Want to save gas? Try slowing down.
Now that gas prices are loitering around $4 a gallon, gas-saving tips are abundant. Automotive pundits are quick to offer a variety of tips to help drivers eke every possible mile out of each gallon of gas. The tips are usually quite obvious: reduce weight, maintain your vehicle, keep your tires properly inflated, blah blah blah...
But here's one that many don't consider: Slow down. That's all there is to it. Want to save some gas? Leave a little earlier and don't rush yourself to get to your destination. Relax, take your time, and watch your fuel economy increase.
According to CNNMoney.com, "In a typical family sedan, every 10 miles per hour you drive over 60 is like the price of gasoline going up about 54 cents a gallon. That figure will be even higher for less fuel-efficient vehicles that go fewer miles on a gallon to start with."
It doesn't matter whether you're driving a hybrid or a traditional combustion engine, when you drive aggressively, you place a greater demand on the your fuel supply. You can't see it, but one of the hardest jobs your car has is simply pushing the air out of its way. According to Roger Clark, fuel economy engineer at General Motors, pushing air around actually takes up about 40% of a car's energy at highway speeds.
As CNN's Peter Valdes-Dapena explains, "Traveling faster makes the job even harder. As air builds up in front of the vehicle, the low pressure 'hole' trailing behind the car gets bigger, too. Together, these create an increasing suction that tends to pull back harder and harder the faster you drive. The increase is actually exponential, meaning wind resistance rises much more steeply between 70 and 80 mph than it does between 50 and 60.'
Every 10 mph faster reduces fuel economy by about 4 mpg. According to Valdes-Dapena, that figure that remains fairly constant regardless of vehicle size. (While it might seem that a larger vehicle with more aerodynamic drag would see more of an impact, larger vehicles usually have more powerful engines that are better able to cope with the added load.)
So that's where that 54 cent-per-gallon estimate comes from. In his article, Valdes-Dapena explains that if a car gets 28 mpg at 65 mph, driving it at 75 would drop that to 24 mpg. Fuel costs over 100 miles, for example - estimated at the time of his writing at $3.25 a gallon - would increase by $1.93, or the cost of an additional 0.6 gallons of gas. That's like paying 54 cents a gallon more for each of the 3.6 gallons used at 65 mph.
And jackrabbit starts off a red light suck fuel out of your tank like a thirsty camel fresh from the desert. Cars are at their least efficient in the lower gears when the engine is working harder to get the vehicle rolling. That's when a hybrid's electric motor provides the most assistance.
I met a woman once who said "I love my Mustang, but I wish it had better fuel economy." I suggested to her that she would see an immediate benefit if she just drove a little slower. Her response? "But it's a Mustang! It's meant to go fast!" I told her she needed to make a choice: stomp on the go pedal at green lights, and any car will use more fuel to get rolling. Ease on the throttle, and you'll see an immediate reward at the gas pump. Just because you're driving a high-performance vehicle doesn't mean you have to drive it like a race-car driver.
Give it a try. Make yourself a promise to leave a little earlier each day, and watch your gas gauge to see if your economy doesn't improve a bit. You'll be pleasantly surprised.