No matter what you drive, it’s easy to get better mileage
In recent weeks, Americans’ pain at the pump has eased as gas prices reached record highs and then came to rest below, but still within striking distance of the $4 a gallon mark while oil companies reap record-breaking profits quarter after quarter.
Logic would argue that higher prices at the pump dictate a change in lifestyle, with driving fewer miles the obvious modification to daily living. But our penchant for chasing the American dream into the hinterlands where it’s affordable to own a home means that we, as a nation, are spinning our odometers faster than ever, navigating traffic-choked highways and byways to and from our positions at distant corporations that rarely reward such behavior with pay raises in the twisted mentality that nothing matters anymore but quarterly profits, rising stock prices, and fat executive bonuses. Want to work at home? Not unless your boss knows how to manage by task. After all, you might be watching “Oprah” on the company dime.
So downsize already. Go get that Honda Civic that manages 40 mpg on the highway. Nevermind that the neighbors might think you’ve been downsized, outsourced, checked into the boards of the corporate rat race. Not so easy, dumping that Chrysler 300C or Land Rover LR3 for something that makes sense as a commuter vehicle, is it? In America, you are what you drive, and what you drive tells your peers what level of success you’ve attained, so damn the torpedoes and widen that hole in the ozone layer even more.
And we call corporations twisted.
Maybe we need even higher fuel prices. Everywhere else on the planet, small, tidy, efficient vehicles rule because gas is freakishly expensive. We think it’s ugly on American roads now, it could be worse. Take a look at this recent poll of gas prices from around the globe, compiled by Wikipedia:
There … feel better? We didn’t think so. We should point out that most of these countries offer viable commuting options that are actually used by a wide-ranging segment of the populace: Buses, trains, subways, scooters, and bicycles are in heavy use for commuting everywhere in the world, and even in a handful of U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. But generally, Americans are almost totally dependent on their automobiles, and we’re clearly the minority.
The good news is that you can learn to maximize the miles you squeeze from a gallon of gas, even if you’re rolling in a raised Hummer H2. It will take some effort and self-restraint – two traits sadly disappearing from the American psyche – but it’s possible. And you might even be able to feed the kids something more substantial than ramen at the end of the month.
Getting the most miles per gallon is easier than you think, and it doesn’t necessarily require the purchase of a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Think about it: If that Mustang GT is paid off, buying a new Toyota Corolla is going to take a bigger chunk of change out of your pocket than anything a gas pump can dole out. But whether you drive a V-8-powered pony car, a high-MPG econobox or a hybrid model that runs on the battery part of the time, the majority of cars, trucks, and SUVs on the road today require the use of unleaded fuel to get on down the highway. These tips will help maximize the distance you can travel on any given tankful and save you money at the pump
Hybrid owners have been making a fuss about real-world fuel economy ever since the 2000 Honda Insight debuted and promised 72 mpg on the highway. Evidently, nobody told hybrid drivers that they had to follow the same common-sense laws that govern fuel mileage with regular gasoline vehicles. Hybrid owners need to understand that they can’t drive their vehicles as if they don’t have a gasoline engine.
Of course, full hybrids, those that can run solely on battery power, like the Ford Escape Hybrid, benefit from slightly different types of driving than regular gasoline vehicles. For example, an Escape Hybrid is more effective in the city than on the highway, in direct contrast to straight gas burners. That’s because the engine stops running when stopped or when traveling at low speeds, using the juice in the battery pack to operate the lights, wipers, stereo, and air conditioning. Also, we’ve been successful at cruising Los Angeles traffic between 25 and 30 mph in the Escape Hybrid, without the motor running. At least until the slightest hill needed to be climbed, or impatient motorists began honking horns to get us moving away from a traffic light.
Finally, remember that no matter how hard you drive a hybrid, it will get better fuel economy than the equivalently-powered gasoline version. In a Toyota Prius, you could staple the accelerator to the floor away from every light and stop sign, drive 80 mph on the expressway, and jump from lane to lane during the commute and still get better gas mileage than a gingerly-driven Toyota Matrix of similar size and power. So even if you’re not getting what the EPA promised, take heart. You’re probably doing better than the guy in the next lane, especially if your tire pressure is correct, your powertrain has been properly maintained, and you’re storing the golf clubs, baseball cleats, and soccer balls in the garage rather than your trunk.
by Staff Photo credit: iStockphoto.com