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Fuel Economy And Personal Choices

Copyright 2006 Donovan Baldwin I used to be an over-the-road, long haul truck driver. For a while, I even owned and drove my own truck. As an owner-operator, I became interested in fuel economy, and very aware of how personal choices can affect fuel economy and fuel costs. I'm off the road now, although I still travel a great deal, mainly by car. Like everyone else, I have listened to, and watched, news stories, discussions, and interviews on the present and future state of energy and energy sources. As a business man and private citizen who travels extensively by car, both for business and pleasure, I am concerned about present costs and those which might be expected in the future.

Even more, however, I am becoming concerned about what might be my future, if I live long enough, and what will almost certainly be the energy future of my grandchildren, if not my children. As a result of these concerns, I have begun to think more about the changes that I and others can make to alleviate some of the coming ecological and economic problems related to fuel. Because of my experiences past and present, I have some thoughts on the subjects of travel, the operation of vehicles, and the modern driver. I would like to make a couple of points, particularly as these subjects and fuel economy meet at the nexus of choice. For years, I have watched drivers drive far in excess of the posted speeds or rational speeds for the conditions in which they found themselves.

I have witnessed several situations in which the driver created or arrived at a dangerous situation as a result of this need for speed and I have had several opportunities to view the sad results of these choices. Many of these individuals will eventually either grow up or remove themselves from the gene pool. In the meantime, they will continue to drive in this manner, and many will drive this way into old age. I remember one long traffic jam in Utah that resulted from a driver's attempt to find out what his new Porsche "could do". In the words of another truck driver on the scene, "It could kill him. That's what it could do." However, let's just talk about speed from the viewpoint of fuel economy. I regularly see interviews with "the consumer" on TV. Often these people are bemoaning the money they have to spend on fuel. Daily, these people, or those just like them, blow down the road at high rates of speed when driving a few miles more slowly could result in appreciable real money savings, especially at today's fuel prices.

Many of these cars are hardly fuel efficient in the first place, and, when operating at such high speeds become super-gas-guzzlers! Many of these people also rush up to stop signs and stop lights, maintaining their speed or accelerating until the last minute before treading heavily on the brake. They seem to give no thought to the fact that accelerating to a place where you are going to have to stop is equivalent to throwing money out the window, not to mention simply wasting fuel and causing the next expensive brake job to arrive more quickly. For many, the simple act of looking at what is happening ahead of them and removing their foot from the accelerator before arriving at a point where they HAVE TO STOP could result in savings in fuel and money. There are many fuel efficient cars available, including a wide and growing range of hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius I recently bought. But, there are a great many people who insist on purchasing gas-guzzling SUV's or so-called luxury vehicles, even when they are not needed! I recently took a trip in my very comfortable Prius and averaged approximately 56 miles per gallon. Interestingly enough, on the second day of my trip, I was passed by another Prius going about 70 miles per hour. The owner had possibly bought a hybrid vehicle in hopes of saving money by improved fuel economy, but apparently chose not to change his or her driving habits (they went by too fast for me to see if it was a man or a woman driver) to get the maximum possible fuel economy. I am sure that many SUV owners, as well as the rest of the public, wish they could save even a few cents on fuel. Properly inflated tires can help do this as can properly maintained cars in general. Every day, I see several cars with obvious low tires, and believe I can accurately assume that many drivers do not perform regular maintenance checks on their vehicles nor do they have regular oil changes done.

In an article I wrote about a year ago, I mentioned how a service station owner had pointed out to me years ago that his number of towing calls, tire sales, and vehicle repairs had increased since the advent of self-service gas stations and convenience stores. Relatively few people then, and probably not so many today, performed the regular maintenance chores necessary for optimum vehicle life and efficiency, as well as fuel economy. These are just a few choices each of us has almost every day. Each is an opportunity to save money, lower personal expenses, and help, at least in some small way, to extend the dwindling resources available to all of us. Accepting the responsibility to make these decisions and act on them as a mature and responsible individual is a way to reduce out-of-pocket fuel costs, as well as the depletion of a diminishing supply of petroleum for fuel and lubrication of our beloved vehicles. Other choices we might make could include the use of synthetic lubricants, alternative fuels such as ethanol, particularly E85, or biodiesel. Rather than simply demanding that the government should "do something", we should tell them what to do! We can demand that they choose to help expand the development of renewable energy technology, synthetic petroleum substitutes, and alternative fuels while ending the appearance of collusion between government and oil interests. Our choices, and those of business and government, will determine the future conditions of life on this planet, as well as the current condition of our personal finances.


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