How to save gas and improve mileage are questions that all of us are asking in these times of ever increasing price of petrol and petroleum fuels. Taking it a step further would be to ask how we can actually benefit from the high price of fuel. Here are some tips that I have learned from the best teacher in the world on how to maximize fuel efficiency - experience. I owe a debt of gratitude too to my mentor in driving, Yellesh, who showed me how driving can be a life transforming exercise.
Drive Steady: It is universally accepted that driving at a steady speed gives you the best mileage possible. The logic is simple. It takes more power to accelerate (hear the engine vroom?) than to maintain a steady speed. Keep your pressure on the accelerator gentle and consistent. Most car engines are designed to give optimum mileage at around 45-55 kmph. This also helps me experience self discipline, self control and contentment.
Brake gently: First, be present to the road. If you see a junction with a light coming up, cut the engine off by moving to neutral, since the inertia of the car will keep it moving anyway. If the light doesn’t turn red till you are really close, you can switch gears and add power to avoid getting too slow as you cross the signal. A gentle brake in advance will allow you to cruise a distance at a slower speed, while a heavy brake at the last moment is an obvious waste of paid for momentum. Second, be humble. Most people need to use the brake frequently and heavily because they are trying to move fast. Yellesh showed me repeatedly that the guy speeding past you doesn’t necessarily get there fast, especially in heavy city traffic. The fuel he wastes is not worth the minutes he shaves off his drive. Being humble means being okay with letting others get ahead of you and being patient enough to tolerate the few minutes delay. Familiarize yourself with the speed limits and the traffic on your route as much as possible. Don’t accelerate when you know you will have to slam the brake to slow down.
Plan ahead: Consider the route you will be taking and the traffic on it at that time of the day. Choose a fuel efficient route. If there is a detour with less traffic and longer stretches without signals, you will not only save gas, but also time. Driving in heavy traffic consumes significantly more fuel. Stretches of straight, good roads with fewer speedbreakers and signals will allow you to stay at consistent RPMs for a longer time, saving fuel and enjoying your drive. You will not have to deal with the stress and irritation of heavy traffic either, thereby leading to overall driver happiness. Another aspect of planning ahead is the more immediate one that you can do while driving. Stay slightly detached from traffic ahead of you. Keeping a distance gives you room and time to drive strategically while freeing you from the need to be “with the herd’” The principle of braking gently is easier to practice when you have enough room in front of you.
Switch off: Learn to use inclines to your advantage. I normally switch the engine off when downhill, but if you worry a lot, I would suggest shifting to neutral instead. The same applies to traffic signals that are more than half a minute long. Another tip is to turn off the air conditioning a good few minutes before you reach your destination. The cooled interiors along with the blower will keep you cool for those few minutes and save you some fuel.
Window up: Unless you are in very hot weather and not in a position to use air conditioning, drive with your windows up. This gives better aerodynamics by reducing the drag caused by air turbulence from open windows. It also cuts out noise and dust, and allows you to enjoy the meditative aspect of driving without those distractions.
Floss regularly: Keep your tire pressure at the recommended level or just above it, and ensure that all your tires are at an uniform pressure. Service your engine regularly, preferably every three to four months if you drive regularly, and certainly before every long road trip. Unclutter your car of anything that you don’t need so that you are not burning up fuel ferrying unnecessary weight.
Fuel up smart: First tip here, avoid premium petrol - premium fuels (branded “extra premium” petrol) cost more, and have not been proven to either increase mileage or engine life. It does, however, do wonders for power and heart thumping acceleration, not to speak of the cost of overhauling exhausted engines. None of these are good ideas in these times of rising prices. The best time to fuel up is early morning (or the time when the ground is at its coolest) since fuel density is higher at colder temperatures, and our petrol pumps do not compensate for this. For the same price, you get a lot less literage as the day heats up, and for hot climes that could mean all the way into the night. A lot of people advise letting your tank come close to empty before refilling so that you are not carrying extra weight of the fuel around beyond necessary. I have tried this, and disagree on a few counts. Tending to drive close to empty can seriously let sludge into your engine. Secondly, you risk running out on gas at critical times, especially dangerous on inclines, depending how your fuel tank outlet is positioned, since when you are rock bottoming and on an incline, the outlet might be above the fuel and get you into trouble. After many debates and bad moments, I have come to conclude that in a hot climate like ours, the best idea is to refill when the tank is about half empty. This balances the weight issue and compensates the vapor loss issue, which is based on the fact that the empty space in your tank is a trap for liquid petrol to vaporize. Also, don’t fill up at a station when the pump’s storage tanks are being filled by oil tankers, as it will stir up the impurities in the tank and transfer them to yours.
Driving without driving: Two brilliant moments from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon sum up what this post is all about. The first is, “Dont think, Feel.” Get in touch with the process of driving, the act of being one of many cars out there on the road, each with its own purpose and urgency and discipline or lack of it, and the principles of nature that are there to assist you, such as inclines, pauses, foresight, etc., as you set forth on maximizing your benefit from, yes, rising gas prices. Turn your drive into an exercise in self discovery and meditation. The second is the concept of “fighting without fighting.” The best way to benefit from rising gas prices is to not drive. How does one get by without driving in today’s age? That is for another post. But on this one, consider driving less. You can start by carpooling, not by looking for existing carpools but by announcing your own carpool. As you begin giving to the world, the world will also give back to you. Plan your trips ahead and let others know, even if it is a routine trip to the grocery store or taking the kids to the zoo. You will be surprised at the response you get. Another way of driving less is to combine trips. We often end up making the same route two or three times when a little planning and foresight could have clubbed them all into one trip.
My top tip for maximizing fuel efficiency still remains not driving. I promise to add the link here. Do read it when I get down to posting it.