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Steady as she goes

A couple weeks ago, Aussies John and Helen Taylor smashed the World Record for “lowest fuel consumption on a U.S. nationwide drive,” completing their 48-state, 9,419-mile tour in 22 days. Their overall fuel efficiency came in at 58.82 miles per gallon, well above the earlier record of 51.58 mpg. Their vehicle: a 2009 VW Jetta TDI Diesel.

Meanwhile, the Willie Run attempted to send a 2006 Jetta Diesel from New York to Los Angeles on biodiesel without stopping to refuel. Though the Willie Run team made a great effort, they made an unscheduled pit stop in Flagstaff Arizona because their supplemental fuel jugs weren’t quite a full as they thought. Nonetheless, the cross-country continuous journey was completed in about one and a half days at an approximate 40 mpg. (Tip #1 for improving mileage: slow down!)

These efforts inspired me to think again about ways to improve driving efficiency. I’ve become practiced at nudging my Prius into stealth mode, but most of the time I drive a stick shift Scion xA which presents a whole different set of questions. While teaching my son to drive, I’ve seen him develop habits which are understandable but not good (example: in an effort to prevent stalling, the bane of all new stick shift drivers, he over-compensates by gunning the engine in first gear).

I’m not wild about serious hypermiling, but I wanted some practical tips which I could both practice and teach. Having tried several, I have to say the one tip I hadn’t heard but is making a big difference in my driving, is this little quote buried within Taylor’s list of tips:

“Fuel efficiency is all about smoothness.”

This reminder reinforces several other tips aimed at keeping both the car and the engine turning at nice, even, not-too-fast speeds.

Easy to say, harder to do. After several days of practice, I’m going to admit that one of the things I like about driving a stick shift is its responsiveness, the sense of power and control you get over the car. Yeesh. I can hardly believe I care about wielding control over a machine! Of course I can control it, right? Still, and maybe it’s because I grew up in Los Angeles, I really like the feel of pumping the gas pedal, rapid shifts, quick lane changes…sigh. I have not yet overcome my addiction.

But I am working on it. I am practicing making driving more like floating, with smooth, almost imperceptible changes in speed and motion. I am sure it will become addictive in its own right; I hope it’s soon!

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