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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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New Report Shows Motorists How to Spend Less Money on Gasoline

For many the idea that operating a motor vehicle can be much cheaper is a non-starting idea.  Their real world experience won’t support the facts because their situation is most likely urban – or they’ll just lazy about taking care of their machines.

Hypermilers, a term for those working at every inch of travel from every drop aren’t going to get a lift from what follows, but the folks at the University of Michigan have put real research into the basics that hypermilers use to go very far and the rest of us can use to save a bunch of money while gasoline and diesel are over $3.00.

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle have set out to identify and quantify the vehicle operating tasks that can save the maximum amount of fuel.  There aren’t any big surprises here – except that the accumulated savings can be extraordinary.

Their paper in pdf form, available in this link is almost military in tone with strategic, tactical and operational decisions.  It does put things in an organized framework.  If the militarism doesn’t unsettle one, it’s a sound platform.  If it is unsettling, these same terms are effective and honest descriptors.

Right out of the gate the research pair hits us with the primary mistake that most people make – choosing an inappropriate class of vehicle.  Americans are world renown for, honestly, buying way bigger and heavier vehicles than the needs demand.  It’s the psychological demands that push the vehicle choice for way too many people – and the rest of us share some blame, as we admire the big heavy beast and ignore the smart smaller and lighter cars. Egos are salved by the reactions of others.  We’re all in this together.

The scientists then take up the vehicle model and how a vehicle is configured.  This area of strategic choice is much harder for consumers to take command of.  Car manufacturers and dealers tend to sell what sells quickly.  See the previous paragraph, leaving the discerning buyer with limited, if any choice.  If lots more people visited a dealer and complained about the overloaded configurations of the models on the lot and toned down the ego drive to meet practical needs the manufacturers would respond.

The strategic thinking is actually the easy part.  Now we get to tactics, which are about two things.  Choosing the road and the weight of our stuff and us.

It comes as a bit of surprise to read through the research and realize that the shortest route can be the most expensive and time consuming.  As you read through the research it can surprise that as much as 9% more distance with better driving conditions can be faster and cheaper. (page 5).  Then the hills can be a major expense, a flatter route may save – 20%!
With no surprise, it’s the idling in stalled traffic that burns up huge sums of money, as much as 40% more.

Which leads one to wonder how much experimentation would yield looking for a route with less stops, higher speed and less congestion.  On a hard dollar spent quantification and elapsed time used some map checking and re routing might pay off big.

As well as cut one’s stress level down.

On the side, what one carries along can be expensive over time as well.  More stuff is more weight and as all performance folks know – weight is something to lose.

Other stars are comparing driving styles – worth better than 30% when measuring aggressive vs. relaxed driving styles and the obvious tune-up, tire pressure and other maintenance items.

But before your humble writer’s excitement recreates the whole paper – its here.  Less than 10 pages of net text.

Go get a copy.  Save some money, nerves and your vehicle will get you there sooner and cost less to do so.  It might be more fun driving again . . .

By. Brian Westenhaus

Source: Save While Driving For a Little More Fun




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  • Anonymous on September 13 2011 said:
    I remember some of these techniques being explored in my high school drivers' education class...back in 1983. I have made an effort to follow those ideas that I remembered easiest, like trying to limit the amount of city driving, maintain as consistent a speed as practical, use the brakes sparingly, keep the tires fully inflated, reduce the excess weight in the car, and try to avoid stop-and-go driving with a cold engine. I've been making those a habit for almost 30 years, and I'm glad that there is academic support for these ideas.
  • Chika on February 28 2012 said:
    , I think it is glleraney true that people look at oil and old technology and wind power as new technology, under the presumption that learning rates are exponential and so cost decreases are going to be larger in the newer technologies. Unfortunately, all the arguments you make about oil also apply to alternative energy sources, be they biofuels or wind/solar power. There are physical limits, significant unknowns, likely unintended environmental consequences, etc. and some of them will see radical cost decreases while others will not.I agree with you 100% on the effect of extreme events in the US in shifting the policy space. If you would have seen another major hurricane or two hit the US coast the year after Katrina, I don't think there is any question that you would see much more stringent climate policy in the US and you would see a much more active role from the US on the international scene. You could ask the question of whether aggressive climate policy is more likely to happen with high oil prices, but I think the better question is to ask whether we have reasonable substitutes for carbon-based fuels if you believe in triple-digit and increasing oil prices, you are implicitly saying that the substitutes are much more expensive (true) and this also makes climate policy more challenging. On your second point, I don't think that at all. I think most people (myself included) have their favorite technologies that suit their lifestyles and preferences and would like to see those take over. It isn't a big surprise to me that you are anti-electric-car, but you are certainly in favour of a different urban infrastructure model which is in many ways a bigger challenge than throwing some 30amp feeds out to people's detached garages in the burbs. I am all in favour of more integrated planning (we must talk about Edmonton's Green Plan soon) and building environmental valuation into these decisions directly. We don't disagree on as much as you think.

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