In the midst of the $3+ gas pricing, we're proving just how inelastic the demand for gas is. For those not so economics minded, that means that as the gas prices climb, the demand, or how much gas we buy, is not changing. If the demand for gas were more elastic, the public would react to the price hike by purchasing less gasoline. So far there hasn't been much change in the quantity of oil purchased, therefore indicating two things:
1. Gas prices won't go down much because they don't have to.
2. People would generally rather pay increased fuel costs than create an alternative solution to this problem, at least at current prices.
Have you changed your driving habits recently? How does your current fuel usage compare to that of a year ago or five years ago when gas cost less than half what it does today? And if your driving habits haven't changed much, how high would prices need to climb before you took action?
I was talking to a friend last weekend who lives in a Cincinnati suburb and works just north of Dayton. Every day he drives about an hour to and from work, and spends many of his weekends in Athens, which is 130 miles or so to the east. I asked him how the gas prices were affecting his commute and weekend travel. He told me he still planned doing the same commute every day and making the trip to Athens most weekends. I followed up by asking how high gas prices had to go before he'd seriously consider moving to Dayton or driving to Athens less frequently. He thought $4 per gallon would be about as much as he could take.
Four bucks a gallon? Sheesh. In high school, which was really not that long ago for me, I could fill up my tank to the brim, starting from nil, for $20- and I'd get change back. Today, I spent more than double that amount for the same gas in the same tank.
I've been driving the same car -a '96 Corolla- since I got my license. Even though I'd love a new car, it's pretty much out of the question. I can't do it financially because I'm still working on that whole long-term employment thing. If I could, I'd get something with superb mileage. I'd seriously be considering a hybrid too. For now, I'm making do with what I have. Despite the fact that it'll hit 170,000 miles this week, my car is holding up very well mechanically. Throughout its life, it has maintained a solid upper twenties mpg. But I'm now making efforts to take that even further. In fact, my current goal is to hit 35mpg.
It's called "hypermiling", and it's becoming almost a competitive sport. Contenders use car modifications and driving techniques to squeeze every mile out of each gallon of gas. One driver who is a hypermiling extremist gutted the inside of his Honda Insight (already a high mpg vehicle) and added a few other modifications to hit 99 mpg. I'm not ready to commit to permanently altering my car, nor do I have the cash to replace engine parts. But I can use a few of the techniques to save some gas money and the environment.
To understand hypermiling, look no further than this article that illustrates a Wisconsin driver who can get 59 mpg with a 2005 Honda Accord -and it's not a hybrid. His techniques take the notion of avoiding braking a sudden acceleration to the max. The journalist who wrote the piece talks about how the driver would take curves at 50 mph, just so he wouldn't have to slow down (and then use gas to speed up again).
Here's what I'm going to do to improve my mileage. Many of the following techniques can be done by anyone, so see what you can do. I'm fortunate enough to drive a manual transmission (god bless it), but I'd imagine that you can make some of these work in any car.
- Put the car in neutral when going downhill or when needing to decelerate. - This happens more often than you'd think. While driving, pop the car in neutral and be amazed at just how far the car can coast without becoming a traffic hazard.
- Watch the speed. -Cars optimize their highway fuel economy around 55mph. When you speed up to 70, you're not only increasing your chances of getting a ticket, but you're wasting a significant amount of gas to stay at that speed. Furthermore, traveling at 70 instead of 55 only gets you there a few percent faster... no more than about 75 seconds on a 30 minute drive.
- Drive in the highest gear that works. - Instead of pushing the engine into 3-4,000 rpm in third gear, use fourth or fifth gear. This is especially helpful if there isn't a reason why I'd need to accelerate quickly.
- "Ridge-ride" -This is taken straight from the Mother Jones article. Especially when it's raining, keep your right tires on the white line on the side of the road. This will keep all four wheels out of the subtle grooves in the road that are created by years of use. These grooves collect water that your engine must move in order to keep the car going.
- Use the A/C sparingly. It's well known that the air conditioner lowers fuel economy. If you don't believe it, try it. With your car sitting idle, turn on the a/c and watch the tachometer. You'll see a slight increase when the air is on. A la Mythbusters, I'm going to lower the windows when I'm going slower than about 40 to keep the car cool, and turn on the air above that speed.
- Keep the tires fully inflated.-This tip has been around for as long as there has been an interest in mpg. Keeping the tires inflated keeps the least amount of rubber on the road and therefore produces less friction for the car to fight.
- Get the lead out. - Keep heavy items out of the car. Every pound in the car is one more pound the engine must move. I need to get my golf clubs out of the trunk, now that I think about it.