Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Manifesto for improving MPG on every vehicle August 12, 2009

Your car or SUV may not be the environment’s worst enemy. This is especially good news if it serves your family well in terms of function and space–or, like many Americans, you simply can’t afford to buy a new vehicle right now using the Cash for Clunkers program. (Read Keep your clunker, get better MPG, and save money – Part 1 and Part 2)

Fuel Efficiency Adviser or simple vacuum guage will help you learn to drive more efficiently, saving gas costs, and cutting your own carbon emissions. In my case, my Passat TDI (VW’s diesel, turbocharged model) is already equipped with this information.

How can I improve my mileage, or “learn to drive by the gauge,” as car expert Chris Shelton suggests? Follow three simple steps:

1. Accelerate gently. Watch the boost gauge—if it shows positive pressure, then you’re wasting fuel.

2. Maintain speed. Give yourself more room between cars and timing stop lights. If you’re using your brakes a lot you’re wasting fuel. Coasting to a stop early on saves a lot of fuel.

3. Drive as though there is an egg on the throttle as Shelton’s dad used to tell him–The idea being an egg is fragile so all throttle input should be gentle. The objective is to maintain the lowest manifold pressure and engine speed. That means driving the car with the bare minimum of throttle pressure to get it going along while using the highest possible gear for a situation.

It takes a learned foot and watchful eye to keep both manifold pressure and engine speed low. Shelton assures us that it’s really not that hard to master, but it does require conscious effort to unlearn bad habits. (Isn’t that true of everything?)

Your driver’s ed. teacher was right. First off, don’t take up that precious passing lane (which you shouldn’t be in unless you’re passing anyway). Also, exercise some discretion when hypermiling. That extra 0.2 miles per gallon isn’t worth a drive-by shooting. Maintain steady speeds, even if it means getting passed. (Shelton says, as ironic as it sounds, you’ll often end up at the same stoplight as the knucklehead who blew past you miles earlier.) You’ll find that the middle lane is your best friend. Chronic speeders plant themselves in the left lane; Merging and exiting traffic make the slow lane a bad choice too. Just settle into the middle lane and stay the course.

Momentum vs. power. It takes a lot of energy to accelerate a vehicle from a standstill, so use momentum to your advantage. Don’t follow other cars too closely. The buffer between you and the car ahead gives you a buffer when they unnecessarily speed up and slow down. Also, don’t rush to a stoplight and brake abruptly. Instead, try to coast to a stop. If you play your cards right you’ll reach the light just as it turns green.

Master momentum and you’ll also uncover a secondary benefit: brake components last much longer when you’re not stabbing the brake pedal to slow down. Remember, the only thing keeping your car going is energy from the engine. A car naturally wants to slow down, so use that to your advantage. In fact, a whole host of vehicle components benefit when you drive smartly.

Resist the urge to overinflate tires. While it is true that highly pressurized tires offer less rolling resistance than softer tires, the fuel you save is usually false economy. Overly inflated tires wear faster than properly inflated tires, so you may in fact spend that money you saved on fuel to replace prematurely worn tires. What’s more, overly inflated tires aren’t safe. They don’t offer the same traction and handling properties as properly inflated ones do. Whenever checking tires, inflate (or deflate) them to the figure printed in the vehicle’s door jamb or owner’s manual. The figure on the tire sidewall is merely a maximum inflation pressure.

A maintained car is a happy car. It seems unrelated, but maintenance impacts more than a car’s lifespan. Clogged fuel injectors don’t atomize fuel properly, causing the car’s computer to compensate by applying more fuel. Proper lubrication also extends the life of mechanical things, which is an often overlooked element of economy. At best a poorly performing engine will fiddle with your fuel economy; at worst it will prematurely die.

For more info:

Chris Shelton is a regular contributor to Street Rodder, Rod & Custom, Classic Trucks, and Camaro Performers.

More tips on How to drive for mileage. is a free website that will calculate and track your actual gas mileage online easily, will teach you efficient driving techniques that will improve your gas mileage, and will monitor your progress as you continue to practice increasing your fuel efficiency.

Keep your clunker, get better MPG, and save money – Part 1 Laws have been passed to ensure automobile manufacturers increase the required MPG and reduce the acceptable carbon output of new cars, and programs… Keep Reading »

Keep your clunker, get better MPG, and save money – Part 2 Your car or SUV may not be the environment’s worst enemy. This is especially good news if it serves your family well in terms of… Keep Reading »  

Cash for Clunkers program to get extension, more funding The enormously popular “Car Allowance Rebate Program” (CARS), also known as “cash for clunkers” program will receive… Keep Reading »

5% Bonus to homebuyers going green Making energy efficient upgrades saves money over the long-run. But if your budget is already tight, making costly improvements to a home you’re in… Keep Reading »


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