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Save Fuel at 55?

After graduating from college I was hired by the Providence Journal-Bulletin to be a reporter in one of their state offices. Rhode Island is such a small state that the newspaper was able to provide coverage for the entire state and not just the city. So every year the newspaper would hire several recent journalism graduates and place them in offices scattered around the Ocean State to cover the news.


One of my fellow reporters had just gotten her driver’s license and a new car before arriving in RI from Chicago. New England drivers were -- and still are -- notorious for their bad driving habits. So we kidded around about making hand-held signs we could thrust out our car window when someone cut us off or did something equally dangerous. The wording on my proposed sign actually can’t be printed in a family Ezine (!), but my friend’s would have been, “Sure!!!”” as in “Sure! Go ahead and run me off the road!”


It may be time to resurrect the concept of the hand-held signs as you will see as you read on.

I recently read a newspaper article about how lawmakers might be considering reestablishing the national speed limit at 55, just as they did during the gas crisis in the 1970s, in an attempt to save fuel.


Keeping everyone traveling at the double nickel speed limit would save gas, but how much depends on what you are reading. The chart accompanying the article I read included a graph which showed that it costs 14 cents a mile to drive a car at 55 mpg (if gas costs $4.08/gallon). At 75 mpg, it costs that same car $1.04 per mile, a difference that seems staggering, but I couldn’t find any verification of those numbers.


Instead I did learn the following from a helpful site at www.fueleconomy.gov:


While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.30 per gallon for gas. Observing the speed limit is also safer.


Driving at 55, which in my state is ten miles below the posted speed limit on most highways, may save you gas but it could also get you run off the road. Just because Pennsylvania posts a 65 mpg speed limit, most highway drivers zoom along at 70 or 72 or higher. High speeds are more the norm than not and driving 20 miles or more slower than these Speed Racers could be dangerous.


I don’t know if the lawmakers will be able to convince their constituents that even though it may be painful to slow down, it may be one of the best ways to lessen pressure on our lifestyles and our wallets and reduce our country’s dependency on oil.


But if you decide to reduce your top speed to 55, I suggest making up a large hand-held sign which reads something like this: “Hey, I’m not Slow. I’m Thrifty!” and see if that wards off all those dirty looks you will be getting. It may also be necessary to put on your blinking lights, letting other drivers think you just might be transporting four foot high wedding cakes in your car, like Duff Goldman on TV’s Ace of Cakes.


Experts have the following suggestions on how to change driving and car maintenance habits to cut your payments at the pump even without lowering speed limits (courtesy of www.fueleconomy.gov):


  • Drive more gently: Speeding and rapid acceleration and braking can reduce gas mileage by one-third on highways and 5 percent on city streets.


  • Remove excess weight: Getting rid of 100 pounds can improve mileage by 2 percent. (Another reason to lose weight!).


  • Stay tuned: A vehicle that is out of tune or fails an emission test can reduce mileage by 4 percent.


  • Check air filter: Replacing a clogged filter can boost mileage by 10 percent.


  • Check tire pressure: Keeping tires properly inflated can save at least 3 percent on mileage.


  • Use the right motor oil: Not using the recommended grade can cost you 1 to 2 percent on fuel economy.


  • Don't overload roof rack: On car trips, stacking items on top of your car can lower mileage by 5 percent.


  • Buy a fuel-efficient car: Replacing a car that gets 20 mpg with one that gets 30 mpg will save an average driver $1,020 per year.


  • Avoid excess idling.


  • Use cruise control.

By Teresa K. Flatley





More Math for Your Gas Tank

By Robert K. Morris

(Editor’s Note: In the above article, you read about how much gas we may save -- potentially -- by setting the speed limit at 55 mph across the nation. Some of the math presented by the original article in a local newspaper did not make a lot of sense (even to someone as math-challenged as me). One reader took the time --  thank you! -- to figure it all out for us.)

How much can we save by driving at 55?  In Boom This! you mentioned you read where it costs 14 cents a mile to drive a car at 55 mph, and at 75 mph it costs $1.04 per mile (if gas costs $4.08), though you couldn't find any verification of that. 

The cost of gas per mile is the price of gas per gallon, divided by the miles per gallon you're getting. So if gas costs $4.08 and you get 20 miles per gallon it costs you 20.4 cents per mile. Or, if as in this example you know the cost per mile and the cost per gallon of gas, you can figure the miles per gallon you're getting by dividing the cost of gas by your cost per mile. So, at 55 miles per hour, this car, with gas at $4.08 per gallon, we're told was costing 14 cents per mile to travel, so he's getting 29 miles per gallon. If it's true that at 75 miles per hour it was costing $1.04 per mile, his gas mileage must have decreased to less than 4 miles per gallon. Even the hugest gas guzzling SUVs probably wouldn't do that. 

Here's a link to Consumer Reports about the mileage for a Toyota Camry at various speeds. This says, for a Camry, at 55 you get 40 miles per gallon. At 75 you get 30 miles per gallon. That means, if you drive a Camry and gas costs $4.08 per gallon, at 55 it's costing you 10.2 cents a mile. At 75 it's costing you 13.6 cents a mile.  More, but not crazy more.

If you drive 250 miles from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia at 55 instead of 75, that would you save $8.50, which is what you would spend for a couple of beers at Damon's after you get home to calm your nerves from the zillions of huge trucks that came this close to running over you during your four and half gut-wrenching hours on the road.

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