Tuesday, June 19, 2007

In trying to save on gas, little things can add u

John Harris shows where the three-cylinder engine is in his Mercedes-Benz smart car, which he recently bought for around $25,000.
Published: June 19, 2007

ROCKFORD — Drivers agree the best way to save money on gas is to use less gas. But local motorists have different methods for doing that. Some drive less, some drive slower and some drive something different.

Here’s a look at creative things some Rock River Valley drivers are doing.

Size matters
John Harris’ car sips gas and can fit in half a parking spot.e feels pretty smart about his purchase.

Almost three months ago, he bought a tiny, two-seat smart car manufactured by Mercedes-Benz. There are more than 700,000 of them in Europe but only a few in the United States.

“I just thought they’re cool. I didn’t think about the gas mileage until I looked at them online,” said Harris, a Stillman Valley resident. “I’m getting 50 miles per gallon in town and 60, 65 on the highway, and it’s all gas. I don’t have to worry about electricity.”

The official company line is that the vehicle can get at least 40 miles pergallon. The smart car is almost 6 feet shorter than the Dodge Caliber, but still can go up to 90 mph.

Some consumer groups wonder if the smart car, designed for snug European city streets, is safe enough for U.S. roadways. Harris did a lot of research before buying his, though, and he’s convinced the steel bars that reinforce the car make it safe. And he’s enjoying his new purchase.

“I run back and forth to work, I just filled it up today; it took 7½ gallons and 24 bucks and I had 300 miles on it — and that’s driving it hard,” he said. “I’ve gotten 400 miles from eight gallons.”

Slow and steady
Bob Lies isn’t in a rush to get to work.

He’s the one in the old Cadillac, dutifully going 55 mph in the right lane of the Northwest Tollway every morning. Don’t honk to get him to speed up — he’s got his cruise control locked in.

The Poplar Grove resident drives to work at O’Hare International Airport and has found he gets his best gas mileage 10 mph below the speed limit. While he used to get 20 miles per gallon, he says he now gets 28.

“I just kept on changing — one day I’d put the cruise on 65, then 62, but 55 seems to be the best,” he said. “I mean, I don’t want to go any slower.”

It’s true, says AAA Chicago, that the faster you drive, the worse mileage you get. Spokeswoman Nicole Niemi said every 5 mph above 60 is the equivalent of paying another 20 cents per gallon of gas.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Mark Nytko said there’s a reason the government used to set speed limits at 55 — that’s the most efficient speed. Nytko said as long as Lies and others like him stay in the right lane, and go above the minimum speed of 45 mph, they’re not causing safety problems. It’s the tailgaters who are more dangerous, he said.

Lies used to get more tailgaters and angry honks, and he had to get used to leaving earlier for work. But he’s had smoother trips lately.

“I think more and more people get behind me and stay behind me and not be on my bumper,” he said.

Cut the trips
James Penning never gets in the car just to go buy some milk.

But if he’s going to a concert and passes a store on the way, he’ll make a stop. Maybe a few stops.

The retired Rockford man keeps a notebook with him at all times that includes his shopping list. If he knows he’s going to pass a store with a good sale, or sees one on his way, he knocks a few things off his list.

“Let’s say that I run out of cigarettes. I go down to the cigarette store across from the bowling alley on East State Street. If milk is on sale at Walgreens, I stop there. If ice cream is on sale at Logli’s, I stop there,” he said. “Instead of making one trip for cigarettes, I’ve hit four or five stores.”

His list now, for example, includes hamburger, bacon, tissues, rubbing alcohol, bread, baking soda and cat food.

It’s just him and his cat at home, but Penning thinks he could pull it off if he had a big family.

“If I had six people here, three of which were drivers, there would be three notebooks,” he said.

Some simple tips
AAA members often ask for tips on getting better gas mileage, especially for longer trips, spokeswoman Niemi said. She said the above techniques — driving more fuel-efficient cars, cutting the speed and combining errands — are good techniques.

Other tips:
  • Change your oil regularly, fully inflate your tires and make sure the vehicle is in good working order.

  • Pack lightly — luggage carriers and bikes on the roof weigh down the vehicle.

  • Use the air conditioner instead of rolling down the windows. When the windows are all open, you get worse gas mileage.

  • Set your air conditioner to use recirculated air — the circular arrow symbol — rather than drawing in hot air to cool.

  • Don’t make fast starts and stops, but instead coast into red lights and ease out of them.

  • The biggest tip she gave is to give yourself extra time for any trips.

    “So many people fly out the door, myself included, going to work and school,” she said. “If you’re rushing to get somewhere, you’re not going to be able to use these tips and save as much money.”
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