Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Astronomical Gas Mileage

My new (well it is new to me) 2000 Saturn SL is proving to be more efficient than expected. The EPA mileage is 32 MPG highway, much less than the 37 MPG my 1988 Mazda 626 was getting before it started seriously needing a ring job. In the first few trips, this Saturn was getting about 31 MPG, and until the Mazda is repaired, it was expected that gas bills would be higher, and that would be that. Part of the reason that the vehicles perform better than the EPA estimates is that the vehicle isn't driven at 70 MPH, even if the speed limit sign says so. The speedometer seldom goes above 65 MPH. Tests on the Mazda shows that this can save 10% to 15% in fuel while costing 10% in time. That is, an hour commute might take an extra six minutes. However, given congestion, it is probably much less time than that.

Computers can do more than just allow one to write a blog and edit email. They can also assist in computing. So, it is somewhat of a surprise to find that this Saturn is clearly achieving 40 MPG, on average.

My commute is long, and mostly highway. Apparently, it simply required a small number of tanks of gas to learn how to drive it efficiently. Perhaps this young stallion is learning how it is being driven as well. It is gratifying to learn that not only was the acquisition of this vehicle cheap, but running it is cheap as well. That it will save the burning of 200 gallons of fuel a year is a bonus. A 10% savings is a significant amount of fuel and money.

It also solves the problem of why this Saturn, which is younger and smaller than the Mazda, with the same kind of 5 speed manual transmission, would not achieve better fuel economy. The answer is simple. It does.

The US president has declared that we have an addiction to oil. He called on technology to save us. Presumably he meant hybrid vehicles, solar and wind power, etc. He also seems determined to drill for oil in Alaska. Frankly, we don't need it. Drilling in Alaska will take more than five years, and could possibly contribute 6% of the US energy needs. Hybrids and light diesels are just starting to come on the market, and will take years to make much difference. On the other hand, driving a little slower has an immediate effect. Sizing your next vehicle a little smaller takes effect as soon as it is purchased.

So far, this Saturn has held up quite well. If it makes it to 250,000 miles (another 100,000 miles), it will have clearly been worthwhile. If the engine holds up that long without emitting blue clouds out of the tailpipe, then it will clearly have lived up to its name: The Lord of the Rings.

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