Thursday, September 29, 2005

Gas mileage

With soaring gas prices, I set out on an experiment over the last month to see how much better gas mileage I could get by simply changing my driving patterns. For some background, I drive a Ford F150 extended cab pickup truck. I'm really not part of the SUV craze that seems to have swept the nation. I like my truck because it lets me do things that I couldn't do otherwise (and trust my I have tried) such as buying building supplies, clearing out yard trash or getting landscaping equipment from point a to point b. The four wheel drive and high clearance has also been invaluable in more than a couple blizzards.

What I don't like is the gas mileage. The truck has a 25 gallon tank and generally gets just under 14.5 miles per gallon if I do a fair amount of highway driving. At today's prices, this really hurts the wallet, to say nothing about contributing to the global oil problem.

So, on the last tank of gas, I went totally against my nature and changed all of my driving habits to be just about as conservative as I could manage. I accelerated slowly from every stop, coasted as much as possible, and kept my speed under 60 mph on the highway (which is a big deal -- the speed limit on the highway I have to drive to get anywhere is 75). The first thing I noticed was just how little the big V8 had to work in order to maintain a 55 mph cruising speed on the highway. With any downhill grade at all, I wouldn't even have to push the accelerator. Most of the time, I applied just about as little pressure as I could manage. I have to say as well, that it really didn't add a lot of time to my travels and I just felt so much more tranquil as a result of the slower speeds and easy acceleration. In addition to all of this, September is a beautiful month in Colorado and I kept the air conditioner off.

Well, even before filling up the tank in order to check the math, I knew something was different. Under normal circumstances, my gas light comes on somewhere between 280 and 320 miles. This time, though, at 350 miles, I still had about a quarter of a tank of gas. It turns out that the gas light didn't come on until 412 miles and I didn't fill up until 450. A calculation showed that I had used fuel at a rate of 19.3 mpg. This may not seem like good gas mileage to people driving cars, but it represents something like a 34% improvement over what I have gotten historically. I was able to go 1/3 further on a tank of gas just by slowing down, not running the AC, and not taking off from every stop light like I'm in a race.

My wife was not able to duplicate my successes in her car. I suspect that larger vehicles with big engines and poor aerodynamics have the most to gain from this regime. Still, I was not expecting anything like a 34% improvement.

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