Since I got my driver’s license at age 17 (I failed the first time and then lazily neglected to reschedule my road test until the following year), I’ve gotten into four fender-benders (one, when a moving van backed up into my right-side mirror, was really not my fault), and been gifted with three speeding tickets (Connecticut state troopers, you’re the best!). That’s seven years and six documentable mistakes, plus countless others that no one’s been around to suffer from or write up. I’m not a reckless driver, per se, but I don’t think anyone would hire me to teach driver’s ed.
Anyway, none of that mattered for much of the summer, when I biked, walked, or rode as a passenger to most places I had to go. I’m a good pedestrian, and I’m excellent sitting shotgun. But then my life got super-busy — such is life for a local thespian — and I needed to start driving more, to and from work, to and from rehearsal. A necessary evil.
If I had to drive, I wanted to make sure I was doing so in the most environmentally friendly way possible. My vehicle (a 2005 Volkswagen Jetta, silver — I wanted green, but the dealership was out) gets 22 miles per gallon in the city, according to the owner’s manual. I wanted more.
Unfortunately, purchasing a Prius is out of the question — although a girl can dream, and it’s nice to see that more and more car manufacturers are introducing hybrid models. I know that carpooling is a great solution, but it’s difficult to coordinate when potential carpoolers are equally busy with their hip-hop/teaching/concert-attending schedules. And although LL Bean and Oakhurst Dairy are among several companies who use biodiesel fuel in their vehicle fleets, it’s not yet a commonplace — or logistically viable — option for individuals.
So I investigated fuel-smart driving, a technique that allows me to get the most fuel economy out of every trip. Some of the tips are obvious: don’t idle unnecessarily, and try to combine trips whenever possible (i.e., go to the supermarket on your way to rehearsal; don’t make two separate trips), and get regular tune-ups to make sure your car is in tip-top shape.
Others are less evident:
Cars rapidly lose fuel efficiency when they go at speeds over 60 mph. On the highway, it’s best to use cruise control to maintain a speed between 50 and 60 mph.
Sharp braking and acceleration use more gas than gradual stops and starts. One Web site advises that drivers take their foot off the gas pedal and slow down naturally as soon as they see a yellow light ahead. And when the light turns green, don’t just slam on the accelerator — take your foot off the brake, let the car roll forward slightly, and gently give her the gas. If someone honks, give them the finger. Just kidding. Kind of.
Don’t use the air conditioner when you’re just tooling around town — open those windows. But, when you’re driving at faster speeds, open windows can drag the car down, forcing the car to work harder (and use more gas) to go forward. So, on the highway, close the windows and turn the AC on low, if you must.