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Winning the mileage wars

By September 23, 2008current affairs

Picture_1Exactly a year ago I declared war on fuel efficiency. Okay, that’s not true but since we’re conditioned to believe meaningful change requires us to declare war on something I thought I’d trot out the lame old metaphor.

Okay, what really happened one year ago is that I sold my BMW X5 and bought a Toyota Prius. Netting it all out, I wound up paying $8,000 to get the Prius which I own outright. Not having a car payment was one thing I wanted to achieve. The other thing I was looking for was lower costs and greater fuel efficiency. I got that in Spades. My X5 took premium fuel (of course, because German engineering is very demanding) so today I’d be paying over $4.00 per gallon. The Prius takes regular gas, which is about $3.65 right now in my neck of the woods.

The Prius is a cool car for lots of reasons, but let’s just focus on fuel use. It has a display that gives you real time information on your fuel consumption, and this is the most ingenious way that it helps deliver fuel savings. As you drive you can see what tendencies will help you lower your fuel consumption (hint: acceleration bad, coasting good). The best fuel efficiency comes when you drive in the city. On the highway I only get 50 miles per gallon. If you don’t try very hard then you won’t get much better than that in the city either.

Yesterday I decided to try hard.

I was driving a 15 mile roundtrip to get my daughter from school, a routine trip. I got 65 miles per gallon, which I thought was pretty good. It didn’t require me to do anything special, except try to keep the car going without accelerating. When it becomes clear I have to slow down then I coast for as long as I can before applying the brakes (the engine does recapture energy from braking too).

Today, I decided to try even harder and managed to get 74 mpg for the same roundtrip I did yesterday. I had to fight the tendency to accelerate because sometimes I could feel the driver behind me getting impatient. I resolved to accelerate only if I could help the driver behind me not get caught in a red light, or otherwise delay him in any way. Fact is, in city driving there are so many red lights (and cars pulling into traffic) that you rarely delay anyone when you drive meticulously. I can’t help it if other people are unreasonably impatient. Yesterday one guy pulled around me and immediately found a new source of impatience ahead. I puttered along behind him the whole way and neither one of us got where we were going any faster or any slower. Maybe impatience is the worst drain on fuel economy.

As I said in the beginning, I like the Prius for lots of reasons besides just fuel efficiency. Everyone who’s ridden in it has commented on the “surprising comfort and roominess.” They always ask, “but isn’t it slow on the highway?” And I always explain no, because the car actually has two energy sources (battery and engine) so it’s got plenty of acceleration—if you don’t mind sacrificing fuel economy.

No one seems to believe me when I say that, which is fine. Most important battles are fought quietly, so I’ll say this in a hushed voice: five 15 mile roundtrips in my BMW would cost me at least $20 in gas, but is less than $5 in my Prius. [Insert war whoop here]


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

4 Comments

  • balt says:

    I’m glad to learn of NOCCA (and of Banksy). I was trying hard (but not hard enough) not to be personally critical in my comment.It’s a shame there isn’t practical public transit to get there.

  • Ernie says:

    Balt: I agree and so let me explain something you don’t know. My daughter actually goes to two schools: a regular school that is close by (which she can walk to and sometimes does, but usually gets a ride with her mom or a friend), and another school for kids who want to have a career in art.

    The second school, called New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) is an elite public school, the only one of its kind in the city. Some kids commute to the school everyday from Mandeville (40 miles away) and I think there is one or two kids who come from Baton Rouge (60 miles).

    Yes, I think it would be great if there was a NOCCA in Baton Rouge or Mandeville. And it would be great if our high schools had better art programs for kids who are primarily interested in art. But that’s a whole different problem than fossil fuel consumption. The thing that they both have in common is a lack of leadership and social vision.

    NOCCA is part of New Orleans’ educational system, and it’s a rare gem. It’s something that other communities would do well to study. We do get some things right in New Orleans, and NOCCA is completely stunning. You probably have heard of several of its more famous graduates. And there are more in the pipeline.

  • balt says:

    I know the world of education in NO has always been a bit, well, different; and it’s probably even more odd now. But shouldn’t the war on milage really be about the 5 x 15 miles per week? How much gas/expense would you have saved if you had kept the X5 and made your kid walk to a nearby school (and walked to stores and work yourself)? Of course, life is complicated, and I’m sure there are good reasons why things are the way they are in your life, but we’re never really going to solve the problem until we (as a country) address the issues of why we make ourselves need to drive so much.

  • I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea for all cars to have a guage with better information about fuel usage (aside from Full to Empty). People can adjust small habits with information at hand. Same goes for energy usage in the house and office. I wonder if having guages all over the place (simply a way of giving people more timely information) might have a rather large benefit in relation to its costs.

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