Cars 
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Why High Octane Doesn’t Matter (Unless It Does)

Dimly-Lit Gas StationIf your car calls for 87 octane gas, you only need to put in 87 octane. You won’t get any benefit by putting in a higher octane and it will only cost you more. If your car calls for premium gas, put in premium gas. You can do damage to your car if you put in a lower octane and you’ll understand why in a moment.

Most cars have a four-stroke gasoline engine where the strokes refer to the cylinders moving up and down. One of the strokes is what’s known as the compression stroke. The piston compresses a mixture of air and gasoline before it is ignited by a spark plug. Octane rating of gasoline refers to how much that gas and air can be compressed before it spontaneously ignites, the lower the octane the less it can be compressed before igniting. Premium gas can be compressed far more than regular gas.

Why you should only buy what your car needs. If your car calls for 87 octane gas, that means it’s going to compress that air/fuel mix to a point where 87 won’t ignite on its own. If you pay more and add in 89, you get no benefit because it’ll only compress that mix to the 87 level. You get no added benefit because your engine can’t take advantage of the higher compression ratio.

Why you shouldn’t skimp and buy a lower octane than required. Your engine operates most efficiently when that air/fuel mix explodes when it’s supposed to explode. The whole timing of the engine is fouled up when it explodes early and that’s what happens if you put regular gas into an engine designed with premium in mind. When 87 gas is compressed to 91 levels, it’ll explode prematurely and foul up the timing of the engine (this is known as “knocking”).

Why people think higher octane is better. Because it is better! If all other specs are kept equal, an engine with a higher compression ratio will have greater horsepower. However, you need an engine that is operating with the higher compression ratio. If you have an engine compressing for an 87 octane fuel and you put in 91, nothing changes except you’re a little bit poorer.

Gas prices have come down the last few months (whew!) but you aren’t doing yourself any favors by getting fuel your car isn’t designed to use.

(Photo: riza)


 Cars 
9
comments

5 Easy Ways to Screw OPEC

No Oil: OPEC Sucks!I don’t know about you but every time I heard oil prices falling, I grin from ear to ear. I like free markets if they are operating in a healthy economic environment (which means I’m cool with the bailout of banks, but I’m not cool with talks on bailing out GM, though I understand why) but those OPEC nations were taking it too far. I wrote about how OPEC hates us and how they were decreasing supply to “cope” with sagging demand. They got used to the high prices and now that demand is falling, they want to keep the high prices. That’s just mean.

So, what can we do? Hit them where they want to hit us, in the money sack. We must use less gas.

The lesson here, which we should’ve learned in the 70′s, is that OPEC should control our destiny. Say what you want about offshore drilling or alternative fuels, that’s for the pundits and the policy makers to figure out for 2015… I’m going to continue to do what I can today – use less gas.

Five Ways to Screw OPEC

1. Regularly maintain your car. Getting regular checkups, regular tune ups, and regular oil changes will improve your fuel mileage and increase the lifespan of your car. The myth about the 3,000 oil change is a myth, you can follow whatever your car manual says for your type of usage, but you still need to get that changed. As for the 30,000 and 60,000 checkups? Do them. Tune ups? Wonderful for gas mileage as you replace things that have been worn down. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish with your car because the day you take it for granted is the day it reminds you that you shouldn’t.

2. Check your tires regularly and rotate them. Rotating the tires maximizes their lifespan. Keeping them properly inflated maximizes your fuel efficiency and maximizes their lifespan. Those two simple things will reduce how much gasoline your car consumes and how much oil is used to produce the rubber for your tires. Use less, OPEC complains.

3. Carpool to reduce driving. I feel like a broken record (can I even use that analogy anymore?) but carpooling and efficient trip planning has to be the easiest way to save gas. My wife and I try to plan our trips such that we minimize how much driving we do and it makes for a fun mental exercise.

Did you know that if two separate people are meeting at a point between them, it’s always better for one person to pick up the other person first as long as they return to the same place? If my wife is leaving work and I’m at home, it’s better for her to pick me up if we plan to go out for dinner than for us to meet each other at the restaurant. I didn’t think it was intuitive but if you draw it out it makes very obvious sense. (if the meeting point is equidistant to both then it’s equal)

4. Learn how to hypermile. Hypermiling is changing your driving behavior so that you maximize your car’s fuel efficiency. The basics are quite simple, you want to brake as little as possible, accelerate as slowly as possible, and travel as slowly as reasonably possible. Realistic hypermiling are a few suggestions I feel are both effective and realistic in our current driving environment.

5. Buy a bike. My wife and I bought bikes earlier this year and we use it to get around our area fairly easily. This may or may not be feasible for you given your neighborhood but it’s something you should consider. If not a bike, then investigate how you can best utilize mass transportation in our area. The key here is to ditch the car and try something fun and different.

Now say it with me, “Down with OPEC! Down with OPEC!” :)

(Photo: jfabra)


 Cars 
13
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OPEC Despises You, Stop Buying So Much Oil

As oil prices soared from less than $20 a barrel at the beginning of the decade to its peak at almost $150, OPEC cashed in. They made overtures saying they’d increase production to increase supply (and increase their revenue) because they were our friends. In reality, OPEC couldn’t do much to ease prices because there simply wasn’t enough refining capacity. But they were nice about it, they said they’d look into it and try to help us out.

Here’s a chart of the price per oil (in black) vs crude oil production in OPEC nations (1973 to 2007, not inflation adjusted):
Price per Barrel of Crude Oil vs. OPEC Oil Production

Oil was less than $70 as recently as 2007. Now that demand for oil is falling, along with the price (which is in the $70s), it seems as though OPEC is quick to reduce supply in an attempt to boost up the price per barrel of oil. What was once called “too high” was now normal, once they saw we could afford $100 a barrel oil.

Iran’s Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said “on October 4 that oil producers were pumping too much oil and that a price under $100 per barrel was too low.”

On OPEC cutting oil production: “OPEC president Chakib Khelil told reporters last weekend that any production cut could be “substantial,” adding that the organization would try to stabilize prices between $70 and $90 a barrel.”

You don’t have to believe that we contribute to global warming or believe in peak oil, just believe your purses and wallets. OPEC, which controls 40% of the world’s oil (Venezuela and Russia, hardly our two best friends control a lot of the rest), has us by the throat. You can bet that some of our own dollars are going to Iran, who gives some to Islamic fundamentalists, who use them to buy weapons with which they try to kill Americans.

With gas prices falling, you might be tempted to revert to your old ways (like we did after the oil crisis in the 70s), please don’t. I think sending our money overseas to buy a product from someone who despises us is a terrible idea and one we should limit.

Thoughts?


 Frugal Living, Retirement 
20
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We Bought Schwinn Midtown Bikes

Schwinn 26This week, my wife and I went to Costco and picked up two bikes that we’d been looking at for quite some time. Some cycling purists would say that you should always get a bike from a local bike shop. While I agree that the personal service at a local bike shop is far better than at Costco (no explanation necessary), the reality is that there are two reasons we are getting these bikes and neither involve hardcore mountain biking or racing.

First, our little suburban area of Columbia is designed for biking. All the little shopping centers and parks and lakes are separated by an intricate network of walking and bicycle paths. On Wednesday, I rode around a nearby lake, through some paths, and popped out beside a little shopping center with a Subway to eat lunch with my wife and her co-worker. On the way back, I did some exploring and easily found the right path to take if we ever want to bike to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Manor, as well as our gym. Forget walkability scores, bikability is where it’s at.

The second reason is that I work from home and find myself doing a lot of intra-city driving to places where I am taking small roads. Why not replace the use of my car with a bike? Lower my already relatively small carbon footprint, get some exercise, and enjoy the fresh air! I’m not ready to sell my car but I’m certainly going to be using it less and less now that I have a bike.

The bikes were a good $200 a piece. While in the pantheon of bicycles, $200 is considered cheap, in the pantheon of bicycles I’d be willing to buy, $200 was about the limit. I understand that you get what you pay for and a “good bike” costs in the thousands, but I don’t know and cannot appreciate the difference. My wife doesn’t know and cannot appreciate the difference. For now, we can enjoy the heck out of our $200 bikes and then upgrade if necessary. We are acting our age financially.

For security, we bought two OnGuard Bulldog STD 5010LM Bicycle U-Locks as they were the highest rated sub-$30 lock by Scott Elder of Slate.com. He wrote about his experience trying to break into a whole bunch of bike locks and this one was the best of the bunch under $30. Again, you can spend much more for a beast of a lock (and those with $5000 bikes should buy a beast of a lock), but these should fit our needs just nicely.

Do you own a bike? Any tips or suggestions?


 Your Take 
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Your Take: Will Your Frugal Fuel Changes Stick?

Gas PricesThe price of gas has dropped by a significant amount the last month or so (though a barrel of oil popped up $6 yesterday!), we might be looking at the beginning of oil slipping out of the stratosphere (could be lowered demand, could be speculators running for the exits, who knows!?). This begs the question, will all of our energy consumption habit changes stick?

Whenever people think of high fuel prices, they think back to the energy crisis of the 70s. One big difference between this last energy crisis and the 70s was that in the 70s, there was rationing. If you wanted fuel, you couldn’t necessarily get any. In the energy crisis today, and I loathe to even call it a crisis, you can buy gasoline anytime you wanted to. It might have been close to four dollars a gallon but you didn’t have to wait in lines or wait for the right day to buy. I think that’s a huge difference.

Here’s the scary part. The last energy crisis should’ve been a wake up call … but we hit the snooze button. Here we are, dealing with our reliance on oil, and there’s nothing that says our changes and the presidential campaign rhetoric this will result in action. I never lived through the last energy crisis but the stories I’ve read show a time when that crisis had a greater impact on one’s life.

As a naturally frugal person, I didn’t make many changes to my life to conserve energy. I’ve always had an eye on the recurring costs of things like my car, so I’ve never had a gas guzzler. I own a Toyota Celica and my first car was an Acura Integra, both are efficient with fuel. I try to use as little energy as possible, even before electricity prices spiked dramatically in Maryland, simply because I didn’t want to pay for something I didn’t need to. Let’s be honest, I need the money more than the power company!

So I’m fairly confident that any changes I have made will stick because they’ve been so tightly integrated, I feel as though I never changed in the first place! How about you?

(Photo: notjake13)


 Credit 
9
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5% Cash Back at Supermarkets & Gas Stations

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Rewards CardThis offer has expired.

Well well, it looks like we finally have the return of a long lost cash back favorite from a year or two ago… the coveted 5% cashback on supermarkets, drug stores and gas stations credit card in the form of the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards card. (if that’s not your thing, here’s my list of the best cash back credit cards)

A few years ago, there were a dozen of these types of cards. In the last year, that number dropped to zero. Those that did exist only offered it on gasoline and imposed ridiculously low limits such as the Discover Open Road card (gives 5% on gasoline but only up to $5 a month!). Back in the heyday, each were vying for “share of wallet,” the industry term for how much of your spending gets put on their card. They often earn a couple percentage points per transaction so the hope is that you use the card for more than the 5% categories, which is a loss leader for them (this ignores the finance charges, fees, and other charges they impose for a variety of reasons).

Looks like they’re making a come back with the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards card is leading the way.

Any catches? Yes, there are a few. Like all Citi cards, the cashback now comes in the form of ThankYou Network points rather than straight up cash. Those with student loans can convert the points into “cash,” making it a truly 5% cashback card. If you don’t have student loans, you’ll have to take it in the form of gift cards to get a full percentage value. You can always sell the gift cards and still get close to 5% cashback in the worst case.

Another catch is that the 5% promotion is for the first 12 months. I normally don’t like promotional offers (with the exception of when the Citi CashReturns had 5% cashback on everything) but right now this is the only card that offers 5% on the “everyday shopping” category (which includes supermarket, drug stores and gas stations). There are a couple alternatives if you’re looking for a gas cashback credit card, but none exist (to my knowledge) for supermarkets.

Finally, the only limit on cashback is an annual limit of 75,000 ThankYou points – it’s unlikely you will reach that limit ($15,000 in spending in the 5% categories!).

Some other features that may be of interest: 12 month 0% APY balance transfer, no annual fee, 1% cash back on everything else. The 12 month 0% APY balance transfer is nice but it has a balance transfer fee of 5%, I’d pass on that. The no annual fee is standard and the 1% cashback on everything else is also pretty standard.

Overall, I think this card is a good option if you’re looking for a way to shave 5% off your supermarket and gas bills.

Blue Cash from American Express. The Blue Cash from American Express offers 5% cashback at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations with no limit whatsoever. The card also offers a 0% balance transfer for 12 months with a 3% transfer fee capped at $99.


 Cars 
23
comments

Cheapest Fuel Efficient Cars: Fit Is Go!

Fit Is GoI’m surprised it took this long for someone to produce a list of the top ten cars in price per miles per gallon but Consumer Reports finally came through. We all know that hybrid vehicles are great fuel efficient cars but we also know that there is a waiting list for the Prius, hybrid vehicles are expensive (with many of the hybrid vehicle tax breaks expiring), and take nearly a decade to break-even on gas prices. It turns out that the most fuel efficient car, dollar for dollar in price, is the manual transmission Honda Fit Sport at $464 per MPG, edging out its base-model non-sport sibling and the base Toyota Prius.

Here are some thoughts I had about the list:

  • If you’re trying to do any break-even comparisons between cars, you can use this list to help you. Look for a pricier car with a higher MPG and you can calculate the break-even versus a cheaper car. For example, the $23,780 Toyota Prius with 44 MPG will catch up to the Mazda3i ($17,290, 30 MPG) in terms of base cost + fuel when the odometer hits ~152,978 miles at $4/gallon gasoline. That’s a lot of miles huh?
  • Four Hondas are on the list, including the Fit and Fit Sport taking the top spot. Three Toyotas (Scion is a subsidiary of Toyota) are on the list along with a Hyundai, Nissan, and the lone “American” car the Mazda3 (Mazda has Japanese origins but is now a Ford brand, hence the quotes).
  • I’m surprised to see only three manual vehicles on the list because manuals often get great fuel mileage and because manual transmissions vehicles are usually cheaper than the automatic ones, usually resulting in lower vehicle costs. A great frugal tip on cars is that you can save a few hundred dollars to a grand on a car if you buy a manual.
  • I’m not surprised to see that these are all small vehicles (you could argue that the Fit is smaller than small).
  • The difference between #1 (Honda Fit Sport) and #10 (Scion tC) in price per MPG is pretty significant – $194 per MPG.

Full table after the jump.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Cars 
10
comments

PSA: Print Gas Pump Receipts

Dimly-Lit Gas StationThis story is one of those “one in a million” type of events but fortunately it worked out in the protagonist’s favor. What happened was that someone was accused of stealing gas, was pulled over 200 yards away from the gas station, but was let off because they had printed the receipt and proved the gas was paid for. The story appeared on the Consumerist today. While everything probably would’ve been OK otherwise, the receipt diffused the situation pretty quickly.

I never print out that receipt. My logic is that I won’t ever need the receipt because I’m not going to return the gas so why waste the paper? Recently I had been printing out receipts to track my gas mileage (I wanted to compare the performance of the car before and after a 60,000 mile tune-up I had done a few weeks ago) but normally I don’t even bother.

This story won’t change my mind about my approach (I still won’t print them out because this is one of those “freak accident” type scenarios) but it certainly gives one pause. You can always recycle it when you get home.

Always Print Your Gas Pump Receipt As Proof Of Purchase [Consumerist]

(Photo: riza)


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