Don't Shoot Money Out the Tailpipe

Gasoline is expensive, and many consumers are complaining about the high cost of fuel.  But, as the Noble Bard once instructed, instead of blaming our stars, sometimes we must blame ourselves.  We suggest you look at your own behavior to see if you are wasting precious fuel and thus sending your hard-won cash right out the exhaust pipe.

Take a look at the results of some recent tests by Ford Motor Company to see if your driving habits fit the efficient or the profligate profile.  We're betting you don't know how much your bad habits might be costing you.

"There is a direct correlation between fuel economy and the driver's behavior and vehicle care," said Ford hybrid vehicle engineer Stephen Hunter. "These tests illustrate just how much control the driver has over his or her fuel bill."

For the test, a pair of identically equipped Ford Fusions were driven over a 500-mile route, the only variable being driver behavior, highlighting the three most common poor driving habits that lead to decreased fuel economy.  In the test, the inefficient driver idled the engine for 20 minutes.  This included a five-minute warm-up before embarking on the 500-mile drive, five minutes of idling while sitting in a fast-food drive-through, and two five-minute periods of idling during rest stops. Each of those stops with the engine idling meant that the car was operating at a zero efficiency rate -- 0 mpg.  In contrast, the efficient driver started the engine and left immediately and shut off the engine both at the fast food restaurant and the two break stops.

"Warming the car up before departure or idling for more than 30 seconds is a waste of fuel," Hunter said. "Modern cars actually reach operating temperature faster if you start the car and leave immediately."

Also within the confines of the 500-mile drive test, the inefficient driver applied full throttle at every opportunity, trying to reach the posted speed limit as quickly as possible. For freeway driving an average speed of 75 miles per hour was set and the inefficient driver used constantly varying throttle positions in an effort to maintain that target speed. The efficient driver applied moderate throttle and made every effort to avoid unnecessary acceleration or deceleration. For freeway driving, an average of 65 mph (instead of 75) was set for the efficient driver with an emphasis on maintaining a smooth, consistent speed instead of constant changes in throttle application.

"Aggressive driving is one of the biggest culprits in fuel economy," Hunter said. "Just slowing down 10 miles per hour on the highway can save you 15 percent."

As the third leg of the test, the inefficient driver used the maximum air conditioning setting for the full 500 miles. (We hope he had a jacket.) The efficient driver set the Fusion's electronic climate control to 68 degrees, letting the system automatically select the most efficient use of the air conditioning compressor.

"Saving money can be as simple as turning down the air conditioning just to bring the cabin to a comfortable temperature," the engineer told us. "Try parking in the shade so that the cabin doesn't heat up while the car is parked. If the cabin temperature is greater than the outside temperature, open the windows to let the heat out of the cabin, rather than relying on the AC alone."
When the results of this simple test were analyzed they showed that inefficient driver habits alone can sap up to 21 percent of their possible fuel economy.  In other words, you can save up to 21 cents on every dollar of gasoline you spend simply by avoiding idling, slowing down slightly and maintaining a constant speed and by moderating use of vehicle air conditioning.  Now that doesn't seem too painful, does it?

A notorious cheapskate, auto journalist Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about fuel economy and environmental issues.