Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Cost of Gasoline

As is all the rage lately, I've been paying attention to the ever-rising cost of gas.

A couple of weeks ago the teaser on the nightly news mentioned something called 'hypermiling', and implied they would tell viewers how to dramatically increase your car's gas mileage by doing something simple. Of course, they didn't get to that story until the end of the broadcast, and by then I'd changed the channel.

So I took it upon myself to browse the internet and see what the series of tubes had to say about the topic. I found a couple of interesting articles online.

1) Hypermiling
2) Countering Traffic Waves

The first article basically talks about things we all already know, but most of us probably don't do in practice. Things like accellerating gradually, braking gently, etc, etc.... In other words, don't drive aggressively, and don't do quick starts and stops.

The second article examines in extreme detail thoroughness the formation of traffic patterns and behavior, and how you can prevent traffic build-ups, or defuse jams in progress.

Since March, 1992, I've calculated my gas mileage literally every single time I've filled my tank. Until a couple of weeks ago, my current car had attained 24mpg in city driving once or twice, but usually managed about 22 or 23 mpg. When I began trying out the techniques discussed in the two pages referenced above, I pulled in 24.1mpg. Two nights ago I filled my tank, and attained 27.1mpg.

I've made two changes in my driving behavior:

1) In the hypermiling article, a point I took to heart was this:
The points to take away from this page:
People who don't leave much space between their car and the car in front use their brakes more often.
Braking turns motion into heat via the friction of the brakes, slowing down your car.
Gas was used by your engine to achieve motion.

So when you apply your brakes, you are turning gasoline into heat instead of using the rest of the motion - by coasting through the space buffer between you and that car ahead, or that red light ahead - that you paid gas money to obtain in the first place.

2) The other change I've made was to flat-out reduce my speed when driving to and from work. I drive 30 miles each way between my home and my office, almost all of that on the highway, opposite rush-hour. When I began this commute, I consciously decided to set my cruise control to 70mph, as a means to save gas, and also avoid being ticketed. The traffic flow is somewhere between 75 & 80mph, and if I wasn't apying attention I'd easily hit 80mph on a regular basis. The cruise control allows me to go 70mph, and not carelessly speed up to traffic ticket land. Two weeks ago I knocked the cruise down to 65mph. One week ago I moved it down to 60mph, and began living in the right lane. But my miles-per-gallon jumped to 27.1mpg. I can now go over 400 miles on one tank of gas.

The hardest thing is staying alert and attentive. Driving this slowly, it's easy for my mind to wander.

On another topic, I've been seeing more and more businesses close their doors lately. I filled my tank at my regular gas station on my way home from work last Thursday. On my way home Monday evening, that gas station was closed, out of business. This evening on my way home, I saw another station that I don't usually pass, but it was also out of business, and looked like it had also closed very recently. I also saw an out of business diner, an out of business Italian restaurant, an out of business Ponderosa Steakhouse (also newly closed - it was open this past weekend), an out of business Blockbuster, and an out of business Hollywood Video, all just on my way home from work tonight. And that's just what I can recall right now.

Things are bleak out there.

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