coasting to save gas.
4. Walk, don’t drive thru. Idling wastes a ton of gas, so much so that a few U.S. cities have actually banned restaurant and other drive-thrus to prevent excessive idling and the associated pollution. Edmunds’ drivers cut their gas use by 19 percent after shutting down engines that would have otherwise idled for more than two minutes. They recommend switching off if you think you’ll be sitting around for more than a minute, but the Environmental Protection Agency says the cutoff should be more like 30 seconds, which saves more gas than it takes to restart the engine. In any case, when you pull off the highway for a feeding, or have to do some simple banking, get out of the car and walk inside. You’ll save gas and get a bit of much-needed exercise.
5. Make a few small changes. There are lots of other tiny changes you can make to your car that, individually, may not lead to noticeable drops in consumption, but combined, can make a big difference:
• Inflate your tires. Remember that tip from last year’s presidential election? For every pound below maximum tire pressure that escapes, your fuel consumption increases by 0.3 percent.
• Remove excess weight. 100 pounds of junk in your trunk could increase gas use by 1 to 2 percent.
• Turn on the air-conditioning, but not too much. Opening windows on the highway creates drag and raises your fuel use, but so does turning on the AC. If you roll up the windows and turn on the air, you essentially balance out your fuel use. However, if you turn it up to “max” you could increase your fuel consumption by anywhere from 5 to 25 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.