Being 'Fuel Efficient'
Being 'Fuel Efficient'
Terry Tamminen (Author & Environmental Policy Advisor) gives expert video advice on: Why is fuel efficiency important to the environment?; How does the weight of my car affect fuel efficiency? and more...
What is "fuel efficiency"?
Fuel efficiency is the measure of how many miles per gallon you get. Of course if you have some other kind of a fuel, like natural gas or electricity, fuel efficiency would be measured in something else. But fuel efficiency is a way of saying how much energy do you put in, versus what kind of distance do you get out of that particular fuel.
What are "auto mileage standards"?
Auto mileage standards are set by the US government and they say that there is a sticker on every car sold which tells you what the fuel economy is of your car, if you drive it in city conditions, if you drive it on freeway conditions. It will give you a prediction of how many miles per gallon of gasoline you'll get. There is a law called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy law that was passed after the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, and that was an attempt to try to get each car company to make their entire car production for a year more efficient. So rather than say any one car had to have a certain miles per gallon the government said to Ford, General Motors, Toyota, if they wanted to sell in the United States, all of their cars when averaged out, must average a certain amount: corporate fuel economy. When we started that program in 1975 the average of cars sold in the United States was a little over 18 miles per gallon. By the mid-1980s we had it up to about 25 or 26 miles per gallon, so the program was clearly working and it allowed the market place to work because it said to car companies, "you can sell fairly fuel inefficient trucks or SUVs as along as you also sell quite a few of the more fuel efficient smaller vehicles," and on average you get a certain outcome. Well, in the mid-1980s the administration of President Regan abandoned our progress in CAFE standards and Congress hasn't seen fit to address it since. So the result is today the average fuel economy we get on our cars is worse than it was in 1987, and we're going backwards every single year.
What is the difference between "city miles" and "highway miles"?
Well city mileage is usually worse than highway because when you're on the highway, you're thought to be traveling at a fairly consistent speed. The inefficiencies of the internal combustion engine are a little bit less noticeable because when you're in start and stop traffic in the city, you're accelerating. You're taking that heavy machine from a dead stop and having to move it. Imagine if you were doing this just with your own body power and trying to move a car from a dead stop as opposed to just pushing it a little bit more once it was already rolling. Well, gasoline has the same effect, it's not very efficient when it's trying to move that car from a dead stop or from a slow pace, than if it's already rolling down a highway.
Why is fuel efficiency important to the environment?
Fuel efficiency is very important to the environment because we burn these fossil fuels, like petroleum, like gasoline, that create greenhouse gases and pollutants that harm our public health. If we can burn less of it, by having more fuel efficient cars, then obviously those impacts will also go down.
How does the weight of my car affect fuel efficiency?
The weight of your car will dramatically affect your fuel efficiency. Imagine if you had to push the car, if it didn't have an engine; you'd obviously rather push a lightweight car than a very heavy car, and it's the same thing when you're propelling it with gasoline and an engine. You obviously have to do more work, create more air pollution and burn more fuel if you're going to push a heavy car than a light one. In fact, studies have shown that we could increase our fuel economy in our cars - in other words we can get better mileage in our cars - by taking the stuff out of our trunk. Most people don't realize that they're carrying an average of about 50 pounds of extra stuff in their trunk - golf clubs, perhaps. If you took that out, you'd actually get two or three percent better gas mileage.
How does a well-maintained car cut down on carbon emissions and save me money?
A well-maintained car will cut down dramatically on air pollution, carbon emissions and greenhouse gases because the amount of fuel that you are burning is burned more efficiently and more cleanly. As a car becomes out of tune, when the spark plugs get dirty, or when there's carbon buildup inside the cylinders in the engine itself, it has to labor more and it burns the gasoline more inefficiently and produces more smog and carbon emissions. So keeping your car tuned up will improve your gas mileage which saves you money but also reduces pollutants and carbon emissions to the environment.
How does the way I drive impact fuel efficiency?
You can improve your vehicle mileage, your fuel efficiency, by 10 or 15 percent just by the way you drive. First of all, you can do this by avoiding jackrabbit starts; when you're at the stop light and it turns green, instead of just slamming on the gas and jumping away like a jackrabbit you slowly accelerate into full highway speed. You can also improve your fuel efficiency if you drive the speed limit when you're on the freeway. A lot of people, when it says 55 or 60, they want to go 10 or 15 miles above the speed limit in a hurry; that 10 or 15 miles an hour will cost you 10 or 15 percent of your gas mileage. So, just by following the speed limit you can get 10 or 15 percent more miles out of the gasoline that you consume.