Increasing fuel efficiency for gridlocked gas guzzlers
In a landscape of benzene-slurping SUVs, ten tips for saving gas, saving money, and helping green the planet just a tiny bit more
Talk about a traffic jam: this July 4th weekend, AAA expects Americans to break a nine-year-old record by hitting the highways in a horde numbering some 37.5 million (not counting folks driving less than 50 miles).
That's a lot of cars.
That's also a lot of fuel.
With gas prices averaging $3 to $3.50 a gallon, a road trip has the potential to suck your budget dry faster than you can say "What ever happened to those cars that run on water they promised us?"
The other day we got this press release containing some spiffy tips to help improve your gas mileage, but it came from the oddest of places: Shell. You know: the Dutch oil conglomerate with gas stations all over the world. Yep, one of the world's biggest oil and refined fuels conglomerates is actually anxious to share ways in which you can avoid buying its products.
Find the cheapest local gas
The brilliant site (and app) GasBuddy.com simply lists the going rate for fuel at every gas station nearby in the U.S. and Canada.I'm naturally wary of such things. After all, doesn't the shampoo bottle shamelessly instruct us to "lather, rinse, repeat" so that we'll run out of the stuff twice as fast? Don't fast food cashiers constantly egg us on to SuperSize it for just 59¢ more? Why should we trust a gas station company when it tells us it wants to help us find ways to consume less petrol?
"During every part of the customer experience," says Brooks Herring, manager of brand and strategy for the Retail Division of Shell Oil Products US. "We strive to provide the convenience, value and products that customers have told us they want." In other words, these tips might not help them sell more gasoline, but it will help make us feel more favorably disposed toward Shell--and more likely to head for the yellow scallop sign when we do need that gas.
Anne Peebles, a Shell spokesperson, confirms this. "One of our prime objectives is to increase the value that our customers receive. That’s in the convenience store, the gasoline--throughout their experience when they come into a Shell station. This is one way to do that; to give them more value with their money."
It's not just customer relations, though. Shell does have a vested interest in raising our consciousness over fuel efficiency: On Monday it introduced a new formula for its gasoline which it claims improves mileage, by about 1 percent, by reducing engine friction. I asked Ms. Peebles for a practical translation of that, and she said. "Depending on how you drive, most people will get a benefit of about three to five miles per tank."
I'll leave the consumer reports agencies to figure out whether that claim holds true. What I can see is that the tips Shell is providing with this product roll-out are good ones. Some are obvious common sense, some obscure, and a few put to rest (for me, at least) the question of whether some of these ideas were old wives tales. The tips are Shell's. My own snarky comments are in parentheses.
- Avoid high speeds/use cruise control — increasing your speed uses more fuel. (Remember 55, arrive alive?)
- Avoid unnecessary idling — it wastes fuel.
- Avoid jackrabbit starts and sudden stops. (2 Fast 2 Furious? 2 wasteful.)
- Remove excess weight from the trunk — extra weight decreases gas mileage. (Packing light is always wise, and reduces the number of trips and hernias involved in loading and unloading at the motel each night.)
- Keep your tires properly inflated — under inflated tires can reduce fuel efficiency. (Obama was right!)
- Use overdrive gears if you have them — reduces engine speed and improves fuel consumption. (Also, it makes a cool, throaty engine sound, so you can pretend you're driving a muscle car.)
- Use your air conditioner sparingly — increases gasoline consumption. (I'd always wondered whether that one was true. Ah, well. The wind in your hair is nice, too.)
- Check and replace air filters regularly — clean air filters keep impurities in the air from damaging the engine and can improve fuel economy.
- Get a tune-up and change your oil regularly and right before a long trip.
- Use gasoline formulated to give better mileage, such as the new fuel offering from Shell. (We'll allow them this shameless plug in exchange for providing these hints.)
They left off the obvious one: trade in that SUV for something less thirsty. In my family, the Ford Explorer guzzles down easily twice as much as my zippy little New Beetle. (It's also devilishly hard to find parking spaces big enough for it in the city.)
Shell does seem to be sincere about all this--at least that's the impression I get from the ads it constantly runs on CNN International. But warm and fuzzy commercial campaigns aside, the company has put at least some of its money where it's mouthpiece is, investing $500 million since 1997 toward researching alternative fuel sources.
They already have wind farms in Germany, the UK and Wyoming, are slapping together solar power plants around the world, and are indeed at work on these hydrogen and fuel cell automotive technologies we keep hearing about. This isn't meant to be a plug for Big Oil; I just wanted y'all to know that I'd checked out the company's bona fides and that it seems to be on the up and up on this one.
I'm going to add a tip of my own: Carpool. Gather your family or a gaggle of friends to hit the road together. I don’t know about fuel efficiency (that weight in the trunk thing got me worried), but it is more fun that way.