Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obsession with MPG

I've become obsessed with MPG. My 2005 Honda Accord 4 cylinder automatic gets ~25MPG. It's not enough. The cost of gas is outrageous. At $4/gallon coupled with a 45 mile commute to work in each direction, I'm spending $14.40 each day -- 2005 Honda Accord @ 25 mpg. Moving closer to work isn't an option. For one, since real estate prices have tanked and I bought my house at market peak, we'd likely lose money or gain little. Second, I like the proximity to the city since we go there often on a weekly basis.
So as a consequence, I've become obsessed with new cars -- buying a new car, fantasizing about a new car, I need a new car, right, because of the cost of gas? It's an excuse, really. I take my (2) kids with me to work everyday since daycare is on-site so a Smart fortwo is out of the question. A more realistic option would be a Toyota Prius or a Honda Civic Hybrid. A co-worker/friend has a new Prius. I rode in it -- seemed fairly nice albeit with acres of hard grey plastic interior. I liked the trip computer which constantly recalculated the MPG which would certainly sate my obsession. However, the government income tax credits have run out for Toyota since they've far exceeded the allotted 60k vehicles sold. The Honda Civic is better -- I'd see an $1100 credit if I purchased the vehicle before June 1st (afterward it drops to $600, I think). Either car would give me 45MPG on the highway (Prius posts better in the city but that doesn't impact me) but some research and first hand accounts from owners and mechanics confirm that the batteries need replacing typically between 80-100k miles. The batteries cost $3-5k ! Granted the prices should drop but what if they don't? A hybrid with current consumer battery technology would last a tad over 3 years before I'd need a new battery. I can't lease because my yearly mileage is too high. So that elimintates *all* of today's hybrids as a prudent option.
Next I began looking at small, traditional cars. At the top of my list were the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Scion xD, Mini Clubman, and Ford Focus. By far, the Yaris looks the handsomest -- the front grille is especially appealing. However, Consumer Reports pans this offering from the perspective of drivability. Crash test reports highlight poor rear crash results. Not good for the kids. The Honda Fit is nice -- kinda stout looking, almost a steep wedge -- doesn't really appeal to my aesthetic and a new 2009 model is forthcoming with an upgraded interior so best to wait. The Scion -- well, I don't even know why I put it down now. The Focus -- well, it'd be real nice to buy American. I know, I know -- it's not like Ford is All American anyway, I'd be naive to think otherwise -- but the Buy American propaganda of the '80s really stuck and it's hard to shake free. The Mini Clubman is my favorite but it's 1) comparatively expensive and 2) it requires premium fuel. I read all over trying to see if it was OK to put regular fuel in this thing but, well, it's compression ratio is geared for premium, period. Yes, the computer will detect knocks and compensate but faces the very real risk of engine damage over the long term. Besides, the fuel economy would be less with regular fuel. The problem is that with a price hike of ~$.35/gallon for premium fuel, I'm looking at ~$236/year extra for premium fuel assuming 25k miles/year @ 37 MPG. Not a big deal I suppose. Maybe I'll buy it.
I need to visit some dealerships with my 3 year old because she needs to be able to see out of the window while perched in her car seat. Remember, it's a long commute and I don't want to deprive her the opportunity for some free and abundant visual stimuli.

Then I read a column in a recentish Consumer Reports listing ways to eke the best fuel economy out of one's car. Top of the list was driving 55 on the highway. Seems the energy required to propel a car exponentially increases with velocity due to wind drag. As an example, they said a Toyota Camry lost 5MPG when moving from 55 to 65 mph. Geez, I go 70-75 the whole way. I made up my mind that for at least (2) tanks worth I would drive a maximum of 55 on the highway, increase speed gradually -- essentially drive like I had an open fish tank in the back seat.
Now I have to use cruise control since 55 feels SO slow and I have the tendency to subconsciously creep up to 75 no matter what. I have (4) lanes to choose from: HOV, left, middle, right. 55 in the HOV just doesn't seem fair since the drivers behind me a trapped without legal recourse. The left lane is for passing so I'm not going to be that cantankerous jerk one runs into now and then that plants themselves in the "passing" lane and crawls. The right seemed the best bet, but the speed turns out to be far too desultory for cruise control use with drivers getting off an on exits constantly. As a sidebar, it really peeves me when I set the cruise control and find I have to constantly abort because the car in front can't keep a consistent speed. The middle lane is really the best for this 55 mph experiment since I can plant myself with the cruise control and drivers have lots of options.
Being on the other side of the fence -- the non-aggressive driver -- is an interesting state on the LIE and I encourage folks to try it as a sociological experiment. For the most part, drivers creep right up to your rear bumper, hover there for a bit as a reminder, and then blinker their way around and back in front. Some give a wide berth and blinker in a generous distance ahead. There are the people that pause to assess you as they pass, typically a stone-faced, goateed youth with sunglasses, and annoyingly blinker in at a close car length ahead. I've seen drivers flash their brights and wildly swerve around and cut in front without blinkers. One chest-beater even tapped the brakes and slowed down after cutting in front until he lost interest. This aggravated me since I had to cancel cruise control. It's remarkable how riled up some people become when faced with a driver going 55 in the center lane. I was probably one of those people not so long ago.
It was also interesting to note how fast large SUV owners drive. I wonder if they know that the advertised 15mpg highway sticker on their truck is probably under 10 when driving 75-80. And why are there so many large SUVs on the road with only a single driver? I see this every day. What an incredible waste.

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