Drive Smart to Save Gas

Driving safely and smartly is important now more than ever -- these tips will help you save gas on the road.
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Safe Driving

I grew up in Watkins Glen, New York, back in the day when it hosted the U.S. Formula One Grand Prix every year on the first weekend of October. There I watched drivers like Graham Hill and "Wee" Jackie Stewart as they throttled race cars up and down straightaways at speeds approaching 180 mph and banked them around turns and through chicanes that sometimes -- depending on the weather and road conditions or a momentary lapse in a driver's judgment -- would whip the cars off the road or jettison them through midair to the fright of driver and spectator alike. So you might forgive me if I let on that I have a thing for driving fast, right?

What I really learned from those drivers was not how to drive fast but how to use terrain -- road pitch and curve -- and gravity (one thing you can all always count on) to maintain traction by using a car's momentum to drive safely and efficiently. They taught me that cars are precision driving instruments that obey Newton's laws of physics without fail: force equals mass times acceleration. By knowing your car's weight and center of gravity you can make intelligent driving decisions by using the car's momentum to safely carry you through a curve or over snow just as you can use a downhill slope to save gas -- if you maintain traction. Thinking about how I drove became important.

With time I also learned that cars get greater gas mileage on the open road than in city driving because there is less stop-and-go driving -- there are fewer traffic lights and stop signs, and on and off ramps have been designed to merge traffic flows and to keep traffic circulating with few interruptions. With less stop-and-go driving it is easier to maintain a car's momentum, which boosts gas mileage since you don't have to pay to get your car moving from a standing position as often. Getting your car moving from a standstill eats up the most gas.

In addition to regular maintenance (keeping your engine tuned and tire pressure set right) and cleaning out the trunk to avoid toting around dead weight, there are plenty other of smart-driving techniques you can learn to boost gas mileage.

First, use common sense. Do not drive to a service station simply to tank up -- doing so will cost you the gas you use to get to the station and back home afterward; instead, tank up as you pass a service station en route to somewhere else. Also, avoid crowded drive-throughs; if you see that the drive-through has a long line of cars, park instead and walk inside -- this will save you the cost of idling your engine for a long time. And learn your roads and local conditions: Knowing local routes' rush hours and where construction projects are under way will let you change your driving schedule to avoid them or plan alternate routes.

Second, practice smart in-town driving techniques; here, a baker's dozen.

Continued on page 2:  Smart Techniques


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