Like father, like son

My earliest memories date back to sometime in the mid 1970s. No, I’m not pointing it out to taunt you, or complain my days of possibly being drafted by the Celtics are over. I assure you it’s just a little context, nothing more.

I was sitting in my dad’s old VW Bug. It was cold winter day in New England. We were at a gas station and my father was jotting some figures down in a small spiral notebook. He was writing down the odometer reading and gallons pumped to keep track of the gas mileage he was getting. I’m not sure how much it had to do with the gas crisis at the time, or just dad being dad, but it sounds just like an engineer doesn’t it?

About a week ago I decided to see what kind of mileage I’ve been getting. I was pulling out my Palm at the gas station, flipping the cover… much like you might flip the cover on a small spiral notebook, and I was swallowed by a thick cloud of deja vu. Whoo! That was a wild trip.

I’ve been trying to save gas by associating my gas pedal with dollar bills flying out of my wallet, and CO2 molecules flying out of my tailpipe. (Even before gas prices shot up recently.) Obviously, public transportation is the best way to save on both, but it’s not a viable option where I live. Actually, my bicycle would be the best way, but that hasn’t been an option lately either (though I’m hoping I’ll be able to try again eventually). Consolidating trips and driving less is another way, but it isn’t the only way. Once you establish you have no choice but to get in your car and drive, there’s one more option a lot of you may not be thinking about: driving efficiently. It means several things: keeping the tires inflated to the proper pressure, not starting from every stop like you’re a teenager in daddy’s Lexus, laying off the gas well before red lights (coasting up to the light when possible, and not dangerous or rude), and shifting gears sooner. The last couple of things are a lot easier with a manual transmission (I love my 5 speed stick), but I think you can achieve almost the same thing in an automatic by taking a lighter approach with your gas pedal (with the exception of coasting – I’m not sure how wise it is to shift back and forth between neutral and drive all the time).

I admit driving efficiently has been a lot harder than I thought. I’m just as flawed as the next guy, and many of my flaws show up when I’m behind the wheel. For one thing my gas pedal is well acquainted with the floor. I really like to drive. Even though it’s not a sports car, zipping around in my little civic is a lot of fun. I can work that stick like a speed bag while my feet dance from pedal to pedal. But if I’m honest with myself, it’s a little too fun. Maybe the real problem is my alternate personality. I’m pretty laid back in life, unless I happen to be behind the wheel. When I close the door and turn the key it’s as if the A/C is filling the air with a fast acting, aerosol amphedamine. No speed is too fast and no delay is acceptable. I always seem to be in a big hurry and it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for patience – which I think is key. Plus… oh crap, I can’t remember what I was going to say here. Moving on….

You might think this is crazy, extreme, or down right communist… but now the first thing I try to think about when I get in the car is all of you. There are other people on the road, and sharing nicely is a virtue (or so I’ve been telling the kids). It’s not just the road I’m sharing; its the world’s air and energy resources too. Plus, I try to remind myself that driving fast doesn’t save that much time. On a ten mile drive to work, what am I going to save with jack-rabit starts, maybe a few seconds? I might shave a whole 60-90 seconds off my time if I manage to miss one extra red light. Is my time really worth that much?

Maybe you don’t care about the emissions. You should, but I’ll do anything here to make the sale. If so, think about those dollars flying out of your wallet every time you put your foot down. Or better yet, do a little math. The last time I figured out how my car was doing on mileage (during my lost child of the Andrettis days), my little Civic was getting around 25 MPG. I admit that’s a bit rough though. It’s based on a few times I did some quick math in my head. I never reset the trip odometer and took precise notes. Since I started making an effort to drive more efficiently, my mileage has crept up to 32 MPG in the city. If I run some conservative numbers, just counting the drive back and forth to work (picking up the kids along the way), I drive 25 miles per day. If I’ve done the math right, it means I’m saving about a gallon of gas every week. That’s not a huge number, but it adds up. Plus, I don’t act like an ass on the road anymore.

Now go really crazy and double that number, assuming I can lighten Cheryl’s foot too. (Her commute is about the same.) Or how about I go stark raving mad and figure I drive 10,000 miles every year (I don’t, but many people do… and more). All by myself I’d save just under 90 gallons of gas per year, or $350 (assuming gas is $4/gallon). Multiply that by two, again assuming I can switch out Cheryl’s lead loafers, and I’ve almost saved enough to buy a new computer every year.

(Although that’s a bit wasteful too.)

That’s not even considering the potential savings in brakes, tires, etc.

Maybe you don’t believe my fuel economy numbers. Well don’t take my word for it, Consumer Reports did their own test. When they reduced the highway cruising speed on a Camry (from 65 to 55), fuel economy increased by 5 mpg. When they avoided frequent bursts of acceleration and braking they improved fuel efficiency by another 2-3 mpg. They noted a tire’s rolling resistance (re: pressure and/or style of tire) could add or subtract another 1-2 mpg.

So consider lightening up on the pedal. You don’t need to wait on Congress or your local government to improve your transportation options (not that you should let them off the hook). You’ll be doing another small thing right now to make the world a better place.

Call me fanciful. Call me silly. Call me weird. Call me anything you like, just think about it the next time you put your foot on the gas.

Give the gift of words.