Monday, January 18, 2010

Things I've Learned about Fuel Efficiency from My New Car

2010 Honda Insight

So this is going to be a slight departure from our usual house-garden-food trifecta, but I figured it'd be useful to document. At least for me, if not for anyone else.

As I mentioned previously, I recently bought a Honda Insight (hybrid), and it comes with all this exciting and glowy instrumentation to tell me when I'm driving efficiently and when I'm not. For example, the speedometer changes from green (good) to a sort of Gillette-shaving-gel-aqua (okay) to cobalt blue (bad).

In addition, there's a little bar chart that shrinks and grows to tell me my current mileage while also displaying my overall mileage for the current tank of gas.

If I drive well, I get some little plants at the end. A history of good driving gets me more plants, with increasing numbers of leaves, then with flowers, and then I finally get a trophy and a new dinette set. (No, not that last one.) Everyone I describe this to grimaces at what they presumably consider the unbearable twee-ness of it all, but you have no idea how quickly you start wanting to propitiate the computer.

The speedometer is cobalt, and the driver only got 2.5 plants. Apparently, she/he sucks. And is driving in British for some reason--what's with the kilometers? My car displays in good old, red-blooded, apple-pie consuming miles. Yeah.

And here is what I've learned.

(1) Acceleration sucks. (Gasoline, that is. Har, har.) I knew that stops and starts were bad for mileage, but I didn't realize how bad, nor did I realize that seemingly modest and leisurely increases in speed while cruising could have such a bad effect on one's mileage. For good mileage, accelerate slowly. I mean really, really slowly. Pull into the slow lane and let all those speedsters in the fast lane blast off without you while you put-put along like Goofy in his Model T.

Oui, oui! Regarde bien la tactique!

(2) Use your declivities. You can accelerate going downhill with far less pain to your mileage than at any other time, so make use of your downhills to get your speed back up if you've had to slow down for any reason (like trying to climb up the other side of that hill).

(3) Plan for your inclines. If you know you've got one coming, get the car up a few mph over your desired speed so that when you start climbing you can ease off the accelerator just a hair. Also, be willing to drop below your desired speed by 3-5 mph--if you pre-plan and accept a little speed reduction, you can often stay in the green on almost the entire incline of a modest little Elgin-sized hill.

(4) Embrace the long, slow, glide. Mileage a little lower than you'd like? Consarned stop light approaching? Take your foot off the gas well in advance of the light--as your car coasts, you get wickedly good mileage than can pad your overall score. Just don't blow it all accelerating on the other side of the light.

(5) Look ahead. Both the inclines and the glides require a lot of lead time if you want to use them to best effect--look far ahead on the road so you can adjust your driving early.

(6) Accept variability. If you attempt to go a steady 65 mph, for example, hastily accelerating after slow downs and pushing it on hills to stay up to speed, you'll blow your mileage. Accept slow downs, recover from them slowly, and don't fight hills. Cruise control is not your friend.

(7) Spend some quality time in the slow lane--your fellow slow lane drivers are a lot more patient with your fluctuating speeds, slowness on green lights, and creeping up hills than those crazy kids in the fast lane. On a straight, flat stretch of road that isn't too crowded, you can very comfortably hang out in the fast lane. During slow-n-go traffic or over hills, though, you're apt to have speedracers nipping at your bumper if you don't pull into the slow lane.

Objectively, these sound--even to me--like intolerable driving practices. I'm impatient. I've got a lot of ground to cover between home and work. I don't need any Sunday-driving lollygaggers clogging up the already glacially slow Hwy 290. But weirdly enough, my desire to stay in the green, to get my little trophy animation, and to edge my cumulative mileage ever closer to 50mpg, all seem to trump my innate impatience. Other people may think Honda's game-like interface is twee--I actually think it's brilliant.

Note: I realize this list is far from the last word in efficient driving strategies. Some dude on the internet, for example, is boasting about getting over 60mpg without even trying. Well. Bully for him.

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