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Unsafe at any MPG

Last night, I filled up my gas tank, and it was just a few cents shy of $40. Gas is about $3.50 a gallon in southern California right now, and supposed to go over $4 this summer. Ouch.

Now, the Focus has been doing quite a bit better on mileage than it did when I first got it. Its average MPG has gone from 23-24 to around 27, not too shabby for all high-traffic commuting. Now that we're moving into summer, the air conditioner will probably be on more often (stupid black upholstery), so that number may drop a bit, but hey, it's better than the 19 MPG the 4Runner gets. And way better than other vehicles (cough "Hummer" cough).

And really, since we commute together, our "people MPG" is double that, or 54 MPG, at least for 2/3 of the drive. So compared to the jackass in the black Mercedes that whipped around me this morning on the I-5, who probably averages 15 MPG or so, we're using a little over 1/4 as much gas per person.

But that's not enough for some people. The Prius set, not content to brag about pulling 45 MPG out of complicated overpriced technology, have come up with something called "hypermiling", claiming 100+ MPG from their techniques.

But look closely at how they're doing it.

They overinflate the tires, which cuts down on their rolling resistance, but also substantially reduces their grip. Then they take turns way too fast, understeering badly in a nose-heavy car like a Prius. This conserves momentum, but it also leaves you with no "out" if something bad happens. And it also wears the shit out of the tires, creating air and ground pollution in the form of tire dust/smoke and increasing the need for new tires to be manufactured. It also greatly increases the chances of a tire blowout.

They also do what's called a "forced stop," shutting off the engine and "gliding" down hills. This is not only illegal most places, but also dangerous; you have no power steering or brakes when the engine is off, and cars are designed to use engine braking for stability when going downhill. Not to mention that if you accidentally go one click too far on the ignition switch, your steering column locks up, which is a bad thing when you're going 60 MPH.

And then there's my favorite technique, "drafting," following close behind a big truck in the "lee" of the air currents. The rest of us call this tailgating. Two seconds is the proper gap between cars. Yes, there is a pocket of low pressure behind a truck that can help "pull" you along; there's also a huge blind spot in the trucker's vision and a gigantic wall in front of you that makes it kinda hard to see what's going on in front of the truck. Sometimes these fools combine this with the "forced stop" and try to coast along behind semis, combining a lack of control with dangerously close following distances.

Oh, and they keep a constant eye on their video-game-like dashboard display that shows them their current MPG. So now we have distracted, out of control, and following too close, all at once. Sounds exactly like the aforementioned guy in the black Mercedes, except that these idiots want a medal for it because they're "saving the environment."

Everyone wants to save gas. It's expensive. But there is only so much you can safely and reasonably do, and these guys push things way too far. And it's simple, really, to improve your mileage a little bit:

1. Keep your car up. Make sure everything is as close to "spec" as possible: engine tune, oil cleanliness and proper viscosity, wheel alignment (an often overlooked culprit of excess fuel consumption is misaligned wheels), everything. Your car was designed by a lot of smart folks who know its ins and outs a lot better than you do, and they did things for a reason. Don't assume you know better than them.

2. Don't speed and don't floor it at stoplights. Go 70 instead of 75 or 80, and you'll cut down on the amount of work the engine has to do to maintain speed, and it'll use less gas. And just because your car can go from 0-60 in seven seconds does not mean that it has to. The other side of this is that "lugging" the engine wastes fuel, too, and is hard on the engine. Accelerating in the "fat" part of the engine's torque curve (2500-4500 RPM on most cars) gets the most work out of the fuel.

3. Leave room. Stopping and having to then get back up to speed uses a lot more fuel than keeping it steady, so leave yourself a cushion to soak up the speed difference. Yes, someone will go in front of you. Let them.

4. Carpool and coordinate trips. Do less "driving around" to get errands done.

5. Don't buy a freaking 7-passenger SUV for just yourself.

Now, I don't always practice what I preach in all these, so please save me the lectures. Believe me, I'm way better than I used to be. And while there isn't a whole lot more we can do to cut down on our fuel comsumption while we're in L.A., when we get out of the sprawl I want to try bicycling more. Maybe see if we can get away with only having one car. And if we have to have two cars, I'll make mine something that gets good mileage.

But you'll never see me coasting downhill to save a few cents. That's just dumb.
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Comments

oh geez....

I've never heard of people actually DOING that crap... no wonder everyone drives like such shit around here.