Real Life Lesson: Slowing Down Really Does Save Gas

If you're a fan -- as I am -- of National Public Radio's Car Talk, you've likely heard Click and Clack proselytize about slowing down to save gas. According to the Tappet Brothers, I was losing up to 15 percent in fuel economy for every extra 10 miles per hour.


Two months ago I decided to find out if the boys were right. Since the majority of my daily commute involves an interstate highway, calculating how much money I could save was fairly easy.

The first month I drove the speed limit in town and 60 mph on the highway. The second month I drove like my friend Rick: Always 75 to 80 on the highway; three-to-five miles over the speed limit; and plenty of jack-rabbit starts and stops. (Do jack rabbits stop suddenly?)

The difference was stunning, particularly considering I drive a 1996 Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Month one I clocked 27 mpg, filled my tank twice and spent $70. Month two I got a measly 20 mpg, filled my tank three times and spent $105. (The average gas price was $2.52 per gallon.)

That's a ginormous savings of $35 per month and $420 per year. Heck, with $420 I could buy afford a Motorola DROID from Best Buy and a year's worth of 3G service.

Are you convinced yet? If so, here are a few things I learned on my way to buying a new smart phone.

1. Start Earlier
Starting just five minutes earlier means you're less likely to speed on the way to work, soccer or your hair appointment. That's tough when you're dealing with kids or a slow friend, but more doable for solo trips.

I found the trick to leaving a tad earlier was to remove just one thing from my to-do list. For example, skipping the local newspaper's editorial page turned out to save me both time and acres of aggravation.

2. Avoid Drive Times
My work day usually starts at 9 a.m. For the majority of the first month, I made it to work at 8:30 a.m. or 8:45 a.m. and missed an average of five long waits at red lights. I also got fewer dirty looks from other highway drivers.

3. I'm Not Evel Knievel
Don't pay for the thrill of driving like a maniac. (Are you listening, Rick?) According to the EPA, jack-rabbit starts and sudden braking use more gas than driving at top speeds. They also earn you more traffic tickets and, due to an unexplained Euclidean time warp, don't really save you much time.

4. Turn It Off
Men have told me for years I was wasting more gas by turning off my engine at railroad tracks and the drive-up bank. Turns out -- ha ha -- they were wrong. Consider your mpg is actually negative when you idle for more than one minute. I've even taken to turning the engine off at super-long stoplights, irritating the men in my life even further.

5. Skip Long Warm-Ups
Modern vehicles have automatic chokes so, unlike a Model T, you don't need to step on the gas pedal before starting the engine. Most cars only need 30 seconds to warm up. That's roughly the time it takes you to stow your crap and fasten the seat belt. In cold weather, just drive slowly until the engine reaches proper operating temperature or you're going to end up shelling out cash at an auto parts warehouse.

6. Premium Myths
Does your owner's manual say "Premium Unleaded Only?" If not, then don't use premium fuel. Wow! I just saved you 40 cents a gallon. (If your manual does call for 91 octane, however, you've got to use it or hear that irritating pinging sound ... and who likes being pinged?)

According to the Car Guys, "If your engine is designed to run on regular gas, there's absolutely no benefit to putting in high test. It pollutes more, it costs more and doesn't give you any benefit in performance or keep your fuel system any cleaner."

7. Bachman-Turner Overdrive Rocks!
My manual-transmission's default setting is "Overdrive Off." Since I thought overdrive was just for super-high speeds, that irritating red dashboard light drove me nuts. Then I learned I could save gas and turn off the stupid light by using overdrive for speeds over 30 to 40 mph. In other words, overdrive makes for both a good '70s band and good 30s-plus gas mileage.

8. Because It's There?
Accelerate when you're driving up hill and you're both burning up enormous amounts of gas and taxing your engine. Don't believe me? Use your car's fancy instantaneous-gas-mileage display next time you feel the need to floor it on an incline. Your mileage will plummet from 25 mpg or 30 mpg down to 6 mpg.

9. The Green, Green Gas of Your Car
Of course there are plenty of other ways to reduce your gas mileage, including buying a fuel-efficient vehicle. When you're ready to go eco, check out my post "12 Greenest Cars of 2010."

10. Maintaining the Cool
Ashley Grimaldo also whipped up a handy post for us entitled "My Dad's Top 7 Car Maintenance Tips That Can Save You Thousands."

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