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10 Tips to Help Your Fuel Economy

Towing, Trailering and Tires

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Ever since the price of gas started to really climb – perhaps in 2004 or 2005 – I have concentrated ever harder on finding ways to make that gallon of gas go just a bit further… more correctly, the real goal is to make your car go farther on a gallon of gas.  I explored that aspect in a fairly recent article titled In a Hurry to Get There?: Ten Tips to Help Your Fuel Economy.  Now that the price of petrol has broken the $4 per gallon barrier – still climbing – and far exceeded the expectations of the majority of traveling Americans, I have a few more thoughts to add to my previous article.

A Percent Is Not Always A Percent…

Well… it is, and then again it isn’t.  Let me explain.  An increase of 1% in a salary of $100,000 per year is far greater than a 1% increase in a salary of $50,000 per year…  An increase of 1% in the price of oil – and commensurate increase in the price of gasoline – at $65 per barrel is not at all the same as a 1% increase in the price of oil at $125 per barrel.  Likewise, fuel economy/miles per gallon becomes far more important at $4.25 per gallon then it was at $2.25 per gallon: On a 1200 mile trip, if you can achieve 20 mpg rather than 18 mpg, you would purchase 60 gallons of gas as opposed to 67 gallons.  At 20 mpg and $2.25/gal, that’s $135; at 18 mpg and $2.25/gal, that’s $151 – an increase of almost 12%.  Now do the math using $4.25/gal.  It results in $255 (at 20 mpg) and $285 (at 18 mpg) respectively – an increase of approximately the same amount percentage-wise. 

But the real difference shows up when it costs about $14 more every time you fill your tank (at the higher cost of gas)…   And it is because that difference would allow you to purchase only 3.3 gallons of gas at the higher rate, as opposed to 6.2 gallons at the lower rate – almost a 50% difference in purchasing power for a 12% difference in fuel economy.  Several tanks later, the savings would be significant.  Is two miles per gallon enough of a reason to slow down?  How about saving enough over the period of a year to pay for a really nice dinner on vacation?! 

Shake It Up…

On one particularly long cross-country road trip (long ago), I made the rather insane decision to drive about 1,000 miles non-stop from Chicago to Rock Springs, Wyoming… by myself.  On my way to the west coast and in no particular hurry to get there, I decided to drive at a much-reduced pace – about 55 miles per hour.  After 20-some hours on the road, I finally stopped for the night.  But just before I fell asleep, I made one significant mental note to myself: the typical “road buzz” to which I had grown very accustomed – especially when I was normally used to traveling at an average speed of about 70 miles per hour – was almost completely absent.  Later courses in science would explain that vibrations, especially in an automobile, become significantly amplified at greater speeds. 

These vibrations have deleterious effects on both driver and machine.  The vibrations will typically shake things lose.  If you have ever pulled a boat and trailer to your favorite vacation spot, you should already be well aware of the things that can and do vibrate loose… and make certain to check and tighten them on a regular basis.  Those same vibrations become more intense at higher speeds.  And for anyone who has driven distances in excess of three to four hundred miles at a time, be aware that those vibrations can and do cause both road hypnosis and extreme fatigue.  Slow down, stay awake and be more alert for longer periods of time.

Action – Reaction

A simple fact of driving is generally taught in high school drivers education classes: every mile per hour is approximately equal to 1.5 feet per second.  Therefore, at 60 mph, your vehicle is traveling roughly 90 feet every second.  How about stopping your vehicle at that speed?  At this point, the math gets increasingly tricky.  The reason is because there are so many factors involved in braking – including reaction time, road conditions and tire conditions to mention just a few. 

Even under the best of road conditions with brand new tires, driver attentiveness is not always 100%.  Result?  Reaction time usually averages close to one second… meaning that in a situation which required action and quick braking, your vehicle and its occupants could travel 85-90 feet before your foot even hits the brake pedal.  That’s at least five car-lengths distance.  Do you see anyone allowing that zone of safety between cars on today’s roads?  At greater speeds, even greater concentration, keener reflexes, sharper skills, and less time to react are all absolutely essential to safe driving.  Greater speeds require exponentially greater stopping distances.  Need any other reasons to slow down??

In the Heat of the Moment

Driving an automobile requires far more skill and concentration than we would probably admit.  Add a boat and trailer or a camper/motor home and you can count on dialing things up a notch or two.  Add speed to the mix and trouble is just ahead.  I also wrote an article about tires and trailering in which I highlighted some of the problems with tires that are not designed for the speeds at which they are used.  Speed allows for a dangerous enemy of driving to rear its ugly head: Heat.  When tires heat up, the pressure inside them increases, thus adding stress to tires that may surely need to be replaced – no matter how they might appear.  High speeds cause elevated heat levels; elevated heat levels cause an increased risk of tire failure.  Need I say more? 

Excessive heat also causes stress on the hubs of the trailer on which a hefty investment may rest – your boat and your happy vacation.  On the way to your favorite vacation spot, have you ever not seen a car and trailer alongside the road (rather than on it) with tire troubles?  And if you have ever experienced a blowout while driving, you have got to know how hairy an experience that can be.  Slow down and arrive alive!

Good Afternoon, Officer

One final reason for traveling to your destination at a reduced rate of speed – preferably the speed limit: you’ll never have to be looking around for those hidden patrol cars behind the viaducts or in the median amongst the trees, just waiting to hand you a coupon for excessive speed (it also gives them yet another reason to check out your boat, trailer and vehicle for possible violations…).  And yep, it is probably true that every citation issued is likely an accident that has been avoided.  But if you avoid the citation in the first place, you can do a little extra compensatory spending while on vacation… Perhaps an extra dinner for the family would be a nice surprise!

Fortunate have I been to have traveled to far reaches of the United States in my lifetime.  Were I to add the miles, I am certain I would be amazed at the total – probably to now be approaching the million-mile mark.  Many of the round trips have exceeded 6,000 miles and I have made numerous mental notes about the ravages of driving, no matter the length or time behind the wheel.  In my early days, distances and speeds made little difference to me as the price of gas was cheap, far fewer vehicles were on the roads and my only real concern was simply to get there!  I’m sure that my father would be happy to now hear me say that my youthful excesses and disregard for more intelligent thought have finally given way to a smarter way of approaching life.  To sum it all up, there are five reasons -- at least -- that should at least allow you to give cause to consider a slower-paced trip:

  • Better Fuel Economy
  • Less Vibration & Road Buzz
  • Better Reaction Time
  • Cooler Tires with Greater Safety Factor
  • No Worry about that Pesky Speeding Citation!

Especially when we're heading out on that long-awaited and well-deserved vacation, getting there in a hurry often takes precedence over precaution.  Considering the five reasons above... getting there safely should always top the list!

See you On the Lake!

R. Karl




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