Fuel Economy Tip – Follow the “3 Second Rule”

Here’s a tip that will not only help you increase your vehicle’s fuel economy, but will also help you become a much safer driver:

Follow the “3 Second Rule”

As you are driving down the road – particularly at highway speeds – make sure that you give keep plenty of space between your car, truck, SUV, etc. and the vehicle in front of you. In most cases, you are giving proper spacing if you are traveling three seconds behind the car in front of you, however, you will likely need to give more time and space if you’re driving in bad weather.

For those of you who don’t know how to tell how close you are traveling to the car in front of you, pick a set object up a head – an exit sign, a light pole, etc. – and once the bumper of the car you’re following crosses the designated object, begin counting and don’t stop until the hood of your car passes the same object.

Following the “3 Second Rule” will help keep you from constantly tapping your brakes and accelerator every time the car in front of you slows down and speeds up. By avoiding tap dancing on your brake and accelerator pedals, you can significantly increase your fuel economy. Here’s why:

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How People Are Offsetting High Gas Prices

As gasoline prices continue to set record highs with each passing day – now nearing a nation-wide average of $4 per gallon, up nearly 30% in 2008 – more and more Americans are beginning to see a significant hit to their budget’s bottom line.

With little relief (if any) in sight, many Americans have started to make adjustments to help ease the sting of high fuel costs. Many drivers have made minor adjustments that have caused minimal lifestyle changes – such as reducing highway speeds – while others have had to make much more significant and life altering changes – such as take a job closer to home.

In order to gauge how most Americans are coping with higher gasoline prices, I recently included a poll on Daily Fuel Economy Tip which, very simply, asked the following: “What is the biggest thing you have done to try and combat high gas prices?” Here’s how nearly 200 people responded:

  • 33% stated they are driving less and/or using mass transportation more
  • 25% stated they are working harder to maximize their current vehicle’s fuel economy
  • 13% stated they’ve done nothing
  • 12% stated they’ve bought a car that has better fuel economy
  • 9% stated they’ve moved closer to work or taken a job closer to home
  • 8% stated they’ve done something not mentioned in the poll’s list

Based on the above results, nearly 9 out of 10 people have attempted something in order to try and offset record high gasoline prices.

In the end, hopefully there will be some good to come out of $4 (or $5, $6, etc.) gasoline.

Whether it forces us to reduce our driving, shift towards smaller cars with better fuel economy, force the Federal, state and local governments to offer better public transportation, etc., it’s clear that expensive gas is going to force significant changes throughout America.

While it may hurt (a lot) now, in the end chances are pretty good we’ll be better off in the long haul.

The Top 10 Ways to Reduce Your Gasoline Consumption

Unfortunately, this year it looks like we’re not going to be able to count on a nice drop in gasoline prices during the fall and winter. With crude oil futures sitting at $90 a barrel and demand for both oil and gasoline going nowhere but up, it looks as if gasoline may test the $3 per gallon mark within the coming weeks or months.

Since the $3 mark is usually reserved for the summer’s peak driving season and hasn’t ever happened during the winter months, we could very easily be setting ourselves up for $4 gasoline by the time May comes rolling around.

No matter what you do, increased gasoline prices are going to affect you in some way. While the price increase may hurt some more than others, the fact remains that we’re all going to have to become accustomed to the fact that the days of cheap gas (and energy in general) are in the rear view mirror.

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If you really want to monitor your fuel economy, buy a ScanGauge digital fuel economy gauge.

That being said, there are plenty of things you can do to help minimize the effect of higher gasoline prices and allow you to do your part to help save the environment. Thankfully, most of these things are pretty common sense and can be integrated very easily into your regular “driving routine,” so much so that it shouldn’t take long for these habits to become second nature.

So, without further ado, here are the Top Ten Ways to Reduce Your Gasoline Consumption:

  1. Don’t drive if you don’t have to (see, I told you these were pretty common sense). Think about it, how many small, wasted trips do you take each week where you drive less than a mile or two? If you’re going to the grocery store to do some major shopping it’s certainly understandable to bring your car, but if you’re just going to pick up a couple items, why not walk or ride your bike? Same can be said for trips to friends’ houses, driving the kids to school, etc., etc. Moral of the story: if you don’t drive you don’t use gas.
  2. If you do have to drive, minimize the amount of time you sit in idle. Here’s a pretty easy general rule of thumb to remember: if you’re car’s running and you’re not moving, your gas mileage has dropped to zero mpg. I know for many of this, this is probably easier said than done, especially considering it’s pretty tough to avoid the daily rush hour traffic. However, if you find yourself stuck at a stoplight or know that it’s going to be a minute or two before you get moving again, turn off your car (assuming it’s safe to do so). Essentially, it takes about ten seconds worth of idling to use as much gasoline as it would to restart your car; this means if you’re going to be sitting at a stoplight for a minute or two, it’s best to shut the car off and save gasoline.
  3. When you finally get the car moving, make sure to use a nice, steady and moderate acceleration. A heavy foot means you’re going to get pretty bad gas mileage. Essentially, you’re making the car’s engine work much harder than necessary, and in order to get the required energy to quickly get up to speed, it’s going to need to burn more gasoline. However, you also don’t want to accelerate so slowly that you bog down the engine, as this will reduce your gas mileage as well. Nice and steady wins the race.
  4. Now that you’re up to cruising speed, try to stay at or near the speed limit. While the optimal speed for gas mileage is going to vary by make and model, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that the fast you go, especially at highway speeds, the worse gas mileage you’re going to get. According to FuelEconomy.gov, driving over the speed limit at highway speeds will reduce your vehicle’s gas mileage by between seven and 23 percent. When it’s all said and done, that adds up to a lot of wasted gasoline and a lot of wasted money.
  5. When driving, keep your eyes down the road and coast whenever possible. By constantly tapping your brakes or accelerating up to stoplights or stop signs, all you’re doing is needlessly burning fuel. By being on and off the brakes, you’re wasting the energy (i.e. burned fuel) it took to get up to speed and then you’ll need to burn more fuel to get back up to speed. By accelerating up to stoplights and stop signs, again, you’re using energy that you know you really don’t need. If you give yourself plenty of room between the cars in front of you, you should have no problem seeing what the conditions are like ahead of you, which will allow you to do plenty of coasting and help you avoid brake tapping and needless accelerating.
  6. Keep your car as aerodynamic as possible; the more aerodynamic your car is (meaning the less drag that’s put on it) the better your gas mileage is going to be. This means you should drive with the windows up (more on that in a second), the sunroof closed and keep any extemporaneous items (car top carrier, sports team flags, etc.) in the vehicle.
  7. Obviously, there are going to be times when it’s warm in the car, you need some air flow and the vent alone just isn’t going to cut it. Now you’ve got to make the choice between rolling down the windows or turning on the air conditioning. If you’re traveling less than 35 mph, you should probably go ahead and just roll down the windows, as there shouldn’t be too much drag on your car. However, once you start traveling above 35 mpg and approach highway speeds, you should keep the windows up and turn on the AC. Regardless of which one you chose, you’re going to reduce your vehicle’s gas mileage, but by following this rule of thumb you can help minimize the effects.
  8. Before you get out on the road, make sure that your car’s tires are properly inflated. Think of it this way; have you ever tried to ride a bike that had under inflated tires? It took a lot more work to get up to and maintain speed, didn’t it? Same thing goes for your car; under inflated tires will essentially reduce your car’s gas mileage by two to three percent. While that may not seem like much, this might – if every driver in the United States improved their vehicle’s gas mileage by 2%, we would save nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline each year.
  9. Replace your car’s dirty air filter. Driving around with a dirty or clogged air filter can reduce your vehicle’s gas mileage by up to ten percent, which at today’s prices, is the equivalent of adding about 28 cents to each gallon of gasoline you buy. It probably takes less than ten minutes to change the filter and will probably set you back less than 20 dollars, so there’s really no excuse to not get this done.
  10. Get all of the useless and needless items out of your car. As a general rule of thumb, for every extra 100 pounds you carry around in your car, you reduce its gas mileage by one to two percent; and if you want to get into the minutiae of it, for every extra pound you carry around in your car, you reduce its gas mileage by 1/100th to 1/50th of a percent. So, now that it’s fall, get the golf clubs out of the trunk of your car and maybe with the money you’ll save on gas, you can splurge and buy the big bucket of balls at the driving range.

Now that you’ve been armed with some pretty easy and simple ways to save gas and maximize your vehicle’s gas mileage, I’d like to suggest that you print out this article and leave a copy in your car as a reminder to try your best to reduce your gasoline consumption. In the end, both your bank account and the environment will thank you for it.

Why We Like Driving Solo

Picture your typical afternoon commute.  If it’s anything like what most of suburbia has to deal with, you’re probably visualizing being stuck on a major highway, surrounded by slow moving vehicles being piloted by angry looking drivers.

Now – look a little closer at this picture in your head.  Are most of the cars that surround you filled with more than one person?  Chances are, probably not.

According to a recent poll on GasBuddy.com which asked, “What percentage of the time you are in a car with other people?” (not sure this is worded correctly, but I think you get the point), much of the time we’re in a car, we’re driving by ourselves.

Here’s the breakdown of the poll:

  • 37% of respondents stated that they drive with other people between 0% and 10% of the time.
  • 29% of respondents stated that they drive with other people between 10% and 35% of the time.
  • 15% of respondents stated that they drive with other people between 35% and 65% of the time.
  • 9% of respondents stated that they drive with other people between 65% and 90% of the time.
  • 7% of respondents stated that they drive with other people more than 90% of the time.

Long story short, 66% of us do at least two-thirds of our driving by ourselves.  I know this is akin to Yogi Berra’s “90% of baseball is half mental,” but I think it’s easy to see that most of us do most of our driving by ourselves.

Why is that?  I mean, we know that we should carpool because it’s less wasteful and helps ease traffic, but this knowledge doesn’t seem to be enough.

The main reason comes down to convenience.  It’s simply more convenient for us to just hop in our own car and get to where we need to go (work, the store, drop the kids off at soccer practice) than it is to try and coordinate our schedules with other people.

I think this is also the main reason why people don’t take advantage of mass transportation as much as they should.  It tends to be inconvenient to mold your schedule around when the bus or train can take you to where you’d like to go.

That being said, it doesn’t have to be that difficult or put you out that much to drive around with other people in your car.  If you live with someone, ask them if they want to go to the store with you to save a trip; if you know co-workers that live in or near your neighborhood, seek them out to see if they’d be interested in carpooling a couple of days per week.

Even if you can decrease the percentage of time you drive alone by 10%, you’ll be making a pretty big difference.

Follow up to Turning Your Car Off

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about an easy way for you to increase your car’s gas mileage without having to alter any of your driving habits. To jog your memory, the tip was to simply turn your car off if you were going to sit at a stop light for more than ten seconds.

While I thought the tip made sense, it seemed to cause a bit of a backlash because it went against the common misperception that it takes more gas to start your car than it does to let it sit in idle for extended amounts of time.

Based on many of the comments I received due to this tip – in which some people stated that even idling for up to 15 minutes uses less gas than starting a car – I thought it would be a good idea to share how much I have increased my gas mileage by simply turning my car off at stop lights when I know I’m going to sit there for an extended period of time.

Before I start my “analysis” I’d just like to point out that my comparison will be based on the month prior to and the month following when I started turning off my car at long stop lights. While I know that this isn’t a complete apples to apples comparison due to all of the different variables, it’s as close as I’m going to come to putting together a “true” test.

In the month leading up to my decision to turn off my car at long stop lights, my car averaged about 31.25 miles per gallon, based on 1,406.4 miles traveled and 45.05 gallons of gasoline consumed. In the month following my decision, my car averaged about 33.05 mpg, based on 1,559.9 miles traveled and 47.2 gallons of gasoline consumed.

Because I didn’t take any long trips during either of the two months and almost all of the miles were piled up commuting to work, driving to the golf course or running various odds and ends, I can say without reservation that the main reason behind my 5.75% jump in fuel economy.

Granted, on a hot summer’s day, turning your car off at a stop light may not be the best thing in the world to do, but I would imagine that even if you were to do this just during your morning commute and later in the evening, you would probably add another 3% to your car’s gas mileage.

And as I’m sure you’re well aware by now, if each of us were to increase our fuel economy by 3%, we would save billions of gallons of gas (and billions of dollars) over the course of a year.

The Most Inconvenient Ways to Save Gas

While there are plenty of ways we can easily and conveniently go about increasing your car’s gas mileage – i.e. making sure your tires are properly inflated, changing out dirty air filters, etc. – there are also many ways we try to save gas that ultimately end up being a huge inconvenience.

Don’t get me wrong, for most of us reducing the amount of gasoline that we use will require some form of sacrifice. That being said, if you can find convenient ways to save just as much gas (if not more) why put yourself out?!?

Here are the most inconvenient ways for you to try and save gas:

  • Driving with the windows up and the AC off on a hot summer day. Because driving with either the windows down or the AC on will reduce your car’s gas mileage, many people will forgo both and roll up the windows and crank up the vent. While this might help you get better gas mileage, it also leads to lots of armpit and back sweat.
  • Driving the speed limit. Yes, I realize it’s the law to drive the speed limit, and it’s also a great way to get better gas mileage out of your car, but let’s be honest, most of us have become accustomed to driving at least five to ten miles per hour above the posted speed limit. Not to mention the fact that we’ve become dependent on the extra couple of minutes we buy by going faster than what we should.
  • Reducing the amount of time your car sits in idle. Whether it’s adjusting your commuting time so that you aren’t stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, avoiding the drive-thru, or even turning your car off at long lights, reducing the amount of time you sit in idle will greatly increase your car’s gas mileage. Unfortunately, this will probably mean longer walks, increased stress on your car’s starter, alternator and battery and possibly significant changes in your everyday routine.
  • Using mass transportation. For many of us who live in the suburbs or in rural areas, mass transportation isn’t an option. And even for those of us who have mass transportation at our disposal, it typically means giving up the convenience of being able to come and go as we please for the sake of following a schedule, which in many cases isn’t on time.
  • Buying a more fuel efficient vehicle. For as much as people talk about buying more fuel efficient vehicles in order to reduce the amount of money you have to pay at the pump, for many of us this just isn’t an option. Whether we’re locked into a lease that’s tough to break or we just can’t afford to buy a new car, whatever the reason, it’s pretty tough to try and fix the high gas price problem by buying a new car.

Like I said earlier, saving gas will certainly require a small amount of sacrifice on your part. That being said, I might wait until gas prices hits $4 or $5 to implement some of the ideas listed above.

Why Your Grandma Gets Better Gas Mileage Than You

Have you ever been told that you drive like a grandma? If so, good for you! If not, after reading this, you might want to change your ways.

At first glance this should seem like an insult, however, I fully believe it should be taken as a compliment. What “you drive like a grandma” really means is that you’re a cautious driver that gets the most out of your vehicle’s gas mileage.

However, for those of you who drive like speed demons, here are the top five reasons why your grandma gets better gas mileage than you:

  1. She goes from 0 to 60 in 12 seconds. While it’s certainly annoying to gets stuck behind a little old lady that takes a while to get up to the speed limit, it’s probably a heck of a lot better for your gas mileage than the way you usually drive. Using moderate acceleration, as opposed to simply flooring it or accelerating so slowly that you bog down the engine, is a great way to maintain peak gas mileage.
  2. She obeys the speed limit. According to FuelEconomy.gov, for every 5 mph you drive over 60 mph, you’re essentially reducing your car’s gas mileage by 8%. While in most instances you’re probably not going to drive right at the speed limit, the slower you drive the better your gas mileage tends to be.
  3. She never leaves the right hand lane. According to Edmunds.com, weaving in and out of traffic does not significantly reduce your travel time, so not only does this mean that she’s not driving at Mach 4 zig-zagging through traffic (and subsequently saving gas), it also means that her drive is probably a lot less stressful.
  4. She keeps the inside of her car immaculately clean. She doesn’t carry around golf clubs in the trunk of her car, there aren’t three or four CD books lying around, any of that extra stuff that needlessly adds weight to her car.
  5. She doesn’t drive a truck or an SUV. As I’m sure you’re well aware, SUVs and trucks, due to being less aerodynamic and heavier than “regular” cars tend to get relatively bad gas mileage. Because your grandma never felt the need to be cool and get a Hummer H2, she’s probably getting much better gas mileage than those of us who went ahead and purchased a gas guzzling vehicle.

I guess the phrase “you drive like a grandma” isn’t so bad after all, especially when it means you’re improving your car’s gas mileage between 5% and 15%.

What Your Driver’s Ed Teacher Would Say About Gas Mileage

Remember back in high school, when your driver’s ed teacher would ramble on, talking about important things that you were sure you already knew?  Turns out, we probably should have paid better attention because a lot of the things he or she talked about go a long way towards helping us reduce our gasoline consumption.

Considering the fact that the national average gas price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is nearing $3 and it’s not even summer yet, it’s probably not a bad idea to have a quick refresher course and brush up on some of our driving skills.

So, here’s what your driver’s ed teacher would have to say to you about being a better driver and saving some gasoline at the same time:

  1. Use moderate acceleration.  If you treat your car like it belongs in a drag race, you’re going to absolutely ruin its gas mileage.  When the light turns green or it’s your turn to go, accelerate evenly until you get to your desired speed.
  2. Try to drive reasonably close to the speed limit. I think it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to drive the actual speed limit, but that being said, generally the faster you go the worse gas mileage you’re going to get. If you’re driving 70 in a 55, go ahead and drop your speed and you’ll increase your gas mileage.
  3. Give the proper distance between yourself and the car ahead of you. The reason this will help you increase gas mileage is you won’t be constantly tapping your brakes to keep from slamming into the car in front of you, and you’ll be able to coast more.
  4. Make sure your car is in good shape before you drive. This includes: making sure your tires have the proper air pressure, making sure you have a clean air filter, and making sure that your car’s maintenance is up to date.
  5. Always remember, driving is a privilege, not a right.  That being said, don’t drive if you don’t have to.

Hopefully these are good reminders for those of us who spent most of our time in driver’s ed class napping as opposed to learning.  Besides, there’s nothing wrong with improving your driving skills, especially if it’s going to increase your gas mileage as well.

Turn Your Car Into a Hybrid by Simply Turning it Off

I remember sitting in my 9th grade science class, and somehow we ended up getting in a discussion about gasoline prices.  My teacher told us that he had heard that the price of gas was getting so expensive in Germany that their government was asking people to turn off their cars while they sat at stop lights.

My teacher went on to tell us that, to him, this didn’t make any sense, because it was commonly “known” that it you waste more gas starting your car than you do when you let it sit and idle.

Turns out my science teacher was wrong, and if we all were to turn off our vehicles while sitting at stop lights we would all save a lot of gas and ultimate increase our car’s gas mileage.

According to Canadian Office of Energy Efficiency, we don’t need to sit in idle for very long before we start wasting a lot of gas:

“So, when should you turn off your engine?  Believe it or not, more than 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting your engine.  As a rule of thumb, if you’re going to stop for 10 seconds or more – except in traffic – turn off your engine.”

For an explanation as to how this helps you save gas, let’s take a look at how hybrid cars work.  One of the main reasons hybrids are able to get better gas mileage than “regular” vehicles is because their engines essentially shut off while the car sits in idle, and the car will run exclusively on its batteries.

Because our “regular” cars aren’t capable of doing this, we have to try and come up with the next best thing.  In this case, this means shutting off your engine if you’re going to be sitting in idle for longer than 10 seconds.

For most people, this argument will lead to the question, “I might save gas, but won’t this be hard on my car’s engine?”  According to the Canadian Office of Energy Efficiency, shutting off and restarting your car shouldn’t be too much of a problem:

“Studies show that frequent restarting has little impact on engine parts such as the battery and starter motor.”

Granted, they didn’t reference any of these studies, but I don’t think they would go ahead and lie about it.

So, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to increase your car’s gas mileage, I would recommend that you give this a try.  I’m planning on doing this for the next couple of weeks, just to give it a try, so I’ll be writing more about this at some point in the not too distant future.

Let the Complaining Begin

First off, let me apologize for the preachy tone of this post. 

We’re barely two months into 2007 and not anywhere near the beginning of the summer’s peak driving season, yet gas prices are up over 15% for the year and there’s not a whole lot of relief in sight.

Unfortunately, if last summer is any indication, it looks like these high gas prices will cause most of us to complain, but will cause very few of us to actually change our driving habits for the better.

Unless you drive for a living, most people can afford the extra money they have to shell out as gas prices rise; for most Americans an extra $10 to $20 per week doesn’t put too much of a dent in our discretionary income.  Sure, maybe we won’t go out to dinner as often to make up the difference, but essentially nothing really changes.

However, what we will do is constantly complain about gas prices.  Whether you’re in the break room with your co-workers, the dinning room table with your family, or at a local bar with your friends, someone’s going to bring up how expensive gas is getting, and you’ll probably hear about it on a daily basis.

But complaining about it isn’t enough; it’s not going to make gas prices come down, or magically make your car get better gas mileage.  Instead of whining about gas prices and then going out in your car like you’re a NASCAR driver, go ahead become more conscientious of your driving habits and try to get the best gas mileage possible.

There are plenty of tips on this and many other sites that can help you reach that point.  That way you’re not just full of hot air when you’re complaining about gas prices during the hot summer months.

I’ll go ahead and get off of my soapbox now…

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