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Fuel-Efficient Driving Habits
Jeremy Faludi, 18 May 04

rqriley_towncar.jpg Whether you're the proud owner of a new hybrid or a regular-car-driver, the way you drive makes a big impact on your fuel efficiency. And when I say "big" I mean huge--according to Climate Change Connection in Canada, "In Ford tests in Germany, eco-style driving consumed 41 per cent less fuel in urban conditions, 26 per cent less on rural roads and 22 per cent less on motorways. Yet drivers using these green techniques are just as quick in urban traffic as those with standard driving habits."

What are fuel-efficient driver habits? Well, there are many websites with different lists, though they all overlap about 90%. The best one I found is by Canada's natural resources board. (Does it come as any surprise to you that Canada has better-publicized resources on this stuff than the US does?) Here's a summary of their list and others together.

Eco-driving tips:

  • drive less. (duh.)
  • plan trips well: consolidate trips (most pollution is produced when the engine is cold, so combining trips saves the air even when it doesn't save mileage or time), avoid traffic jams & steep hills, give enough time so you don't have to rush.
  • don't speed. Conoco-Phillips says "driving at 75 mph rather than 65 mph increases gas use by 25%". However, at city-driving speeds (25mph-35mph) this makes much less of a difference.
  • coast a lot. Give yourself extra room and pay attention to what's far ahead so you don't have to constantly adjust your speed. Try to coast yourself towards the stoplights 'till they turn green and you never have to brake (providing you're not pissing people off behind you). To get the most from your coast, pop it into neutral--otherwise you're tranny-braking.
  • don't idle, either when starting the car or while pausing in your drive. It doesn't help warm up the engine as much as driving, and if you'll be sitting at a light for more than a minute (a few places say 10 seconds), it's worth shutting off the car and starting it again.
  • air-conditioning: at city speeds it's best to just roll down the windows; at highway speeds AC is better, but using flow-through ventilation instead of the actual AC is best.
  • manual transmissions: always upshift as soon as you can.

  • Equipment tips:

  • keep engine well-tuned & maintained. (duh.) But even small things here can have an impact: Conoco-Phillips says a dirty air filter can increase fuel consumption 10%.
  • keep tires well-inflated. Especially during cold weather, since it makes their pressure fall even when they don't leak.
  • switch to radial tires. Auto & Truck International says this can shave another 3-7% off your fuel use.

  • Note that these eco-driving techniques are largely the same as safe-defensive-driving techniques, so you'll be a safer driver as well. Bonus!
    (oh, and thanks to Jamais for talking me into writing this.)

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    And thank you for writing this!

    Most of the recommendations above map to suggestions on hybrid car mailing lists about how to get close to (or above) EPA mileage estimates. The one I would call out in particular is the keep a good distance/coast as much as possible suggestion. I am amazed at people who insist on driving within a couple of car lengths of the vehicle in front of them -- not only is it mind-bogglingly unsafe, it requires constant braking and acceleration to respond to the fluctuations in the front car's speed. Unless you have regenerative brakes (i.e., are in a hybrid), hitting the brakes is awful from a power-efficiency viewpoint, and having to accelerate up again just eats more fuel.

    Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 18 May 04

    I found when driving a hire-car that just having an instantaneous readout of fuel consumption is a great feedback tool ...

    Posted by: luke on 18 May 04

    Absolutely. I suspect that more people would drive better if they had the instant mileage readout in their cars, simply from a competitive "get the number up" standpoint.

    Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 20 May 04

    Instant mileage readout = classic case of making visible the invisible. Good stuff.

    Posted by: Alex Steffen on 20 May 04

    hey jer

    I've just been reading Amory's new project, so your posting here was right on target...

    Posted by: bea on 20 May 04

    BTW, I forgot to include, but just added, a point that fine-tunes it: putting the car in neutral when coasting to eliminate engine/transmission drag on the vehicle. (It's definitely a noticeable effect, in fact you do it intentionally when you do tranny-braking.)

    Posted by: Jer on 21 May 04

    I do just about all of those "fuel efficient driving habits" already. In fact, I was doing them from the moment I got a car (in 2000), without thinking of pollution or fuel efficiency, at least not consciously.
    Consolidating trips is second-nature to me, having ridden a mountain bike or walking or public transportation for transportation for years. I usually "map out a plan" in my mind for my excursions, so as not to backtrack and whatnot.
    I've had people behind me get severely irritated with me for not rushing up to a red light up ahead. To the point of honking at me and trying to crawl up my tail pipe.
    I've been setting my cruise control on the highway now all the time, at lower speeds than 70mph. I've noticed I can relax more if I have the cruise control set to about 60mph in a 55mph zone.
    But other people seem to find it infuriating. They ride right up to my tail and then pass in this aggressive way, as if I've set my cruise control to 5 mph above the speed limit, just to tick them off.
    Yesterday, I was travelling Route 81 from Scranton to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and I had my cruise control set to 62mph, the speed limit was 55mph. For about 10 to 15 minutes, a Sarno & Sons formalwear van was tailgating me, even though there were numerous opportunities to pass me! He obviously wasn't in a hurry. So it was as if the van driver was actually trying to bully me into speeding up. Like he couldn't just accept that I was going to maintain that speed, and didn't want to pass me or something. As we passed the sign on the highway that says "Don't Tailgate", I pointed at it (because I knew he was close enough to see me point in my car if he was looking)... a few seconds later, he passed me.
    I don't understand tailgating, because the law is pretty much set up that if you hit someone from behind, it's your fault, so I leave some stopping room in front of me, just in case the car in front of me does something unexpected.
    I think a lot of people have just generally bad driving habits - whether it's about safety or fuel efficiency.
    I was just reading about traffic design here, and how 4 way stop signs apparently improve traffic flow over traffic lights. I noticed that in a small town I used to live in, the route with the 4 way stop signs was much faster than going the route of traffic lights. However, in downtown Scranton, near my neighborhood, the 4-way stop signs are like battlefields during rush hour. If you're not super-aggressive, nobody will allow you to take your turn - nobody waits for anybody to take their turn, it seems most people feels it's their turn, even if they haven't come to anything near a complete stop at the stop sign. Just yesterday I had someone come within an inch of my car with theirs and was gesturing at me as they tried to cut me off... even though it was my turn, and there were 2 other cars who had pulled to the intersection before they did. With that kind of atmosphere of aggression on that street at that 4 way stop sign, I would certainly never dream of shutting my engine off at the traffic light at an intersection a few blocks further, where one often has to sit at the red light for a few minutes... I've thought about it once last week actually, when I was running very low on gas, and then envisioned the enraged person behind me being abhorred and honking, or worse, getting out of their car to tell me "a thing or 2", or getting violent.

    Posted by: Chloe on 21 May 04

    Do you suppose the folks at Wired ever read Worldchanging? Because my inspiration for this article was a Wired story on how hybrids sometimes don't get the mileage they should; after this article was posted, they came out with a new story (,2554,63541,00.html ) about how driving habits affect mileage. Hmm...

    Posted by: Jer on 24 May 04



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