Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hybrid-Driving Smoker - Smell the Irony

I suspect that in most places, people buy hybrid gas/electric cars in
order to save fuel and help reduce negative environmental impacts
associated with driving cars. In Northern Virginia, single hybrid
drivers (who bought their hybrid cars prior to 2006, I think) can also
drive in the High-Occupancy-Vehicle lanes without the required three

There's an ongoing debate in the letters to the editor sections of many
newspapers arguing the smartness of this rule, as some people believe
hybrids don't get super mileage when driving on uncrowded HOV lanes, and
that hybrids would better help save the environment if they were stuck
running on batteries in the regular lanes.

"Saving the environment" seems a bit of a stretch to me, as in reality
the cars are just emitting less bad gases than some other cars, so I'd
say hybrids are more like "less damaging to the environment." But that
wouldn't sell as many cars, I guess.

So as I was stuck in traffic this morning, three miles behind a road
closure, in a stretch of gawkers waiting for their turn to single-file
past the opened carcass of a Nissan Z car that flipped over in the
middle of the road, I was behind a Honda Civic hybrid. After a few
minutes I noticed he was smoking one of those small cigars with a
plastic tip. Several minutes later, I saw him toss the butt out his
window onto the highway.

I was pretty sure this guy was going to toss the butt out his window.
Most of the smoking drivers I see end up tossing the cigarette butts out
the windows, but this one seemed more ironic, since he was driving a
hybrid vehicle. On one hand, he's driving a fuel-efficient marvel to
help reduce his environmental impact, but on the other hand he tosses
out the plastic-tipped cigar butt, carelessly placing a permanent
reminder of his habit out there in asphalt-covered nature.

Cigarette butts are another big peeve of mine. Particularly in heavy
traffic when the second hand smoke finds ways to invade my own personal
car's atmosphere.

Seeing this made me lean more towards the side that supports the lifting
of the "HOV exemption." Irresponsible smokers who toss out cigarette
butts don't deserve to take advantage of the HOV loophole created by the
purchase of a hybrid vehicle.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Oddfellows Tank 151 - 24 March

Refueled this morning at the Fredericksburg Costco pump #1, with 11.713
gallons. After going 424.0 miles on this tank, made for mileage of
36.20 miles per gallon, which is pretty good but not as great as other
recent tanks.

I suspect the fuel economy suffered because two days last week took me
much longer than normal to get home, so I idled in traffic for much
longer than usual.

There are more frequent news stories about gasoline and how it's
affecting people's driving habits. Truckers across the country are
slowing down from 75 to 65 and less, in efforts to conserve diesel fuel.
This action no doubt will have some affect upon car travelers,
particularly on two-lane Interstates where smaller faster cars might
pile up behind the big rigs as they await their turns to pass.

Likewise, reports of gas demand going down up to 1% might be because
people in general are driving slower to achieve better fuel economy. I
believe this is because gas prices are still pretty high. I believe
that public demand will say "well gas demand is going down, so gas
prices should go down, too!" So gas prices will dip a bit, relatively
speaking, and most people will go right back to their old habits of
zooming around, peeling out, and weaving through traffic just to slam on
the brakes later on. And gas prices will go up again.

It seems to be like last time (early post 9/11), people got used to gas
at $2.00 a gallon and reverted to driving like loonies, except now
people are accepting gas at $3.00 a gallon and still driving like

So I wonder at what price people will stop accepting it and permanently
modify their driving habits. $4.00 a gallon? $5.00? $6.50?

I hope that this spring, people will look at their driving habits and
take note of travel times driving their normal way vs. a more sane way,
and note that driving in a fuel-aware manner gives you mugh grater fuel
economy, less stress, and adds but seconds, perhaps a minute or two, to
the ultimate trip time.

If we all look at such things and work together in politeness, we can
get better mileage and get to our destinations in a quick, friendly

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Homeward Bound Commuting Times

(click for larger picture)

For well over the past year, I have been documenting the time I leave
work and the time I get home. I started doing this when I got fed up
with the apparent randomness of traffic patterns. It seemed one day I
got home fast, the next it took me well over an hour. I couldn't see
any pattern and was frustrated.

So I decided to stsrt actually tracking the time it took me to get home
each day to see if I could find any pattern to the madness. I'm happy
to report that there is indeed some generalities that can be gleaned
from all this great data.

I can tell you that it's easiest to go home on Tuesdays. My trips home
on Tuesdays average 53 minutes: shortest trip was 39 minutes (ironically
it was during an ice storm), and the longest Tuesday trip was 71
minutes. I have a chart that I'll try to add soon, as it's pretty

For six months, the worst day to drive home was actually Thursday by a
wide margin, but over the past year, Friday has established itself as
the worst traffic day to go home. Luckily, I only work every other
Friday, so I miss it half the time. This is probably also why Thursday
held the title of "worst traffic day" for a while.

My average trip home on Friday is 77 minutes, fully 24 minutes longer
than on Tuesdays. Not only that, the range of travel times is very
wide: shortest trip was 43 minutes, longest trip 113 minutes.

This infomration is good for me to have, because I can now resign myself
to a trip home of about a certain length of time. If I know I need to
be home at a certain time, I can leave at an appropriate time to get

I have set up my spreadsheet to figure the standard deviation as well,
which I think means that on Tuesdays, the standard deviation is 7.25
minutes, I can be about 70% certain that I'll get home in 53 minutes,
give or take 7.25 minutes.

Knowing I'll be in traffic for about a certain length of time on a
particular day of the week helps reduce my stress level about needing to
get home faster.

Well, this is a tiny picture, I'll try to make them bigger in the future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mid-Tank Update

So yesterday I was fortunate to piggyback behind a large 18-wheeler both
on my way to work and the way back home again, mostly. However, my fuel
guage is at halfway and I have gone just about 220 miles - less than the
250 that usually indicates a good tank of fuel economy.

In addition to tracking my fuel economy, I also track the time it takes
me to get home each day of the week. I've been doing it for the past
year and have found fairly predictable results. I may start dharing
that information as well, as it's sort of interesting.

Monday, March 17, 2008

60 Pieces?

I have a can of Eclipse peppermint gum in my cube at work. It
advertises 60 pieces inside. It also recommends a serving size of 2
pieces, so I take 2 at a time. As far as I know, I am the only one who
takes gum out of this can, as it's behind a door and not publicly

Today I took out 2 pieces, and just one piece remains inside. So I
wonder, did I get 59 pieces, or 61? Or did someone take an odd number
when I was out of my cube? And if someone took an odd number of gum
pieces, what else has been taken from my cube without my knowledge?

I hope I don't get to the point of tracking my gum consumption. That
might just be overkill.

I took the minivan into work this morning. We rented a lawn aerator on
Friday and I returned it to the rental store today on my way into work.
I filled up the van with gas first, and that tank told me it got 18.6
mpg, but when I actually did the math, it turned out to be even worse,
at 17.93 miles per gallon. Granted, mostly in town miles, but still
it's pretty poor.

The trip computer now reads a bit over 25 mpg for my 34 mile trip to
work on the new tank. Likely it's a little worse than that.

I am sure happy I don't drive this van every day. It uses a LOT more
gas than the mighty Corolla.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tank 150 - 13 March 2008

Also the tenth tank of the year, it's fitting under the circumstances to
do some quick comparisons to the first ten tanks of 2007 to see what's

First of all, this recent tank delivered 38.17 mpg, going 414 miles on
10.845 gallons of gas. Now to the awesome comparisons:

For the first ten tanks of each year:

2007- 101.099 gallons for 3638.3 miles, 35.99 mpg average
2008- 102.386 gallons for 3886.4 miles, 37.96 mpg average, about 5.5%
higher fuel economy

2007- $210.10 spent on gas, average of $2.07/gallon
2008- $300.88 spent on gas, average of $2.94/gallon, about a 42%

So my increased fuel economy is more than offset by the added fuel

I feel badly for those who drive big fast cars, trucks and SUVs. My
additional cost of gas works out to about $9.00 a tank, or about $9.00 a
week. I imagine in a car that gets 15-20 mpg it would be north of $20 a
week difference, which is a very noticeable pinch!

On the bright side, both yesterday and today my morning commute has been
much saner. This morning, it appeared that most cars were going between
65 and 70, rather than 70+ miles per hour.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Change in Driving Habits?

This week has had two separate news reports about the increasing price
of gasoline. One reported an increase of nine cents per gallon over the
last two weeks, and the other reported something similar, like a nickel
in the last week.

As I drove to work today, I noticed fewer people passing me, and a
definite line of people like me in the slow lane going about 65 miles
per hour.

Of course, this was offset by a handful of people who used the other two
lanes to totally weave in and out of other cars to fly ahead of

Still, this morning I noticed that it appeared some people, at least,
were indeed changing their driving habits to get more miles per gallon.
I also noticed that most of these vehicles were pickup trucks and SUVs,
and the cars that darted in and out of traffic were small 4-door sedans.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Readers Digest Article on Hypermilers

So I was happy to see the new Readers Digest resting on my coffee table
when I got home yesterday, and the cover advertised an article on how to
get great mileage.

What made me unhappy was that it was a reprint of an article I read
online a couple months ago about a true hypermiler who drives unusually
and can achieve fuel economies of over 100 miles per gallon.

While I applaud that ability, I am concerned that the casual reader may
see that as too extreme to even be tried, and thus miss out on the
simple ways to improve fuel economy that are easy for everyone to do.

Not everyone wants to take an offramp at 50 miles per hour, and I don't
see the point in coasting around a parking lot just to avoid idling in a
stopped car; I mean, what's the point in getting 50 miles per gallon if
you're just coasting around a parking lot?

Likewise, I don't think it's wise to put yourself in physical danger by
driving significantly under or, in some cases, over the general speeds
of other cars in traffic. The fuel you personally save is more than
wasted by other traffic avoiding you by braking, swerving, and
accelerating ahead of you.

But things like keeping your tires pumped up, looking ahead at the
traffic in the distance, and driving with the proverbial egg between
your right foot and the gas pedal are easy ways to becoem a more
conscientious driver and more of a fuel saver.

I agree that using the brake is ultimately a waste of gasoline, but you
must balance your need to arrive at your destination with your desire to
save fuel. This balance point id different for everyone, but we all
must take other people into consideration as well. If you are going 55
miles per hour on the highway in rush hour, and the speed limit is
actually 65 and there's a line of cars formed behind you, the gas you
save is just being wasted by the bottleneck of cars as they brake to
slow to your speed and then accelerate hard to pass you.

So I believe in at least going the speed limit.

If that's too rough, look for a tractor trailer to safely draft behind--
not too close that you can't see around it, of course...

But I am encouraged that Readers Digest had this article. Hopefully it
will cause more people to think, and realize that they have the power to
make a small change in driving habits that will have a large effect on
fuel consumption.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Tank 149 - 6 March 2008

Refueled this morning at the Fredericksburg Costco, the store with the
worst milk jugs in the world.

All the "right side" pumps were willed except one, so I refueled at pump
#11 rather than pump #1 as I normally do.

Travelled 436.0 miles on 11.347 gallons, making for a respectable 38.42
miles per gallon. My low fuel light came on for good at 407.3 miles, so
I was able to go more than 28 miles after the light went on.

At $3.049 per gallon, this is the second highest cost per gallon of gas
I have ever paid for the Mighty Corolla. I paid $3.109 per gallon one
time last May. So far, the average price of gas in 2008 is about 40
cents more per gallon than the 2007 annual average.

I hope that increasing gas prices will cause more people to drive with
more sanity and perception. If you look ahead, you can coast to slow
down rather than slam on the brakes and waste all your momentum.

It's not too hard to slightly modify your driving habits, but see a
noticeable increase in your fuel economy.

I showed that in 2007, gas prices were higher, but my fuel economy
increased enough to pretty much exactly offset the additional cost per
gallon. It looks like 2008 will not be as fortuitous of a year for me,
but I predict that many other people can see this effect by accelerating
more gently, coasting more often on highways, and generally being more
alert of traffic conditions around them this year.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Low Fuel Light Came On Twice But Went Back Off Both Times

On my way into work this morning, the low fuel light indeed lit twice
and went out again.

I'm a little surprised that it came on so early, 386.0 miles, as the
fuel gauge still showed more than empty, less than 1/4 tank. But given
my recent economy results, nothing surprises me, I guess.

Perhaps the Fredericksburg pump I used just shut off WAY differently
than the other ones I normally use, which caused the seemingly good
mileage for driving like a looney.

Regardless, I shall drive home on the remaining fumes and refuel on
Thursday morning.

It's possible that I will cancel my Costco membership soon and start
buying gas at Wawa instead. Costco recently changed their milk jugs and
they are so bad that I can't see myself willingly buying them for much
longer. They have a safety seal that my kids can't remove, the cap
doesn't want to screw on or off right, it drips most every time your
pour milk out of it, and glub glubs when it's freshly opened, also
causing unnecessary splashing.

When I complained to the customer service desk, the girl there answered
me in short, frustrated manner, and appeared to not care about my

Yes, my days as a loyal Costco member may be numbered...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tanks 147 and 148 - 25 and 27 February 2008.

I am shocked (SHOCKED!) to report that I had two tanks in which I drove
totally differently but got surprisingly similar mileage!

I refueled the night before our trip to the funeral at Virginia Beach
and was a bit disappointed that over 290.8 miles I only achieved 35.92
miles per gallon. I expected better, as this was to/from work miles and
I drove about the same I normally did-- like an old grandma.

For our funeral trip, I drove pretty fast, breaking the speed limit most
of the way, 75-80 miles per hour. I didn't try too hard to draft behind
any big trucks or anything either, and after 324.3 miles, achieved
better mileage of 36.56 mpg.

I absolutely don't know what to think about this.

This flies in the face of what I thought was true.

I drove faster, yet achieved better mileage than the previous tank.

Granted, 36.56 mpg is less than my overall fuel economy of 36.72, and
lower than my 2008 average of 37.78, but still, it should not have been
better than a previous tank in which I just drove to and from work?

I have no explanation for this, and am unsure if I will now drive faster
as a result.

And I certianly don't want another funeral trip to see if these numbers
match on another road trip like that.