Have You Ever Heard of Eco-Driving?

Posted in response to a recent experience shared by a friend of Energy Shift, this was first published in our April 2006 Newsletter. Copies available upon request.

By simply paying closer attention to how we drive, we can save 10% to 15% in fuel consumption. Some practices associated with eco-driving are well known, but many have been lazy about implementing them. Things like removing excess weight from the car (all that junk in the trunk), or keeping tires properly inflated requires time which is in short supply in many lives. Also in short supply these days is patience and attentiveness to doing one thing at a time. Rather than talking on the phone, eating, or going over mental lists while driving—actually paying attention to the task at hand—will result in savings of fuel and money, reduce exhaust emissions, and increase safety on the road.

The Ford Motor Company includes a page about eco-driving on its web site. They claim that average drivers can reduce the amount of fuel they use by as much as 25%, this is a bit ambitious but the practices they suggest include some good ones (An asterisk indicates those practices that Energy Shift™ thinks are particularly worthwhile):

*Anticipate traffic conditions, and accelerate and decelerate smoothly—it’s safer, uses less gas, reduces wear on brakes, and often gets you to your destination just as quickly.
Avoid excess idling: for example, consider parking your car and going inside instead of using “drive-up” lanes.
*Today’s engines don’t need to be warmed up in the winter. Prolonged idling creates excess emissions and wastes fuel.
*Observe the posted speed limits—it’s safer and saves gas. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates a 10-15% improvement in miles per gallon by driving 55 instead of 65 mph.
Properly maintain your vehicle and replace your air filter as recommended.
Keep your tires properly inflated to the recommended pressure—this alone can reduce the average amount of fuel you use by 3-4%.
Maintain a steady speed. Using cruise control on the highway is ideal—except in hilly terrain.
*Use your heater and air conditioning selectively to reduce the load on your engine.
Avoid “topping-off” the gas tank. Overfilling your gas tank can result in spilled gasoline that adds to air pollution when it evaporates.
Remove excess weight. Unnecessary weight makes the engine work harder and consumes more fuel.
*Plan and consolidate your trips. This will enable you to bypass congested routes, lead to less idling, fewer start-ups and less stop and go traffic. Whenever feasible, share a ride and/or carpool.

The Wisconsin Partners for Clean Air (a group that includes businesses, community organizations, schools and government) also encourages eco-driving on their website. They cite all four of the reasons why eco-driving should become a familiar practice for all drivers:

“By driving in a more careful and environmentally responsible way, you can be a safer driver while you cut exhaust emissions, save fuel, and at the same time –save yourself some money at the gas pump. Proper vehicle maintenance is another way you can help the environment.”

They also provide a long list of eco-driving practices which you can take a look at for yourselves on their website. Among them, some noteworthy examples not already covered above include:

• When you first start a car after it has been sitting for more than an hour, it pollutes up to five times more than when the engine is warm.
• Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer multi-purpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.
• By combining trips you will avoid retracing your route and reduce the distance you travel. You’ll not only save fuel but also wear and tear on your car, reducing potential maintenance costs.
• It takes 20% less gas to accelerate from 5 mph than from a full stop.
• Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas mileage by 33% at highway speeds and by 5% around town.
• In city driving, nearly 50% of the energy needed to power your car goes to acceleration. Unnecessary braking wastes that energy.
• Avoid extreme acceleration, except in emergency situations.
• If you anticipate traffic conditions ahead of you and don’t tailgate, you can avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration and improve your fuel economy by 5-10%.
• It takes more energy to cool a hot car than it does to cool a medium-sized home in Atlanta, Georgia during the summer!
• The air conditioner consumes nearly a gallon of gas per tankful to keep you cool.
• When you’re driving in summer, close the windows and turn on the fresh air vents. At speeds over 40 mph, the drag caused by open windows eats up more gas than a working air conditioner.
• You will save more gas by turning the engine off and restarting it again if you expect to idle for more than 30 seconds.
• By avoiding long idles you will prevent pollution.
• Excessive idling can actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems.
• Refueling during cooler periods of the day or in the evening generates fewer polluting vapors.
• Up to 30 gallons of gas a year can be lost by not tightening the gas cap properly.
• Replace your gas cap if it is damaged to maintain a complete seal on the gas tank.
• If you have a choice between putting cargo on the top of your vehicles or inside, choose inside, carrying items on the roof increases aerodynamic drag.
• You get four percent less gas mileage for every 100 pounds of excess weight carried in your car.