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Money Leaks: Driving Like A Maniac

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When I first started driving, I was like any other early driver – I wanted to get where I was going as quickly as I could. If that meant sacrificing a few MPG to do it, I didn’t think twice. Back then, gasoline was much cheaper, I had far more disposable income, and my fuel efficiency wasn’t something I spent too much time thinking about it. Now that I use the car more often, see the pain at the pump each time, I’m more cognizant of how my driving habits affect my fuel use.

Nowadays, I drive more casually. I tend to drive at slower speeds, I’m almost never in a rush, and it’s done wonders for both my fuel mileage and my general disposition. At first, it was tough. It didn’t bother me that trips took a few minutes longer (I hardly noticed), but driving felt a little longer because I wasn’t going as fast. Then I learned to enjoy what was on the radio, enjoy the sights (even if it’s just some trees whizzing by on the highway), and I felt zero anxiety about seeing police cars stopped at the side of the highway (when you’re going at the speed limit or just a few miles over it, instead of ten, you will never get pulled over for speeding). I think it has translated to better fuel efficiency but more importantly, I think I’m calmer. :)

This is the latest edition of our new series called Money Leaks.

Here are a few driving tips that can get you a few extra miles per gallon:

  • Slow down. A 20 mile drive takes 15 minutes if you’re flying at 80 MPH, it takes 20 minutes if you’re going at 60 MPH… except you won’t ever get pulled over on the highway going 60 MPH. Are you really trying to save those five minutes or do you just prefer to drive fast? Chances are, it’s the latter (if it’s because you want to save five minutes, leave five minutes earlier). When you slow down, you save gas (less wind resistance to fight) and you lower your stress, both of which are good for you.
  • Don’t accelerate or brake sharply. When you accelerate, whether it’s slowly or quickly, you use more gasoline than when you’re idling (duh!) or coasting. When you accelerate quickly, you use it much faster than if you accelerate slowly – so avoid increasing your rate of speed drastically and you’ll cut down on wasted fuel. The reason why city driving mileage is lower than highway driving mileage is because of the constant acceleration from a complete stop (such as at lights and stop signs). Braking doesn’t cost you fuel, it just costs you speed. When you brake, you need more fuel to get back to “normal” driving speed. So avoid braking by giving yourself ample distance between vehicles.
  • Lighten your load. Are you carrying a lot of unnecessary stuff in your car? The heavier your car, the more fuel it takes to move it around. Some people have even resorted to removing seats to reduce the weight of the car! (I would not recommend removing your spare tire though!)
  • Perform regular maintenance. As we try to save a few extra dollars, you might have considered changing your oil less frequently than the manual instructs or skipping check-ups and maintenance needs – don’t. Regular maintenance and oil changes keep your car at peak performance and lengthens its life span, both of which will save you money in the long run.
  • Use the proper fuel. If your car takes regular unleaded gasoline, use regular unleaded. If it requires premium, use premium. Don’t use premium if you only need regular, don’t use regular if your car requires premium. The octane has to do with how much the fuel can be compressed before it ignites. Premium isn’t “better,” so don’t buy it unless you need it – you can read more about the high octane gas myth.

What are your best gas saving tips?

{ 14 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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14 Responses to “Money Leaks: Driving Like A Maniac”

  1. cubiclegeoff says:

    Also you shouldn’t accelerate too slowly, but at a moderate pace since you want to get to the higher, more fuel efficient gears relatively fast (unless there are a lot of stop lights or stop and go traffic).

    • Glenn Lasher says:

      If you accelerate more slowly, you can still get into the higher gears faster, just at lower revs, reason being that the lower gears are necessary to give your car the torque to accelerate. If you are accelerating more slowly, you will have less need for the extra torque.

      I usually set my cruise control as soon as I am at a high enough speed to set it (40 km/h on my car = ~25 MPH) and then use the “set/accel” and “coast” buttons on the cruise control to ramp my speed up and down as needed. This doesn’t get you a gradual increase on all cars, though — my wife’s Hyundai accelerates like a bat out of hell if you do this, while my current Nissan and the Chevy that preceded it accelerate quite gently.

      Most importantly, don’t let those who do drive like maniacs rattle you. Do your thing, and let them do theirs around you. Remember, you’re doing something good for your wallet and the environment; they’re wasting money, gas and an opportunity.

  2. STRONGside says:

    My wife always chides me about not driving over 70mph on the interstate, but I keep trying to remind her that I am doing it for the good of our car. I’ve owned my current vehicle for over 10 years now and have not had any major mechanical problems at all. The mpg are still high even!

  3. No Debt MBA says:

    I check my gas mileage with each tank of gas and it’s a bit of a game for me to push it higher. I’ve gotten as high as 42MPG average for a tank of gas (I don’t drive a hybrid). I’m not doing this a lot right now since it’s been 2.5 months since I last filled up. Driving a manual transmission car has been a big advantage for me since you can tailor gear changes for fuel economy.

    • Glenn Lasher says:

      Nice! Would you care to share what make/model you are driving?

      I drive a 2005 Nissan Sentra with an automatic transmission w/ overdrive, and that gets me about 33-37 MPG on my ride to work in the mornings and about 29-32 on my ride home.

      (Incidentally, the difference between morning and evening commutes is attributable to three factors: 1. Home is about 200′ higher altitude than work; 2. Evening traffic is much worse around here than morning; 3. use of air conditioning)

  4. WRXTuan says:

    I would like to recommend adding a MPG app like ‘Mileage’. All you do is put fill up information and the odometer reading and it calculates a lot of different stats including MPG. I noticed that my MPG went down for a couple of weeks and eventually found out that my O2 sensor was going bad.

  5. Amy Saves says:

    i like driving fast, but now that you point out it only saves 5 minutes, i might have to reconsider.

  6. Fabclimber says:

    One of the best ways to save gas is to keep tires properly inflated. People rarely check this, but I have read this as a top tip many times. I also save gas by biking to work instead of driving when I can. Infinite MPG.

  7. Wilma says:

    Love the guy who is on my butt and you let him by only to catch up to him at every light going through town or he passes you on the highway and you stay the speed limit only to meet up with him at the exit ramp stop sign and all the other lights and stop signs.

    Like you I’ve seen the light in the last 10 years and found that if you leave 10 minutes earlier and you drive the speed limit your commute from A to B is a lot more enjoyable and your car rewards you with nice gas milage and fewer repair bills.

  8. govenar says:

    The main reason I drive slower now is for safety… after almost being in an accident (and speeding tickets are annoying too).

  9. skylog says:

    these are all good points that need to keep being repeated. as time goes on, and the price of oil/gasoline continues to rise, the gains to be realized from these actions will only increase. now, if only everyone would do such things…

  10. Beyond saving money on gas, tracking mpg is very useful in seeing if you may have some repairs/maintenance needed on your vehicle. As WRXTuan pointed out, an O2 sensor could be bad, you may need new spark plugs and/or wires, could be a worn out head gasket, etc. Regardless, if your mpg experiences a significant, sustained drop, it’s time to take it in and see what’s going on. Sometimes you can fix a small problem now and avoid a much bigger one later.

  11. Nadim says:

    My car now has an issue with knocking from the rear if I accelerate too quickly. I am checking my rear wheel drive differential oil as soon as I found a 14 mm allen key but it does improve not only my mileage but tires, transmission, and brakes.

    I drove an hour on the highway everyday and experimented varying my speed as slower gets boring however driving faster than everyone else costs 20% more if driving at 80 mph instead of 65 mph 20 feet behind a truck.

    I typically accelerate like a bus, just a light touch on the throttle and it’s 10 mpg from 0 – 40 mph around town from red light to the next light.


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