Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Driving Slower = Saving Gas, But Is It Really Worth It?

A wise man once told me "Everyone who drives slower than you is a dumbass, and everyone who drives faster than you is a maniac."

I remember very vividly riding with my grandmother and getting extremely perturbed because people kept passing us as we drove 45 on the freeway. I also remember asking her why she drove so freakin' slow (not in those terms, of course), and she told me, "Peter, driving slower saves gasoline."

Now, maybe it was my rebellious side or just the fact that I didn't think that it was worth the few nickles that it saved her having annoyed people stuck behind her and being forced to pass her on the highway. Regardless, I never followed that advice until I owned my own car. And gas hit $3.00 a gallon in Atlanta. And when I started paying for my own gas.

I drive approximately 26 miles to and from work every day (yes, theoretically, my morning commute is the same distance people force themselves to run in a marathon, God bless their souls). When you factor my commute with other various intangibles, I'm driving about 270 miles a week. And that's freaking killer when you're knee-deep in an "energy crisis" and reactionary behavior pushing gas up above the $3.00 like we saw after Hurricane Katrina.

I drive a Ford Focus. It's theoretically a fuel efficient car-- I say theoretically because the way I drive (whizzing around like a maniac and droppin' the hammer and going 85 mph through downtown Atlanta) really changes things. But even when I was driving like a psychopath, I was still averaging about 27.5 miles per gallon. That's not bad, but for a car that weighs less than 1000 pounds, you should expect a whole lot more.

I'm filling up my tank about once a week, and on a 11 gallon tank I'm spending about $30 a week. That freaking sucks. So, I'm driving home and I hear this guy, Clark Howard, talking about how driving slower REALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE. I swear by what Clark says (if you've never heard of him, he's Atlanta's consumer advocate that gives you tips to "save money and keep from getting ripped off").

So I decide to try it. Money's tight right now, and hell, if I can spend less on gas without really changing my routine, I'm all about it.

-Reduce my speed on the interstate from 80-85 mph to no more than 60 mph.
-Track usage over the period of a week
-Compare miles per gallon efficiency to previous efficiency

After calculating my average efficiency (combined in town and highway driving) of 27.5, I spent all of last week and this week (up until today, Wednesday) not letting myself get above 60 miles per hour. Sure, I was bound to piss people off, especially the way Atlantans drive, but screw them if they're going to keep me from figuring out whether or not that sh*t really works.

Last Monday, I put half a tank (~5.5 gallons) in my car and was able to drive to and from work 4 times (over 208 miles) before I had to fill up again.

I thought I might have done my math wrong, so I tried it again this week with a full tank of gas (just over 11 gallons). I've done a lot more of "city" driving (in town driving around) instead of just to and from work to see if it worked about the same. As of the writing of this article, I've driven 320 miles with a quarter tank left on the guage. I'm going to see if I can hit 400 before filling up again, but if so, that'll put me in the same range.

HOLY CRAP. That's between 36-38 miles per gallon. That's insane. It's like getting three free gallons of gas a week if I drove 85 like I used to.

Sure, I'm sure you're thinking "Well, that's only like $9.00 in gas. Doesn't that make your commute longer, causing you to get to work later?" It's not enough to really make a difference (probably about 5 minutes or so). I'll take getting to work five minutes later and saving myself $40 in gasoline a month. And think about what you could you do with another $40 a month?

Now, to be fair, this may not turn out as well on all cars-- I'll have to try it on my wife's PT cruiser (averaging 25 MPG) to get a better result-- or if you don't drive like a maniac all of the time.

Next week on "Does That Sh*t Really Work?!": Chaser: Freedom From Hangovers(Brace yourselves, kiddos. This should be a bumpy ride.)