Family vacation time means piling the kids in the car and setting off on the open roads. It also means it is summer and gas prices are high. Save money, foreign oil and some CO2 by following some of these easy steps to improve your mileage! You don't have to be a "Hypermiler", but it doesn't hurt to be gas thrifty.
I wont assault your intelligence by telling you to buy more fuel efficient car, but I will tell you to read my Cash for Clunkers post if you are looking for a new car and to explain the difference in miles per gallon and gallons per hundred miles.
Before you pull out of the garage, inflate your tires. I wrote a whole post on how easy it is to inflate your tires with a simple bike pump. Under-inflated tires are like running in flip flops, you'll get to the destination, just not as efficiently as you could have. Also, if you haven't had an oil change or tune up lately, do that. It will make your car run smoother. Oh yea, clean out your trunk! That extra weight will slow you down.
Once you have your tires inflated, your engine's arteries un-clogged, and the golf clubs out of the trunk (assuming you aren't going to play golf), hit the open road. But do so with an easy foot! Slowly apply the gas so your engine can build some momentum. Stomping on the gas pedal was cool back in high school, but the Trans Am is long gone and the kids don't need whip lash.
Along the same lines, try to plan your braking. Instead of accelerating to a stoplight then slamming the brakes, coast up to it so you dont waste that gas. Why are you in such a hurry to stop anyway? Also, you might be able to time it right so you don't have to come to a complete stop and can save some of that momentum for when the light turns green.
Just think of it this way, anything that you do with your right foot (braking and accelerating) you want to do it gently - if possible. I dont want you braking gently if you are heading into the path of a herd of angry mountain goats! But if it's just you and the fam cruising to your destination, brake and accelerate lightly to make the most out of your car's momentum.
Using your cruise control will also keep your car moving along without the jerky motions of you stomping on the gas pedal, but if you're paying attention, you wont have to rely on this. For example, when I have my cruise control set and I start going up a hill, it has a very slow response time. The speed drops so the cruise control system pushes very hard to get the car back up to speed. It is the same as me stomping on the gas! A better strategy is to just ease on the gas pedal a little if you think your cruise control might be a slow reactor.
So you've finally made it to the interstate! If you were really serious about saving some gas and didn't care about your safety, you could draft some Semi Trucks, but don't do this. Do drive at a slower speed than you usually do. I know you've heard this before, but it seriously works. As fueleconomy.gov states, your mileage decreases drastically over 60 mph. This has to do with the increased effect of air resistance over these speeds. But I'm not telling you this to save some gas, I'm telling you this because it will mean you and your family will have a greater chance of arriving at your destination alive. On the highway or interstate, keep the speedometer as close as you can to 50-60 mph.
While everyone is playing "I Spy" or watching the latest DVD in the backseat, roll the windows up and keep the air conditioning on as low a setting as comfortable. Remember what I said about high speeds and air resistance? Having the windows down at high speeds increases drag on your car, and makes it less aerodynamic. At lower speeds this isnt a big problem, so you can turn off your AC and let the hair blow in the wind if you want. (Side note: If some great 80's rock song comes on the radio, you are allowed to roll your windows down no matter the cost. But if you do, ever rider who is sitting by the window must have an arm out the window jamming along with the music)
Improving gas mileage just takes common sense and some patience. Follow these steps and you will save money, your car's engine will last longer and your family will be safer. With the Tour de France starting up in a few days, watch the cyclists, as they are experts at conserving energy on a vehicle. They make sure their tires are inflated to the ideal pressure, they are light weight, they make smooth, fluid motions, and they keep their bodies low to stay as aerodynamic as possible (I'll leave out the whole drafting part). So there you go, who needs this blog when you can just take notes from Lance Armstrong!