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Become an Educated Energy Consumer    OttawaEnergyAudit     Thursday 21 January 2021
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Published Columns: June 2007
Curbing Your Consumption:
Vehicle Efficiency

By John Ford

This space has mostly been dedicated to household energy efficiency, but as gasoline costs rise and the summer travel season begins, the media is filled with tips on getting more distance for the fuel you pump into your vehicle.

The first few tips are the obvious ones: drive less, and use a smaller, well maintained, more efficient vehicle. Plan your trips, and combine errands. That also means doing what you can on foot or bicycle.

While it depends on your vehicle and the season, you use about 10 seconds of gas starting it. Therefore, anytime you come to a stop (when not in traffic – for safety reasons), you should stop your engine. As of September, Ottawa's idling law comes into effect. Those running the engine while stationary for more than 3 minutes could get a $100 fine under most conditions for a first offence. Idling is not only a waste of fuel, but is harmful to the engine, and produces harmful (and needless) emissions. Most hybrid vehicles use the concept of starting and stopping the engine, only when it is required, to create large efficiencies in a typical urban driving trip.

Choose your tires carefully. The contact patch of your tire is the only connection your vehicle has with the road. Cheap tires can not only prevent you from getting traction for braking, they can also eat up energy in the transfer of energy from your drivetrain to the road, eating up your savings in gas costs. Contrary to what you might think, more expensive tires can grip better, last longer, and be much more efficient. Check the specs before you buy.

Once your new tires are mounted, keep them inflated properly. The numbers in the manual or on the door post are usually much lower than they should be for efficiency, and are set by the manufacturer for ride quality. I tend to add 5 or more PSI above recommended. DO NOT exceed the maximum on the tire sidewall, which is NOT the recommended pressure. Each vehicle will have its own recommended pressure for front and back based on the tire size, vehicle weight, and weight distribution. Many new cars have tire pressure monitors. These are often very inaccurate. Get a good gauge, and check pressures weekly when the tires are cold. Buy your own pump to inflate tires at home.

Check out A combination of techniques and technology has allowed this ordinary gas powered car to achieve up to 2.9 litres per 100 kms, or 97 miles per gallon. Darin has also tried various experiments to test what works, and what doesn't work. For example: empty roof racks required 14% more fuel than a bare roof, and a bicycle on the rack required 37% more fuel.

Use more throttle at lower revs and shift up sooner to get the same acceleration. More revs uses more fuel. With some cars: lift the throttle briefly with an automatic to force an up-shift sooner. Buy a CVT.

John Ford is a technology consultant, owner of a small energy conservation business, a graduate of two advanced driving schools, and the Energy Advocate for the Green Party of Ontario.