According to data compiled from the National Oceanographic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S Department of Energy by Eric
Vandernoot, Astronomy & Physics Lab Coordinator at Florida Atlantic University's
Boca Raton campus, the combustion of gasoline in the United States was the cause
of 4.4 percent of the carbon dioxide increase in Earth's atmosphere during the
year 2005. This data, combined with the obvious effects of carbon dioxide on
global climates, makes it clear that car owners and drivers must take steps to
reduce the carbon output of their machines. In this article, I will explain how
you can conserve resources and save the environment while you drive.
Selecting your Gas Sipper
If it's time for a new car, the choice you make will have a
profound affect on the time and money you spend at the gas station. Automobile
manufacturers have been designing cars that can achieve more than 80 miles per
gallon for European markets for decades. As rising gasoline prices are causing Americans to
demand more efficient cars, automobile manufactures are attempting to meet that
demand with advanced engines and hybrid propulsion systems.
The first gasoline-electric hybrid automobile sold in the
United States was the 1999 Honda Insight, which can drive more than 70 miles per
gallon if driven properly (This is not just based on the EPA estimates. My
Honda Insight gets 70.5 miles per gallon ON AVERAGE. The best trip I ever made
achieved 95.4 miles per gallon!). The Honda Insight only seats two people, but
there are other hybrids available. The two most popular and fuel-efficient are
the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius, and both seat four people
comfortably. You can read more about hybrids at www.bocaraton/hybrids.
On the other hand, real world tests have shown that one can
achieve better gas mileage driving a small gasoline or diesel powered car than
by driving a Toyota Prius hybrid, and conventionally powered cars are a lot cheaper. Also, there
is some speculation that the production and recycling of the batteries required
by hybrid vehicles may outweigh the fuel-saving benefits of some hybrids. While
Volkswagen refuses to sell their most fuel efficient cars such as the Volkswagen
Lupo and the new Volkswagen Fox in the United States, they will begin producing
the diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta in the fall of 2008, which may be able to
achieve more than 40 miles per gallon on the highway. The new Honda Fit may be
a good choice as well, as Honda uses advanced fuel-saving technology such as
Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control in many of its engines.
Of course, your actual mileage will vary from the EPA
estimates, and recent studies have shown that they aren't even that accurate.
Perhaps common sense is more reliable than the EPA when choosing an efficient
car. Generally, if fuel efficiency is really what you want, look for cars that are smaller, less powerful, and have a manual transmission. Smaller cars
require less energy to accelerate, are more aerodynamic, and experience less
rolling resistance. A smaller engine means that less gasoline is required to
fill the cylinders, the engine weighs less, and less energy is needed to get the
engine turning. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, look for cars that have
a manual transmission. Automatic transmissions can never be as efficient as
manual transmissions because of the necessity of a torque converter in automatic
transmissions. In automatic transmissions, the transmission can never spin at
the same speed as the engine, and that difference in speed is a waste of energy.
(On a side note, automobiles with manual transmission are also safer on slippery
driving surfaces, can transfer more power from the engine to the wheels, and
give the driver more control over the vehicle).
Efficient Driving Techniques
The most important fuel-saving device in any vehicle is its driver. As an
environmentally-conscious driver, it is up to you to operate your vehicle in a
manner that squeezes every joule of power from the gasoline in the tank.
The easiest and most effective way to save gasoline is to
slow down. A faster moving car accelerates air molecules ahead of it to a
higher velocity in moving them out of the way, which wastes more energy. For
most cars, the most fuel-efficient speed is the lowest speed the car should
drive in its highest gear-usually around 40 miles per hour. The further you get
from this optimum speed, the more energy you are wasting. On most parts of 1-95
in South Florida, it is perfectly safe to drive at 55 miles per hour (and it's
actually illegal to drive faster than that on some parts. It's strange that
people complain about gas prices are willing to break the law to waste gas).
Slowing down from 70 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour can actually increase
your gas mileage by about 20 miles per gallon. In fact, my Honda Insight can achieve 100 miles per
gallon going 55 miles per hour if there's no headwind.
The second most effective way to save gas is to turn off the
air conditioner. This may be hard to do at first, but with the fan on and the
windows open it's actually quite comfortable, even during the summer time in
Florida. I might just be used to the heat, but I'm also used to filling up my
10.6 gallon gas tank about once per month and getting 70 miles per gallon (on
average). At highway speeds, increased drag from the open windows does become a
factor, but it does not approach the load placed on the engine by running the
air conditioner. Actually, I drive on the highway with the windows up and the
fan on, but you may need to get used to driving with the windows down before you
try that. And make sure you have plenty water to drink.
With both manual and automatic transmission vehicles, a key
to efficient driving is keeping the vehicle in as high a gear as possible. In vehicles with automatic
transmissions, this means applying little pressure on the gas peddle to prevent
the transmission from switching to the lowest possible gear to facilitate your
apparent desire to accelerate quickly. For those of you with manual
transmission cars, it actually may be more efficient to use full-throttle
acceleration, and to shift up as soon as possible to keep the engine speed and
acceleration low. By accelerating this way, you spend less time in the
high-friction lower gears. Also, less energy is lost accelerating air past a
fully-open throttle plate. This technique is a bit difficult to master, as it
requires that you shift up very quickly, but you will save some gas.
Another fuel-saving technique that can be utilized by drivers
of cars with manual transmissions is to take advantage of the fuel flow cutoff
feature present in many of those cars. When your car is slowing down, if you
keep the engine rpm higher than the engine idle speed, then it is not necessary for the car to use
gasoline to keep the engine running. It is a bad idea to shift the car into
neutral while decelerating because the car must use gas to keep the engine
There are reasons I get 70 miles per gallon, while my brother
who drives the same car as me gets only 51.4 miles per gallon (after all, it's
still a Honda Insight). I hope that this advice will put you on your way to
saving money and keeping the air clean. Of course, you will want to start
tracking your gasoline usage and mileage so you can see what effect various
techniques have on your miles per gallon. Good luck!
If you have questions or comments about this article, please send them to Green@BocaRaton.com. Your comments, along with a response, may be included at the end of this article.