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Towing, Trailering and Tires

Why Slow Down? Some Tips for Vacation Road Warriors


Filleting Freshwater Fish

Filleting Freshwater Game Fish



I often tell myself that I am not as old as a recent birthday would have me be.  However, there are many things that remind me - not always in a totally unpleasant way - that time is really starting to fly past...  And speaking of unpleasant, consider the current price of gasoline, now having surpassed $4.00 per gallon for the first time ever.  As a teenager who once lived near Pasadena, California, I remember working at a Shell gas station there one summer, trying to earn some additional spending money for college.  I was pumping  premium gas (self-serve was unheard of at that time) for $0.34 per gallon.  How's that for cheap gas... we are now paying more than a 1000 percent increase of that price!  I'm not sure about you, but that is more frightening to me than getting a bit older.  Cheap gas is a distant memory; I'm afraid $4.00+ per gallon is here to stay.  With little to do to compensate other than ride a bike or walk,  what is one to do when trying to plan and budget for that summer vacation with the family?

Well, there are in fact plenty of things that can be done to help ease the pain of high-priced fuel.  I'm sure that you have heard most if not all of them at one point or another, but now those reminders of how to get more miles per gallon should really be heeded... especially if you want to have some money left to by more than a baloney sandwich when you get to your favorite vacation spot.  As an example, I unfortunately happen to own one of those lower mpg vehicles.  I bought it because I needed a vehicle to tow a boat up to my favorite lake, which is pretty much all I use it for now.  Thirty years ago, I didn't care about the fact that (A) the lake was 600 miles away and (B) that even back then, my vehicle only got 15-16 miles per gallon while towing.  But consider this: in the summer of 2004 - just four years ago, gas averaged about $2.00 per gallon.  My usual trip runs a total of about 1400 miles.  At 15.5mpg, that's about 90 gallons of gas or roughly $180 (if gas would have stayed at $2.00/gal... which it definitely has not!).  With gas approaching $4.50 per gallon this summer (which, by the way, it has already hit in some places) the same trip would now cost me $405 - a whopping 225% increase over the 2004 cost!  So, although the reality is startling (and aside form purchasing a new vehicle -- which few of us can afford to do), you may now be more interested to know just what are those things to help ease the pain ?!

One can start by insuring that one's tires are properly inflated.  Safety is an obvious issue, but keep in mind that under-inflated tires will flatten out under load and can cause steering problems at best.  Under-inflated trailer tires become unsafe; they overheat, wear unevenly, and failure can easily occur.  (See my article about Towing and Trailering.)  Tires that are supposed to be inflated to 30 psi -- pounds per sq. inch -- and allowed to run at 20% under that (24 psi - which, by the way, used to be a recommended pressure) will cost you a 15% decrease in gas mileage.  They will obviously wear faster, causing need for replacement to occur earlier.  In my case -- and you can do the math -- my new gas bill would be ~$478, or a whopping 18% increase in fuel costs. 

  • Tip #1: Spend a few bucks on a good air gauge and insure proper inflation is the rule and not the exception.  Check your owner's manual or call your mechanic to see what the recommended tire pressure should be.  You can also simply look on the tires and see what the maximum allowed pressure is and increase your pressure accordingly.  Make certain to always add air when the tires are cold.  As an example, my tires indicate a maximum pressure of 44 psi under maximum load.  On a trip -- with the car loaded -- I inflate them to about 39 psi.  It really helps gas mileage!

The second thing one can do is to insure that a clean air filter is installed.  A dirty/clogged filter can reduce mileage by as much as 10%.  Even if one thinks that number is high, what would another 5% reduction in gas mileage add to my fuel bill?  (About another $20!)

  • Tip #2: The price of an air filter -- especially if you buy and install it yourself (which is easy) -- will more than pay for itself in increased gas mileage. 

The third and perhaps most important thing one can do - and thus the title of the article - is to slow down.  Every summer I drive north to my favorite fishing hole and every summer it seems as if folks are driving faster and faster.  Its an American thing: Bigger, Better, FASTER!  That's the way we think and that is therefore the way we drive.  We just have to get there as fast as possible.  Consider this: Over one-half of the energy required to move your car down the road is spent pushing air out of the way. The faster you drive, the more the aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance increase. And, the fuel economy rapidly decreases at speeds above 60 mph; each 5 mph over 60 mph can cause as much as a 7% decrease in fuel economy.  Ignoring the safety issues for a moment, high speed driving will hit you hard in the wallet! It is basically the same as paying an additional $0.10 - $0.20 per gallon for gas.  At 70 miles per hour, with a dirty air filter and tires under-inflated by 20%, my 15.5 mpg has been effectively reduced to as little as 11 mpg.  Think that's too low? 

  • Tip #3: Slow down!  I know you are in a hurry to get to that cabin and go fishing and water skiing... but high speed alone -- without any other issues --  can cause your fuel bill to skyrocket.

There are other helpful driving tips as well that will save you dollars that are better spent at the lake:

  • Tip #4: Keep your vehicle clean and waxed to reduce drag and therefore increase fuel economy.  And as for the air conditioner issue... today's vehicles are much better at cooling without seriously affecting gas mileage -- in part due to the engine size.  On long trips at constant speeds, using the AC is better than driving with the windows open because of the increased drag caused by open windows at highway speeds. 

  • Tip # 5: Use cruise control, if you have it... especially when driving on flat and level roads; however, the engine works too hard to quickly get back up to speed when climbing hills, so release the cruise for those times.

  • Tip #6: Reduce your load when possible.  Take excess and unneeded items out of both your car and your boat.  Reducing the amount of extra "baggage" will also reduce your fuel consumption!

  • Tip #7: Check websites like gasbuddy.com before you leave to find out where the best gas prices are -- even a few cents a gallon can really add up over the long haul. 

  • Tip #8: Try to keep your vehicle tuned and well-maintained.  Clean spark plugs and clean oil help to make your vehicle run more efficiently and produce better gas mileage...  your car will also last longer!

  • Tip #9: Double-check your route to make certain you are traveling the shortest possible distance with the fewest number of stops - needless idling and extra miles waste a lot of fuel!

  • Tip #10: You've heard it many times before, but "jack-rabbit" starts and hard breaking stops will hurt your pocket book both at the pump and at the repair shop when the breaks need to be replaced.

As always, my concern is to see that you and your family get to where you are going and back... safely.  But with a little forethought and vehicle maintenance, you just might get there and back more economically as well.  And then you may just have that extra cash available that would have been left on the highway as tire rubber, gas fumes and frustrations.  Even with the increased gas prices this summer, I think you can still have a great vacation!

See you On the Lake!

R. Karl





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