As North Americans (Canada and United States citizens), more especially Americans, our legendary romance and “love affairs” with the automobile is increasingly becoming less and less a “cheap date,” considering today’s prohibitive gas prices at the pump. Given this climate, perhaps inevitably, many myths, to which many die-hard consumer converts would often readily swear by as though the gospel truth, abound plentifully in these countries (and, of course, in other countries) among motorists as to which measures and products or devices do supposedly bring about gas savings to the driver, improve fuel economy, and a higher mileage per gallon or litre.
WHY SO MANY MYTHS and SCAMS ABOUND IN THESE TIMES ABOUT GAS-SAVING
PRODUCTS & DEVICES
But first, why do myths particularly proliferate in these present times? Quite simply, the major explanation offered by industry experts, is that historically, in times when the price of gasoline spikes up – as has in fact been the case at the present time (late 2006, and early 2007 to early 2008) when the price of gasoline is again setting record highs — there has often been a corresponding rise in the number of companies and persons who peddle some half-baked “gas-saving” schemes and gadgets to consumers which purport to stretch their gas dollars if only they just buy them and use them in their vehicles.
Summed up simply, the thesis is that in times of high and escalating fuel prices, because motorists are eager to find shortcuts or even miraculous ways to save or cut down on their fuel costs, they are often more gullible and susceptible to bogus fuel-saving claims and remedies – to MYTHS!
SOME OF THE MORE POPULAR GAS-SAVING MYTHS AROUND
Listed below, are some of such major fuel-saving myths that abound.
MYTH #1: That leaving your vehicle’s windows rolled down when driving, will appreciably affect your fuel economy and in a negative way.
HARD FACT: Oh yes, I know there’s this old theory that says that leaving your windows rolled down, especially at highway speeds, creates an aerodynamic “drag down” on your car, which is then supposed to cut down on your fuel efficiency. And yes, the predominant traditional notion has been that, especially at highway speeds, it’s more fuel efficient to use internal venting or air conditioning than to drive with the windows down, and that in slower driving conditions, such as city driving, you’re to keep the windows down and avoid the air condition in that it uses more gas.
Ok. Let’s get this clear. True, there are some pieces of truth here and there in the above-described scenario. But here’s the point. Get this: actually, going by the latest scientific findings based on actual, on-the-ground tests, this proposition is not quite so. The Consumer Reports and the research-oriented automotive Web site, Edmunds.com, looked at this question in two separate studies conducted in 2005: how does running the air conditioner or A/C, in contrast to opening the windows, affect the fuel economy of a vehicle (in this case a sedan and an SUV), one way or the other, at highway speeds? And their findings? “Nice in theory: [but] not true in practice,” was how they summed up their conclusion, adding, “Cold hard fact: No measurable difference (unless you open the sunroof, too!).”
EVALUATION METHOD USED: The Edmunds.com researchers drove a 55-mile loop in two cars at equal speeds both times – 65 mph. “The first loop, we drove with the A/C on and the windows up. The second loop we drove with the A/C off and windows down. In the second test, we drove 20-mile loops. This was far enough to see our gas mileage level off and remain steady on the computer trip meter.”
CONCLUSION: Put in just a little more detail, based on the hard facts from the evaluation of these two highly respected independent authorities (the conclusions were reached separately and independently from each other), the finding is that, in the case of the use of the air condition, running the air conditioner did indeed draw power from the vehicle’s engine, thereby wasting some fuel, quite alright. But that the ‘drag down’ effect, at least in more modern vehicles, only reduced each vehicle’s fuel economy by about 1 mile per gallon, which is a difference that is not really significant – unless, of course, you drive an already gas-guzzling SUV. And in regard to the effect of the use of the windows, the study’s finding is that while opening the windows does, in fact, increase the aerodynamic drag on a vehicle, it does not have a measurable effect on the vehicle’s fuel economy even at highway speeds; and, furthermore, that in any case, since putting the windows down does tend to increase drag on the vehicles, it cancels out any measurable gain in fuel economy obtainable from turning off the A/C. The study only found, however, that there’s one situation when the use you make of the air condition as compared to the windows, could make a difference. And that is when the driving involves driving around town or in city driving conditions. In city or town driving on common errands, you might have some gas savings by rolling down the windows, instead of using the A/C, the study says.
RECOMMENDATION: If you are really serious about finding a measure that will get you meaningful fuel economy, you had just better forget this method, particularly when it concerns driving in highway conditions, or when a more modern vehicle is the vehicle in use. Just do what you find most comfortable for yourself personally when driving on the highway; what gives you the most comfort and convenience, and make your decision as to whether or when to turn on your air condition or roll down the windows, based on that, and forget about having much effect on fuel saving altogether. If the driving involved concerns city or urban driving circumstances, however, it might pay you in such a case to use your air condition-less and rely more on rolling down the windows for cooling off.
MYTH #2: That if you put a “higher quality” (i.e., higher grade or higher octane rating) gas in your tank, you’ll get higher fuel economy.
HARD FACT: In recent times of astronomical fuel price rises, a fierce debate has sometimes raged over gas quality and what grade of gas motorists should put in their vehicles for maximum engine efficiency and fuel economy. There have been some motorists around Canada and the United States who strongly insist that they just can’t “get down to putting inferior gas” in their darling vehicles’ tanks, on the belief that “inferior” fuel (by which they mean a lower octane type fuel) is either harmful to their engine, or causative of lower fuel efficiency, or both.
“Some motorists pay the extra cost for premium fuel even though it is not recommended by the manufacturer of their car,” noted one expert, Philip Reed, an Edmunds.com writer on gas-savings issues in a June 2005 commentary, almost painfully lamenting about such a conduct. “They seem to feel this is a reward for a hardworking car.”
“Some NASCAR fans told us they use upper-grade gas because they say it gives them a little bit better mileage, more power, and a cleaner engine,” reported investigative reporter John Stossel of the ABC-TV News 20/20 program in a July 2006 program titled “Gas Savers: Myths and Secrets.”
What a big myth, however! Indeed, experts are almost unanimous about what they consider should be almost universally the ideal thing to do in this circumstance: the only right fuel choice that’s best for your engine, they generally say, is simply the fuel grade recommended in the Owner’s Manual that’s provided you by the vehicle’s manufacturer, pure and simple!
“Your car will perform the best when you use what is recommended in your owner’s manual,” says Elaine Beno, an auto expert with the Southern California Auto Club, echoing the view almost universally held by most experts. Yet, this generally agreed fact notwithstanding, “Lots of people are fooled,” reported the July 2006 ABC-TV 20/20 investigation, adding that “Just this week, cops arrested eight men for allegedly passing off the regular gas as premium [grade gas] at New York gas stations.”
RECOMMENDATION: There’s only one BEST (and most cost-effective) grade of fuel that you should almost always use, and that’s the one that’s recommended in your Owner’s Manual by your car’s manufacturer, period.
MYTH # 3: That driving a pickup truck with the tailgate down (rather than drawn up) will decrease wind resistance, and therefore increase your fuel efficiency.
HARD FACT: Not true. A long-standing belief more particularly common among urban motorists has been that driving a pickup truck with the tailgate down (i.e., open) will decrease aerodynamic drag or wind resistance, and therefore result in greater fuel efficiency and savings for the vehicle. Not so, however, according to a 2004 scientific study done on it. In fact, says the study (titled “Pickup Truck Aerodynamics – Keep Your Tailgate Up,” published by the National Research Council of Canada), despite what you may traditionally have thought, keeping the tailgate down (or using a mesh tailgate in its place) actually has the opposite effect – it increases, rather than decrease, wind resistance. According to this research, this has to be the case because when the tailgate is up (as the researchers say it ought to be), a bubble of air forms in the truck bed, and air flows more smoothly over and off the truck, without as much drag. The researchers’ sum up their findings this way: “the removal or the lowering of the tailgate increases the aerodynamic drag of a pickup truck, increases lift by up to 60 percent, and increases the yawing moment. All these changes are negative and reduce vehicle performance.” The overall effect, they say, is energy wastage and pollution increase.
RECOMMENDATION: Rather than keep your pickup tailgate off or open (as had previously been conventionally believed or preached), keep it on and closed for as long as and whenever possible. Removing or just lowering the tailgate (or even just using a porous tailgate replacement), causes considerable drag increase on the vehicle, and thus increases fuel consumption; and should only be done, if ever at all, if, for example, the load so dictates it.
MYTH # 4: That the ‘best time’ (in terms of price) to buy gasoline is on a Wednesday.
HARD FACT: You may have heard this one, especially lately when the gasoline price has skyrocketed to record highs (in late May of 2007, for example, the average price of a regular grade gallon of gas was recorded for the U.S. to have hit $3.087, the third record in a row, and $2.15 for Canada, a recent 2-year high). The story among many drivers is that the “best time” to buy gas in terms of getting the cheapest price, is on a Wednesday. Believers say that this is so because, according to them, this is when pump prices are supposed to have cooled from the weekend run when oil companies typically raise prices.
Not so, though, say the experts. Tom Kloza, the President and chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, says this about it in a May 2007 CNNMoney.com interview. It is true, Kloza explains, that gas prices tend to be higher on the weekends, but there is really no ideal day of the week to purchase your gas at that gas prices fluctuate randomly and unpredictably owing to many market variables, forces, and factors.
Geoff Sundstrom of America’s premier motorist organization, the AAA, pretty much concurs. He notes that gas prices fluctuate from day to day, and are determined by gas stations, and says that these gas stations look at a variety of factors in making such determination, including the wholesale prices of gasoline at a given tune, the competitors’ prices, and the food and drink sales, if they have an attached convenience store, and so on.
RECCOMENDATION: Your best bet? “Bargain hunting” for inexpensive or cheaper gas, experts say, is the best remedy for finding the best gas prices, and the consumer’s efforts should better be directed to systematically checking out certain sites on the Web which are known to be good at enabling consumers to find the cheapest gas available in their areas simply by entering their zip code information.
MYTH # 5: That starting up and turning off your car repeatedly is a major fuel waster for the average motorist.
HARD FACT: Many drivers firmly believe (still) that starting up and turning off the vehicle repeatedly is a fast way to drain one’s gas tank of its gas. This is not so, though, say the experts. At least, not anymore. That might have been true back in the old days when cars were equipped with carburetors. But not anymore, not these days when we have the modern fuel-injection technology. Indeed, modern gas technology, as well as almost every respected contemporary automotive expert, including Rik Paul, the automotive editor of the Consumer Reports publication, overwhelmingly support the common view that today’s drivers actually save gas, rather than lose it, by turning off their engine completely than letting their vehicle remain needlessly idling.
According to evidence cited by the Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) of Canada, studies show that frequent restarting of the vehicle has little impact on engine parts, such as the battery and starter motor, and that “The wear on components that restarting the engine causes adds [only] about $10 a year to the cost of driving,” adding that such paltry amount of money is money you’ll likely recover several times over in savings from reduced idling you shall have gotten by just not starting and turning off the engine at all, in the first place.
RECOMMENDATION: Don’t necessarily shut down the engine every time you get stuck in traffic. But if it looks like you’ll be stuck in traffic for a reasonable length of time, indeed for anything over 30 seconds or 1 minute, then you ought to immediately turn off your car, for then, it’s almost certain that you will be able to conserve a fair amount of fuel by doing that.
MYTH # 6: That some additives, lubricants, and special gadgets and devices that are often commonly peddled to consumers as “miracle” products that improve a car’s fuel efficiency, generally work.
This, perhaps, is probably the biggest and most costly myth for most motorists today in the United States and Canada. Here’s the question: considering the increasingly higher and higher price of maintaining the societal “love affair” with the automobile for the North American automobile owner in this age of record-breaking gasoline prices, are there really any true gimmicks, shortcuts or “secrets” out there that would allow you to get higher mileage for your dollar? Well, to hear many companies, advertisers and marketers around the nations who peddle these purported fuel-saving products tell it, especially during the times when gas prices are climbing astronomically (as is the case in the present time), there are. And, all you’ll need to do is to buy some of the products and gadgets they market and use them in your vehicle, and bingo, they’ll surely save you plenty of gas and give you better fuel economy!
The TV infomercial for one of the more frequently advertised of such products, a fuel additive named Tornado Fuel Saver, is typical. It claims that “its fast and easy installation can save you up to $20, $40, even $60 a month at the gas pump,” while its company President, Mr. Jay Kim, in his own infomercials plugging the Tornado product, literally swears by it, as he claims that “People put Tornado in [their vehicles], they are so happy with the product, they tell a friend. So I’m very confident that [the] product works.”
But, do such products and gadgets that are frequently advertised and appetizingly peddled to eager motorists as huge “gas-saving” solutions – items that range from dropping some green pills into a fuel tank (as in the case of a product called BioPerformance, for example), to doing something like installing copper tubing, cheap magnets, and wacky gimmicks – really boost your mileage, and by as much as 300 percent or so, as many salesmen like these often advertise?
HARD FACT: Here, we’ll simply indicate what the actual, objective, scientific FACT is on this in terms simply of the proven, actual road and lab tests results by independent, credible product testing institutions and evaluators which have put those products and gadgets to the test under proper scientific and technical conditions. Anything else is merely sales claims and FICTION which lack any scientific or independently verifiable backing.
o The Federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), America’s most trusted Number One and official testing agency for all such gas-saving devices, has tested some 109 of all manners of these products and devices. Hear Ms. Margo Oge, the director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality: “The devices and the additives we have tested just don’t work. We have been doing it for 35 years, and we have seen pretty much everything that can be imagined. [Leading us to believe that they generally just don’t work].” (To check out the list of those 109 devices that has been tested over the years by the EPA.
o Or, take it from the Consumer Reports test mechanics experts, who’ve tested several dozens of these items: “This isn’t news. We’ve tested such devices over the years…The results: We have not found any that improve fuel economy….Our advice: Don’t waste your money. They [just] don’t work.”
THERE ARE GENUINE FUEL-SAVING REMEDIES THAT ACTUALLY WORK AND DELIVER
Are there some legitimate ways, remedies, and strategies that are available which are genuine and real, and can really deliver substantial fuel economy and fuel and cost savings for you? You bet! Indeed, absolutely so! In my next or future write-up, I shall fully outline some of that.