Taming The Gas Monster
Yep, the price of gas is enough to make a grown man cry, almost. I know. I’m a grown man, and I well up every time I slide my debit card through the slot in one of those danged gas pumps, looking so much like a smug alien life form with a long tube stuck in its ear. I feel my teenage daughter’s pain when she laments how much of her meager part-time paycheck goes to keeping gas in her 1994 Honda. It sucks.
Billions of words have been written and spoken about the dreadful state of gas supplies and the ever-increasing cost of oil. Fingers pointed, curses uttered, lamentations wailed. It’s a sad thing to see a whole nation brought to its emotional knees by a dark, yucky goo. But, here we are.
Okay, there is some solace to be had by employing new technologies, such as electric hybrids and Hydrogen-On-Demand. And, for the eternally optimistic, there is a teeny pinpoint of light at the end of that long, dark, gooey tunnel when we consider that some day (hopefully in our collective lifetimes), there will be fuel efficient cars manufactured by some one, somewhere in the world and that we’ll be able to afford them.
But that isn’t going to do a darn thing to help me pay for my next trip to the beach, or help my daughter pay for her next trip to the mall. Still, I shall not go quietly! And rather than just growl and rattle the freshly painted fences of the political-industrial oil-fueled country club, I’m going to gird up my financially-eviscerated loins and do battle with that ugly, unyielding Gas Monster. Grrrrrrr.
I’m going to save gas. That’s right. I’m going to withhold my love, and doggedly squeeze every possible mile I can from my tank, thumbing my nose at that alien life form with a long hose stuck in its ear. Here are six things I’m going to do, just in case you want to join me in this battle for the freedom to drive unafraid.
Kill The Jack Rabbit. According to the USDOT, the single biggest waster of fuel is those abrupt “jack-rabbit” lurches that people do when leaving a red light or stop sign. At 25% efficiency, gas engines are already the most wasteful technology in the industrialized world, and when you floor the accelerator you reduce the already-meager efficiency of that engine by as much as 50%. What’s up with that craziness, anyway? Not only does it startle my aging brain, it’s dangerous and rude. Where the heck are you going? What, you just can’t wait to get to the next light? Rela-a-a-ax on the take-off. The world will be calmer, you’ll reduce pollution and you’ll use a LOT less gas.
Smooth Out The Ride. The next most wasteful driving tactic is what has come to be known as “aggressive” driving. You know, those morons that like to rush up behind you, riding your tail and then zooming by you when you switch lanes, all the while perched smugly behind the wheel. It’s almost like some form of societal penis envy, except I see as many women doing it as men. Have you ever ridden with one of those quacks? My God, it’s nerve-racking! And stupid. Something like 60% of all traffic accidents in heavily congested driving areas is a result of this anti-social behavior. C’mon, be kind to your fellow drivers and your wallet. Keep it steady on the road.
Slow Down. Yes, you’ve heard it before. We’ve all heard it before. But, dang it, we’re just obsessed with getting there faster, wherever “there” is. Aside from the fact that your heart will appreciate a slower pace, you can dramatically reduce your gas consumption. According to research done by the engineers at “How It Works”, the fuel efficiency difference between driving at 50 mph and driving at 80 mph can be as much as 50%! Can you say “OUCH!”? Don’t go overboard here and become one of those rubber-necking sight-seers on the highway. Those same engineers caution that going too slow can also be inefficient. Today’s car engines are designed to be driven efficiently between 35 and 60 mph. Above or below that starts eating into your wallet.
The “Tire-Gauge” Effect. Okay, this is not a political comment, but the truth is, keeping your tires properly inflated is a damn fine energy strategy, regardless of how much political fodder it provides. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, you can improve your gas mileage by 3 – 5 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Plus, under-inflated tires wear out a lot quicker and have to be replaced. And guess what. 28% of the basic passenger tire is manufactured from petroleum products, aka OIL! Air is cheap. Gas and oil are not. Don’t be a dummy.
Air Is Good. In fact, without it your engine won’t work at all. Without getting too technical, it’s important to note that as inefficient as a car engine is, it does its job a lot better when it has an abundant supply of air. This is even more important with cars manufactured after 1996, because the On Board Diagnostic system is programmed to require a certain air-gas mixture to run properly. When you mess with the air supply, the OBD steps in and assumes there’s something wrong with the engine and responds with a tad more gas to compensate. If the airflow gets bad enough, the OBD will alert you with a warning light, but you can burn through a LOT of gas before that happens. Keep your filter clean.
Reduce Friction. I’ve already mentioned that 75% of energy potential in gasoline is wasted in a typical gas engine. A big part of that waste comes from friction between the engine parts. That’s why we put oil in our cars. If a car runs out of oil, the engine will literally freeze up. If a car gets low on oil, or if the lubricating ability of the oil (called viscosity) gets broken down, the engine will continue to run, but it generates a LOT more heat and it takes more energy to keep the part moving. Waste, waste, waste. Not having the proper oil level in your engine is kind of like walking around with sand in your underwear. You can do it, but man it’s painful and awkward. Engines feel pain too, sort of. Be kind to your engine. Check your oil regularly and get it changed on time.
You’ll notice that none of these tactics require you to spend much money. Other than buying a clean air filter and a few quarts of oil, it’s all a matter of style. And that style can save you as much as 25% when it comes to the amount of gas you use. Granted, we won’t kill the Gas Monster with these methods, but we can slow his hungry ass down a bit. I’ll go for that.