Friday, September 30, 2011

Update on the Corolla Duct Tape Experiment!

I am about halfway through the first tank of gas in the "cover the holes in the bumper with duct tape to see if it improves mileage" experiment.

So far, there are indications that there is indeed some improvement to my fuel economy.

Normally, when the fuel gauge gets down to the halfway mark, is I have gone 250 miles, it's probably going to be a pretty good mileage number when I get to the refueling point.

Yesterday, the fuel gauge got to the midpoint, and when I checked I had driven 262 miles, about 4.8% farther! Of course, there are all sorts of variables at work here: was the needle really in the middle of the tank? Was it moments before adjusting down again? Was it because I drafted behind a tractor trailer on my way home two days ago?

Clearly, the experiment must go on for more than one tank. I have behaved somewhat erratically so far on this first experimental tank of gas, as truly I did draft behind a tractor trailer going home on Wednesday- but I was going much faster than I would have ordinarily driven (~70-75 miles per hour) in order to maintain the draft. And yesterday on my way home, I did several jackrabbit starts to try to beat other cars to the next intersection (hey, I felt that I was in a hurry and thus more important than everyone else!).

So, overall, my driving habits so far for this tank aren't really representative of my overall driving style. Well, that may be a lie. I frequently have one or two spasms each tank where I floor it for no good reason.

But the experiment will proceed. I am curious to discover if this "4.8%" increased distance on half a tank will equate to a "4.8%" increase in overall fuel economy. I don't think there's a correlation that strong, but if there is, my mileage may be pushing 40 mpg on a regular basis, rather than the normal 37.5-38 mpg.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tank 292 - 27 September 2K11 (Operation: Duct Tape - Commence!)

As I tried refueling this morning at the Fas Mart near my home (where the only thing slower than the pumps is the cash register clerk), I initially thought my identity had been stolen.

Over the weekend, my gmail account informed me that several dozen messages failed. Turned out, some spammer hijacked my gmail account and sent messages to all my gmail contacts, 10 or 20 at a time, telling them about some amazing something they needed to click on or something. Happily, Google figured out it was spam before it went through the internets, so I think none of my friends actually got the spam.

Why does this matter? Here's why:

So the gas pump asks for the 5-digit ZIP code associated with my credit card's billing address. After you push the 5 digits, you press "enter," which is a step that I'd expect wouldn't be necessary, as the machine ought to know when the 5th button's pressed that that's the ZIP code.

So I swipe my card and enter what I thought was my ZIP code and hit enter. A few seconds later, the gas pump tells me to go see the attendant.

"Oh, crap," I think to myself, "not only did my gmail get hijacked, now it's my credit card."

Then I realized that I may not have put in my ZIP code, but perhaps it was my PIN number, which is just 4 digits, and that caused the gas pump mega-confusion. So I canceled the transaction and started again and it all worked out and I pumped in 10.752 gallons after going 412.8 miles. So my mileage was 38.39 miles per gallon.

More importantly, over the weekend I duct-taped over the lower vents on the lower part of my bumper in my fuel economizing improvement effort. I used red duct tape, because my car's red, but the duct tape was "just a couple shades lighter" than the bumper. It looks bad. So I acquired some black duct tape to go over the red. This ought to look better, since the mighty Corolla's just the "CE" version ("CE" stands for "Cheap Edition"), and the area where fog lights would be is filled with black plastic inserts and there are black mouldings along the sides of the doors and the side view mirrors are also black plastic.

So shortly I'll cover it all up with black duct tape. Meanwhile, this will be the first tank where I may be able to see the affects from duct taping these vents.

Will there be an improvement in my gas mileage due to any increased aerodynamic advantage? Time will tell.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Goal for 2012!

One of my "goals for 2011," if you're of the sort to make and track goals, was to ride my bike on at least half of the days this year. This has turned out to be an easily attainable goal, thanks to my employer's awesome "healthy wellness program" that permits me to exercise for three hours a week, in one hour increments. Between that, every other Friday off work (again, than you kind employer), holidays, and weekends, it's been normal to get at least four rides in per week, sometimes more.

If I just match the pace I set last October, November, and December, I'll meet my goal of "riding the bike half the time in 2011."

So for 2012, I think I'll make it more of a challenge.

My goal in 2012 will be to spend more time riding my bike than I spend riding in a car!

As I maintain my fuel economy numbers, I also keep track of how long it takes me to get home from work each day. At first, I kept track to see if there was any pattern to explain why some days took 40 minutes and other days took 120 minutes (there is a kind of pattern that supports the theory that Thursdays and Fridays take longer, but it's also kind of common knowledge). So I have pretty good data for the length of my trips home.

If you took my drive home times for the year and divided it all out and included weekends, I spend about 0.55 hours a day driving home. Yes, it's not really an accurate answer, because I don't drive home from work on Saturdays and Sundays (because I don't go to work on those days), but for the sake of "can I ride on my bike as much as I drive in my car" purposes, it works out.

So right off the top it looks like I'll need to ride my bike for an average of 35 minutes a day.
But wait! This doesn't take into account my commute times on my way to work, which tend to be steady at about 40 minutes each morning, which rounds out to roughly 26 more minutes per day, since I get every other Friday off. So that's about an hour a day I'd need to spend on my bike, or 7 hours a week.

But wait! There's even more!

It's looking like my office will be moving from its current location near Potomac Mills to a building that's about 10 miles closer to my home, but a little more "surface streets" overall. This ought to shave about 10 minutes off my morning commute, and 20-30 minutes off my evening commute. And this would make my effort a little easier.

Just for grins, I rode my bike close to 22 hours in August, and went to work on 21 of those days. So on the surface, my goal looks easy if I can keep up my current efforts. But wait! There's MORE!

In order to do it right, I'll need to track my time in other cars, too, as on weekends we usually drive places as a family in the minivan, and there's a couple/three big trips that normally happen as vacations road trips, too. So that time needs to be considered as well.

So with these factors and sensible rules set in place, and the predicted but not certain move of my office to a closer location, I think this goal for 2012 to spend more time on my bike than I spend in my (or any) car is an achievable challenge.

I'm going to need to invest in a stopwatch of some sort to do this right.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Delta Touch Faucet Is Still Terrible!

So this morning I woke up as I usually do, drank my tall insulated travel mug of coffee, ate my bowl full of Apple Jacks with milk, and tool the dishes to the kitchen sink for a quick rinse.

Only I couldn't rinse the dishes BECAUSE THE BATTERIES FOR MY FAUCET WERE DEAD!

So I left it all in the bottom of the sink. Hopefully the cereal bowl's film of Apple Jack-sweetened milk won't attract too many flying insects.

I think we're out of "C" batteries, too.

Please, people, don't buy this sort of faucet. It's just horrible!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tank 291 - 19 September 2K11 (I get better mileage on my bike!)

As feared, the mighty Corolla thirsted for gas early this time. As I refueled in the pre-dawn splendor of the Fas Mart near my house (slogan: "our pumps are so slow, we can't put enough ads everywhere to entertain you!"), the car had gone only 406.1 miles. Coincidentally, two tanks ago I also went 406.1 miles.

Unlike two tanks ago, I put in lots more gas. Well, only about 0.3 more gallons, but the 11.552 gallons confirmed to me that the Sheetz from last time did indeed shut off too soon, and it made this tank's fuel economy look as bad as last tank's looked good. 35.15 miles per gallon. Just pitiful. Worst mileage since August 2010!

To make things worse, I forgot that I needed to get gas this morning so I didn't leave extra early, so in my haste to get to work I went almost over the speed limit! Fortunately, I drafted behind a giant tractor trailer hauling what appeared to be two large dumpsters. Unfortunately, it became evident that the dumpsters were filled with dirty diapers and rotten eggs.

I changed the oil in the car last week, and as I was lying underneath the car watching the oil drip into the collection pan, I remembered hearing that there's a new car(s) out there that has louvers that shut when the car goes at highway speeds, in order to better manage airflow and increase mileage. Then I remembered some hacker website where a guy put duct tape over his grille and such to simulate this effect, and it improved mileage.

There's an area at the bottom of the bumper, below the grille, that just looks like it's holes for air to blow through, it's below the radiator. So I'm thinking about finding some duct tape myself and covering these holes to see if mileage improves at all.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tank 290 - 8 September 2K11 (Late Report and Depressing News)

So last week I refueled at a different gas station, a Sheetz in "Central Park" (which is neither central nor a park). At least I think it was the Sheetz there. Probably it was. Anyway, I immediately knew there would be trouble because I had driven 441.9 miles on this tank and the pump first shut off at only 10.8 gallons. I waited about 5 seconds and then continued on pumping the pump until the second click, which is my standard measure of filling the tank, but it clicked off again at 11.036 gallons.

Crap. Another confirmation that gas pumps have different limits of automatically shutting off.

So it made for an impressive-looking mileage of 40.04 mpg for this tank. But I'm not enthusiastic here because I'm halfway through this next tank and the fuel indicator is much lower than it tends to be at this many miles.

I normally can go about 250 miles before the needle is right at the middle of the "full-empty" arc. The needle was in the middle yesterday, and I had only gone about 220 miles.

If I refuel at probably any other gas station than this Sheetz I just went to, I'm going to put in more gas than I probably actually used, so my mileage will look pitiful for this tank.

Please enjoy this fun picture that's not relevant to the despair I am currently feeling about this situation.

Some other housekeeping news, my car's odometer read 114,549 at this fill-up, and the total of all my tanks was 114,489.7, a difference of 59.3 miles. Last time I checked in on this, the difference was 58.3 miles. But the time before was 58.6, so there's no clear pattern emerging.

Monday, September 12, 2011

No updates for a couple days!

Sorry folks, I'm in training this week and won't get back to normal activities and mileage updates until at least Wednesday.

Management sends its deepest regrets...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Blatant, Shameless Commercialism and Flagrant Promotion! (Plus, the short story of a flat tire)

Today I found the happy website http://worldsbestbikestickers.com/ today, and think there's lots of nice things there. I don't know what shipping costs are, but many of the stickers and T-shirts are happy and positive.

I nicked the above image from one of their sticker designs. Isn't it nice?

On a different note, I was out on my bike on Monday morning and my rear tire went flat in the most spectacular fashion. We were riding on a lightly-traveled road that's frequented by walkers, joggers, and other cyclists, and suddenly POP! A sound like one loud firecracker shattered the peaceful morning.

I looked around and declared "it wasn't me? What was that?" And the walkers nearby were also startled by the noise. As I began slowing down, it became apparent that my rear tire was quickly deflating.

It was a happy time! I had been carrying my supplies of a patch kit, multi-tool and frame-mounted minipump for weeks waiting for this to happen, and here I was with it happening! I could barely contain my excitement as I pulled off the road and announced to my wife that I had all the things needed to fix the tire!

Well, not only was the tube popped, there was a small hole ripped through the tire tread, about an inch long. Seems the tire, after going about 1,100 miles, was worn out to the inner casing, I guess, as many sections of the tire looked almost as bad as the new hole.

So I pulled out one of the emergency dollar bills form my shoe, to use the bill as a boot, and patched the hole and pumped it back up and was back on my way.

But I think in my enthusiasm of the moment, I didn't wait long enough for the patch to fully stick on the tube, or I didn't fully roughen up the tube for the peel-and-stick patch, because about a mile from home the tire deflated again. I pumped it up but only got about 200 yards before it went flat again. So my lovely wife rode her bike home and picked me up.

But other than that anticlimactic ending, the whole fix-a-flat experience went about as smoothly as could be expected!