Oil Dependency Spells Disaster Peak oil is the term given ...
How To Get the Best Car & Fuel Economy
While some of the advice may yield what appears to be nominal increases in fuel economy, keep in mind that an improvement of only a few miles-per-gallon can add up to major savings over time. We refrain from outlining specific monetary savings here given the continued oscillation of gas prices, but we do recommend referencing your vehicle alternatives on www.fueleconomy.gov, where more exacting fuel prices and annual mileage can be factored to provide personalized results. Also, note that mileage figures in this article refer to model year 2004 specifications.
#1 CONSIDER A HYBRID
For car buyers who place the highest priority on fuel economy, hybrid electric vehicles offer the most obvious choice. Discussed extensively in previous issues of this magazine, the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Honda Civic Hybrid all combine small, clean-burning gasoline engines with electric motors that boost acceleration and capture energy during braking and coasting.
The hybrid’s success bodes well for the future of this technology. The recently released Ford Escape Hybrid, as well as the upcoming Lexus RX 400h, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Honda Accord Hybrid, clearly show that the hybrid option will not be limited to smaller vehicles. Whether offered as a premium upgrade, as is the case with Lexus, or as an option on mainstream family sedans like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, hybrids will be adding fuel economy improvements across the automotive spectrum for some time.
#2 DON’T BE SWAYED BY TRENDS
What if you’re not a hard-core fuel economy buff, but rather one who simply wants to make a better choice within an array of more conventional vehicles? To these buyers, we offer this advice: go with what meets your needs and ignore popular trends. The sport utility vehicle boom of the past decade has seen significant growth in the popularity of heavier, less aerodynamic vehicles that require larger engines to move them about town, handling tasks that could in most cases be met by a more fuel efficient class of vehicle like a wagon.
If an SUV lays steadfast in your automotive sights, consider strongly car-based variants over those that are truck-based. Alternately known as crossover vehicles, these SUVs are composed of light and stiff unit-body construction rather than the traditional body-on-frame construction of truck-based SUVs, which are typically hardier but also much heavier. Crossovers also tend to forgo the low-range transfer cases and off-road hardware of more traditional SUVs, appropriate given their intended uses and the fact that very few SUV owners actually go off-road.
One example is the Nissan Murano, which sources its structure from the Nissan Altima sedan and is rated at 20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. The Nissan Pathfinder uses the Murano’s same 3.5-liter V-6 but achieves a 15/19 mpg rating, largely due to the Pathfinder’s pickup truck origins. Car-based SUVs have taken an increasingly larger portion of the SUV market share of late, offering users improved efficiency over their truck brethren and most of the capability. Makes sense to us.
If you’re set on a certain vehicle genre but flexible on a specific choice within available models, consider those with humbler origins. For example, the entry-level Acura TSX luxury car is actually the Honda Accord that’s sold in every auto market except ours. The Lexus ES 330 is essentially a restyled and lavishly appointed Toyota Camry. Both cars, derived from family sedans built with efficiency in mind, may offer better fuel economy than full-blown luxury sedans meant to coddle from the get-go. Beauty in these cases may be only skin deep, but efficiency lies much deeper. Looking for a sporty car? The Toyota Celica and Acura RSX both mate small 4-cylinder engines with lightweight chassis, providing driving thrills while returning near economy-car fuel mileage figures.
Okay, we need to account for those buyers who have made up their minds on a specific model within a vehicle class, leaving only the options sheet open for discussion. Allow us to exercise some influence here, as follows.
#5 FOREGO THE ENGINE UPGRADES
Before checking that engine upgrade box, consider the fuel economy ramifications. Generally, the smaller base engine is also the more efficient one. While the big V-8 or turbocharged model may get all the glory in the ads in those other car magazines, the reality is that saying “pass” to a larger and more powerful engine just makes sense unless the base engine just doesn’t provide the kind of performance you need. Shaving a half-second off a car’s 0-60 mph time may be tempting, but it becomes less so when weighed against the extra fuel costs down the road, not to mention the extra cash required up front to pay for that larger engine.
One option that faces many a car buyer, though to a lesser degree than automotive enthusiasts may like, is the prospect of a manual transmission. In many cases, manual transmissions offer improved fuel economy compared to their automatic transmission counterparts, eliminating the need for a power-sapping torque converter. Take the Dodge Stratus, with its 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that offers 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway fuel economy when equipped with a manual, but 21/28 mpg when equipped with an automatic.
Continuously variable transmissions (CVT) and manual transmissions with electrically-controlled clutches complicate this pattern, and in some cases, a level of efficiency with automatics has been achieved where a specific transmission-engine pairing may improve fuel economy over a manual transmission. Whatever the case, we recommend checking out all transmission options for a vehicle you’re considering before making a purchase since, chances are, it will make a difference.
#7 TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE
Look for fuel-saving technology within a model line as well. Honda’s VTEC-E system, available on its Civic, is one such example. A version of Honda’s Variable valve Timing and Electronic lift Control, VTEC-E creates a swirling effect in the combustion chamber that allows for an extremely lean air-fuel mixture at low revs to increase fuel economy.
Be on the lookout for up-and coming technologies that improve efficiency. General Motors and Ford are jointly developing a new 6-speed automatic trans that will begin appearing in front- and all-wheel drive models in 2006, bringing with it fuel economy improvements of up to four percent. Automakers such as Honda, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler are also beginning to employ cylinder deactivation technology in their models, which reduces fuel consumption by shutting off a number of cylinders under certain driving conditions. The system effectively turns a V-8, for example, into an inline four when power demands are low, thus burning less fuel.
#8 IN A WORD: DIESELS
Another alternative available in only a select few cars is the diesel engine. In the U.S., diesel engines are offered in the Volkswagen Jetta, Golf, New Beetle, Passat, and Touareg. DaimlerChrysler offers a diesel in the Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI and Jeep Liberty CRD. Diesels are also offered as an option in a bevy of heavy-duty full-size pickup trucks. If one of these vehicles fits your needs, then the diesel option is an attractive alternative.
Another word about diesels. While diesel engines do not emit as much carbon dioxide – the gas chiefly blamed for causing the greenhouse effect – as gasoline engines, diesels can be faulted for having higher oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter emissions. Therefore, states with especially stringent air quality standards such as California and New York have banned new light-duty diesel vehicles from certification, even with their outstanding efficiency. However, as mandated ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel is introduced here in 2006, more sensitive emissions control devices can be employed that cannot be used today due to high sulfur levels, which hopefully will lead to even cleaner diesel engines used in a wider array of vehicle models.
#9 AFTER THE PURCHASE
Gasoline and diesel engines alike require a precisely controlled set of combustion properties to run at top efficiency. An engine’s state-of-tune deteriorates over time, so regular maintenance and engine tune-ups are crucial to sustaining your vehicle’s fuel mileage integrity. According to the EPA, repairing a vehicle that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test yields an average four percent improvement in gas mileage. Small fixes that are often caught by routine maintenance, such as a clogged air filter, can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent.
Using a manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil can also unlock potential fuel savings. For example, a more viscous oil such as 10W-30 in an engine designed to take 5W-30 can hurt fuel mileage by one to two percent. Motor oil that carries an “Energy Conserving” label on the API logo contains friction-reducing additives that may help increase fuel economy as well.
Perhaps the easiest fuel-saving procedure is checking tire pressure at least once a month. Fuel mileage is reduced nearly one percent for every two psi drop in pressure below the factory-recommended rating. Under-inflated tires not only reduce rolling resistance and hurt fuel economy, but also wear faster.
#10 YOUR DAILY DRIVE
The same willpower that helped you resist those engine upgrades might need to be summoned for keeping driving habits in line as well. High-performance driving characterized by quick acceleration, braking, and cornering – always a fun thing but rarely a contributor to top fuel economy – may need to be kept in reserve for occasional weekend jaunts. The EPA estimates that aggressive driving can reduce fuel economy from five percent around town to 33 percent at highway speeds.
Highway driving at near-constant speed allows vehicles to operate at their most efficient levels. To lower engine rpm as much as possible at highway speeds, be sure to engage overdrive if your vehicle is so equipped. Maintaining a constant speed, with or without the aid of cruise control, is much more efficient than varying speeds that require continuous and fuel-sapping acceleration. Keep in mind that higher speeds do not translate into higher efficiency. Fuel mileage drops off significantly at higher speeds and, according to the EPA, every 5 mph increment over 60 mph equates to paying 10 cents more per gallon for gas.
So there you have it – eight tips to help you choose a more efficient vehicle and another two to ensure you continue reaping long-term rewards. Now, if only we could figure out how to keep those pump prices from spiking every week or so…
5 Facts About
What Near Zero Emissions Vehicles Are Near Zero Emissions ...
What is Air Pollution? Air pollution is broken down into p...
How LNG is Made and Why It's Appealing LNG is an odorless,...
GM's Answer to the ZEV Mandate The California Air Resourc...