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Gas Prices Giving You Pains?

Last updated 2014.02.22


Rising petroleum costs have you looking for ways to reduce your gasoline bill and the pain in your pocketbook? Leaving you wanting to stage your own personal gas-out? Thinking you should trade in your gas-guzzler for a gas-sipper? Get used to it. While there will likely be price adjustments in months (and years) to come, the trend line on gasoline prices is unmistakable; it's going to continue to go up. Industrialized society is an oil addict, and we're hooked on the rush! Withdrawal is never pleasant, but better to have a plan than go cold turkey when the supply is taken away.

This page is intended to provide you with some tips on how to reduce the amount of transportation fuel you use. Most of these tips are applicable to on-road vehicles, regardless of the actual fuel used (gasoline – various grades, diesel, propane (LPG), natural gas (CNG) or methane, ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, electricity, whatever). For the most part, the tips are not in any particular order. Remember, the underlying reality is energy conservation. Move less mass, less distance, less often, more efficiently.

  • The most important tip is simple: use your internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles less.
    Most maintenance costs for ICE vehicles (Otto cycle and Diesel) are related to the amount they are used. Short trips with lots of stops and at low speeds (typical urban driving) are harder on infernal combustion engines than longer, higher-speed trips with few stops (highway driving). Insurance premiums increase with the amount you drive annually. The resale value of your vehicle drops as the odometer reading increases. Oh, and by the way, the use of ICE engines is the single largest source of pollution on the planet; air pollution, water pollution, groundwater pollution, thermal pollution, noise pollution, production of greenhouse gases, global warming. The ICE is the big source of all of these problems, and a significant contributor to landfill with all its consumable parts (air filters, oil filters, fuel filters, belts, engine coolant hoses, spark plugs, ignition wires, distributor caps, rotors and points, gaskets, exhaust systems, etc.). The disposal of used automotive engine oil is the single largest source of release of lead into the environment. A vehicle that lasts longer conserves energy by not having to be replaced as often.

  • Walk somewhere. Anywhere. Its good for you and the environment and pretty cheap - a pair of shoes will cover a lot of miles. Just leave your guzzler parked. Moving just you conserves a lot of energy compared to moving a car.

  • Get a bicycle. Preferably something used. Try your local FreeCycle, or bike repair co-op, or a used bike dealer. Find something comfortable and practical for your use - inexpensive, reliable transportation. Then use it. Use an electric-assisted bicycle if this makes using a bicycle more practical for you.

  • Car pool. Less gas, less wear and tear, less parking cost all means less money spent, more energy conserved. Also less air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, thermal pollution, greenhouse gases... Take note of possible insurance implications from using your vehicle for car-pooling, although many insurance companies are improving their policies regarding this practice.

  • If you commute without your car during the fair-weather seasons, or reduce your annual mileage significantly, be sure to tell your insurance company. You should probably get a reduced premium.

  • Take the train instead of a commercial airline flight for trips up to 400 km (about 250 miles) when this is practical. Trains are about the most efficient form of powered land transportation, conserving energy per passenger-mile relative to air travel and even most cars. Train fares are usually quite a bit cheaper, and the difference in time from origin to destination is usually small, even with the slow trains common in North America, for trips up to this distance. Surprised? Air travel is not especially fast for short distances when you allow for time to travel to the airport (usually outside the city while the train station is usually closer to the city center), checking your luggage at the airline counter up to an hour before flight time (it usually stays with you on the train), passing through security, waiting to board the plane, waiting for your bags on arrival at the destination airport (bags are still with you on the train), and then get from the airport to where you actually want to be (train station is probably closer to your real destination than the airport is). The train uses less fuel per passenger mile, producing less pollution. Some trains are even electric, producing no pollution while moving you from place to place. Oh, and there is no cabin pressure problem (that makes your ears pop) or increased radiation exposure on the train.

  • Learn to drive for fuel economy to conserve energy. This is not just avoiding aggressive starts from traffic lights and stop signs and hard braking. It is a matter of anticipating how traffic will flow so that you can drive as smoothly as possible, reducing the number of stops and fast accelerations as much as possible. Your brakes turn the fuel you have paid for into waste heat. It is better to coast to a stop than burn up that energy heating your brakes. When there are multiple lanes available to you, try to use the one that is less prone to stops (e.g., traffic having to slow dramatically to execute right turns from the right lane, or coming to a stop to make a left turn).

  • When stopped, shut off your engine. You get 0 mpg when your engine is idling. In a typical gasoline vehicle, idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than re-starting the engine.

  • There are many different options to reduce your fuel consumption. Installing high end after market auto parts can be a great way to get more mileage from your vehicle. There are also simple solutions that don't require you to be an expert mechanic such as replacing dirty air filters, using a fuel injector cleaner or even just keeping up on your vehicle's scheduled maintenance.

  • Resist the temptation to use your remote car starter to pre-heat or pre-cool your vehicle. The time spent on high-idle consumes additional fuel. Consider using an electric box-heater on a timer to warm the vehicle cabin prior to driving instead. Use a sun-shade to reduce the solar gain through your vehicle windows to help cool it while you are away from it. Leave a window open a small amount to permit unwanted heat to escape while the vehicle is not in use.

  • Plan your trips to reduce the distance traveled and combine errands (trip chaining). This will reduce the total miles traveled and your fuel consumption costs. Your fossil-fuel powered engine works more efficiently and pollutes less when it is operating warm rather than cold.

  • Plan your trips to avoid left turns as much as possible. On average, you spend more time waiting for left turns (burning more fuel), and left turns lead to a higher rate of collisions than almost any other traffic maneuver.

  • Plan your drive to avoid periods of traffic congestion. You get 0 mpg when idling in stopped traffic.

  • Check the air pressure on the tires on your vehicle(s). Correct as necessary. Repeat monthly or more frequently if required. Under-inflated tires increases fuel consumption and tire wear. Overinflated tires can cause uneven tire wear, and reduce the contact area with the road, and control of the vehicle. Tires that wear out prematurely have to be replaced sooner, costing you more money.

  • Slow down to the posted speed limit. The energy required to overcome air resistance goes up as the cube of speed. It takes about 10% more fuel to cover a given distance at 110 km/h than at 100 km/h. Driving at 90 km/h reduces fuel consumption by 20% relative to driving at 110 km/h. (That's why the U.S. introduced the national 55 mph speed limit during the OPEC petroleum pinch in the 1970s; to conserve energy.) Use the cruise control, if you have one, for extended highway travel. Observing the posted speed limits won't just save fuel; you can avoid speeding tickets, possibly a collision, higher insurance premiums, injury or even losing your life.

  • Take extra weight out of your vehicle, as accelerating extra weight uses more energy, and de-accelerating extra weight increases brake wear. (e.g., sand and salt mixture for winter use should not be in the trunk all summer as well).

  • Make sure your vehicle is running properly. Bad ignition components, fouled spark plugs and dirty air filters will all increase fuel consumption and reduce performance. Have your vehicle tuned up on a regular, appropriate schedule. Check owner's manual for details. Check for dragging brakes, emissions control system problems, etc while you are at it.

  • When shopping for replacement tires, look for fuel-saver types. These may carry labels like: energy, economizer, low rolling resistance. By reducing road losses, they conserve energy.

  • Drive with the minimum lighting required for safety. It takes energy to have those lights powered on. That energy comes from your alternator, which is driven by your engine, which consumes additional fuel.

  • Remove all extraneous items from the outside of your car, such as flags, radio aerial toppers, roof racks, bug deflectors. They increase the air drag factor of your vehicle, and result in higher fuel consumption. Reducing air drag obstructions helps conserve energy.

  • When it's time to buy your next car, buy the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicle that is practical for you. If that is a moped or scooter or motorcycle rather than a car or truck, so much the better. Please don't buy a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). First, because of their popularity they are outrageously over-priced - the average profit margin on a North American SUV (as of mid-1998) is US$10,000. The recipe is, take a pickup-truck chassis, stick a station-wagon body on it, then double the price the manufacturing costs would normally justify. If you still have to have one, it's your money, just don't drive it, because it is a prime environment destroyer. They consume a lot of fuel because of their weight, and they are not subject to all the same emission controls as regular automobiles. Consider your real needs and get the appropriate alternative.

  • If you have a heavy fuel-consumer now that is in good condition, and your only issue with it is its high fuel consumption, it is probably not worth your while to trade it in just for the fuel savings. Fuel savings will likely be worth only a small percentage (1-5%) of your total cost of ownership. Much easier to follow some of the tips on this page to save more than that amount while avoiding the hassles and costs associated with trading vehicles. Building a new vehicle consumes a lot of energy, so keeping your existing vehicle may actually help conserve energy.

  • When shopping, consider buying a "hybrid". The current offerings are electric-assisted gasoline cars, but their gas mileage can be phenomenal. The Honda Insight is rated at 3 liters per 100 km or about 70 miles per U.S. gallon. I have friends that have reported getting 90 miles per U.S. gallon with careful driving in the Insight. The first generation Toyota Prius seats 4 adults, and boasts a 4 liters per 100 km (52 miles per U.S. gallon - city driving) fuel consumption. I have driven one of these, and can confirm these figures from personal experience. The second generation Prius gets even better mileage. Please note that most of the current "hybrids" achieve most of their benefit in urban (stop and go) driving, conserving energy primarily by regenerating into the batteries during braking, and re-using that energy in the next acceleration. They get very little advantage in highway driving from the actual hybrid technology. If the great majority of your driving is on highways, investing in the premium price for a "hybrid" may not pay off for you.

  • If you are a multiple car household and use at least one of those vehicles primarily for commuting, consider using an electric vehicle (car, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle) for your commuter vehicle and reserving your ICE vehicle for the longer trips on which it will operate more effectively. Reduced wear and tear on your gasoline-powered vehicle will help it last longer and retain a higher resale value.

  • Consider whether or not a low speed electric vehicle (LSV) or Neighborhood electric vehicle could fit your needs and budget. Not all jurisdictions are friendly to low speed electric vehicles, and may not allow them to be licensed or used on public roadways. Check all the rules for your area before making your decision.

  • If you use tools with small gasoline engines, consider alternatives that are powered by muscle or electricity to reduce costs and improve the environment.

Reduced Use of Fossil Fuels

Use biofuels, e.g. ethanol blend fuels - E100, E85, E10 instead of normal gasoline as recommended for your vehicle. There are many flex-fuel vehicles on the road in the U.S. due to CAFE dual-fuel incentive, where the owners don't even know the vehicle is flex-fuel capable. Check your vehicle manual. There are anecdotal reports that you will get better gas mileage with ethanol blend fuels (due a higher effective octane content), and a slightly lower fuel cost per km (or mile). Try it yourself, compare your mileage on a tank full of normal gasoline, and then with a tank full of ethanol blend. Increased demand for ethanol should result in economies of scale in production, thus eventually lowering the cost below that of normal gasoline on a per unit basis. Some jurisdictions now require that all road gasoline contain a percentage of ethanol, and all road diesel to contain some biodiesel.

Use biodiesel blend instead of regular diesel fuel where available or appropriate (or make your own, of course).

Gas-Outs

Don't waste your time on these. Most of them are hoaxes anyway. Instead of wasting your time and energy on this futile gesture, here are a couple of alternatives.

  • Instead of making a gesture for a day, make a change for life. Find ways to reduce your energy consumption on a regular basis.

  • If you want to make a political statement, boycott a specific oil company. Personally, I recommend boycotting Exxon-Mobil and all its subsidiaries (e.g. Esso, Imperial Oil) due to their abysmal environmental record. If enough of us do that, the message will be received loud and clear at the corporate bottom line.

Speaking of hoaxes, don't bother with schemes that involve magnets, cars that run on water or capsules you drop in the fuel tank to improve fuel economy. They don't work, and are feeding on your desperation. Use your money on things that actually work.

Remember, the key to conserving energy (and your cash) is to reduce the amount of mass you are moving, the distance you move it and to move it as efficiently as possible.

Links

An Automotive Engineer on the subject of saving fuel

The Metro MPG page provides information on the very efficient Geo Metro (and sister cars), and tips on modifications and techniques to reduce fuel consumption.

Hypermiling is essentially using driving techniques to reduce your fuel consumption. Even moderate changes can result in improvements of 20% and more. While I practice some hypermiling techniques, I do not do some of the more extreme things mentioned by some of the uber-hypermilers. Use these techniques at your own risk, and only those you are comfortable with. Hypermiling is a skill, and takes practice to do well. Start by taking careful notes on your fuel use, and use the fuel consumption computer on your car as a guide. If you don't have a fuel consumption computer, check out the Scan Gauge (for most vehicles after 1995 with OBD II capability), or a fuel system vacuum gauge (somewhat more primitive, but still effective).

Hypermiling Forum

Eco-miling Web site

The hypermiling.com Web site

Mother Jones article on hypermiling

Squeezing gas for the very last mile - Obsessive fuel savers can get impressive results but at a cost in safety MSNBC 2008.07.01


Fuel Prices

This tip is not about reducing your gasoline consumption, just what you pay for it. If you think gasoline prices go up just before long weekends, you are correct. So, try to avoid filling up the Thursday or Friday before a long weekend, but rather gas up on the previous Tuesday or Wednesday, before the price is jacked up.

Also, for Canadians, when you are close to needing a fill-up, and trying to decide if you should do it late today, or wait until tomorrow, check out the Tomorrow's Gasoline Prices Today website maintained by Dan McTeague (former Canadian Member of Parliament). I am writing this entry on Monday, May 16th, 2011 in Ottawa. Dan's site tells me that tomorrow's gasoline price will be $1.232, where today the price I saw posted was $1.270. So, when I fill up tomorrow (80 litres), Dan will be saving me about $3.20. Thanks, Dan.


If you have additional tips on fuel economy, please e-mail them to me. (No e-mails regarding magnets, fuel capsules or water cars, please.)

Water Savers | Econogics Blog | Products and Services | Electric Vehicles | Reducing Your Expenses | Personal Energy Plan | The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy

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