Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Eco-driving: Squeeze More Miles From Your Car

“We’ll need gas soon,” said my friend Jim, as we drove through the Adirondack night last weekend somewhere west of Warrensburg. “I think I can make it to Exit 19.”

I glanced over at the dashboard. The empty-tank warning light was glowing yellow, the needle so far below “E” that it appeared broken. We were coming back from an all-day cross country ski trip, both of us tired and sweaty. Exit 19 was a half-hour away.

I was about to say something, but then I decided not to bother. Jim is an eco-driver. He utilizes a variety of techniques to squeeze as much mileage out of a tank of gas as possible — inflating the tires well beyond their recommended pressures, coasting down hills with the engine off, drafting behind trucks. And he doesn’t fill up his tank until it’s damn-near empty — anything less would be an admission of defeat.

All of a sudden, climbing up a hill on that dark night, the Chevy Prism engine shuddered for a moment. The prospect of walking untold miles in the dark, with the temperature just north of 0 degrees F, loomed. Then the vehicle resumed its smooth operation.

“Maybe I’d better fill up in Warrensburg,” he said.

“You think?”

As those of us who are environmentally conscious look to find better ways to help the world around us, we might look no further than our cars. While some of Jim’s eco-driving practices are rather extreme, the idea at its heart has some merit.

Go to EcoDrivingusa.com, for instance, and you’ll see a variety of easy ways to save on mileage: check tire inflation regularly, avoid sharp starts, don’t waste time warming up the engine on cold mornings, take out unneeded weight from the trunk, stay at 60 mph on the highway. You can use low-friction oil, and keep an eye on your tachometer to keep the engine revving at around 2,000 rpm, the most efficient speed. You can keep your skis in the car with the seats down, instead of putting a wind-dragging rack on the roof.

After all, when driving, say, two hours to a hike to enjoy the natural world, it seems rather hypocritical not to use best driving practices on the way.

Jim, however, goes beyond the eco-driving norm. Is it really a good idea to drive with tires inflated at 10 psi over the recommended limit? Or drive down a hill with the power brakes and steering off? Or draft only a few feet behind the truck (besides, based on the rules of physics, wouldn’t that just take away from the trucker’s mileage, resulting in zero gain)?

“You’re not an eco-driver,” I once told him on another harrowing drive with the needle on E. “You’re an ego-driver.”

“Ha ha,” he said, reaching for my least-favorite CD — a compilation of a local folk band singing bawdy drinking songs from the 1700s. Jim and I have a strange friendship.

Still, eco-driving works, according to Jim. He says his Prism routinely gets 45 miles per gallon, about 10 miles more than the car’s typical highway miles. That doesn’t make those drinking songs any easier to listen to, but it does give this eco-driving thing a little bit of street cred. And to be honest, he hasn’t run out of fuel yet — though it’s been close.

So think about some of these practices next time you’re taking your car out for a long drive. And if you’re planning to catch a ride with Jim, you might want to bring an extra gallon of gas — just in case.

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5 Responses

  1. John Warren says:

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