I've been wracked with green guilt. Every day I seem to hear more dire news about evaporating ice caps, deteriorating air quality, disappearing topsoil, algae blooms, smoldering deforestation. Compounding the shame, I'm often hearing about these things while commuting in my eight-year-old car, with its so-so mileage.
Ideally I'd live near where I work or I'd work from home -- both practices that were common until about 50 years ago. Nowadays an hour's commute, especially here in Los Angeles, seems to be the standard. Each morning, I stare out at the freeway before me, lanes clogged to the seams, traffic alternating between speeding and crawling. It could drive a man to desperate measures. And it has.
I have decided to become a hyper-miler, one of those kooky people obsessed with extracting every conceivable mile out of a gallon of gas. The folks who are into this deep have some pretty extreme methods: driving on the painted lines of a roadway or over-inflating tires to reduce rolling resistance (and traction, BTW), avoiding routes that require left turns, "drafting" the cars in front of them. Now I can't quite recommend any of those tips for most folks, but there are plenty of techniques that make sense and can earn you as much as an additional 10% in gas mileage with precious little effort. A few faves:
Avoid the brakes whenever you can. It's all about anticipation. When you see a red light or stopped traffic up ahead, take your foot off the gas the instant you know you're going to have to stop; coasting to a stop is good. Truckers know this technique already --their stopping distances are so long that they have to concentrate and anticipate much further ahead than most drivers bother to.
Ease up to Speed. Slow acceleration is a patient art. Yes, my car is pretty fast when I jump on the throttle -- which I no longer do. In fact, I try to never extend the accelerator more than half way through its range. Can you say 0 to 60 in 15 seconds?
Dump the junk. I finally parted with my 8 x 12' wool moving blanket, five gallons of water (40 lbs.), tire chains (!?), hiking boots, my cassette collection, and a small tool box. What's in your trunk?
Stay home. The ultimate sag mileage improver is to not use the car at all. Can you combine two trips? Work from home once in a while? Walk to the store? We're trying a "no drive" day once a week.
Watch and win. My car's got a nifty "current miles per gallon" calculator as part of its trip computer. It will completely raise your consciousness about your driving style. Yes, it'll creep down into the single digits when you're heading up a hill -- but that's about the only time you need to see it down there. And you'll get a thrill out of watching it jump to 150 MPG or more when you're coasting down a hill.
Now I have to layer on top of this to use some common sense. Don't compromise safety for the sake of saving a bit of gas. But for me, the solace of trying to save energy and reduce pollution is a welcome obsession. It's all about thinking more long term: anticipating traffic, imagining alternatives to the way you've always thought about your car, and considering the wasteful impact of not thinking about the future.