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Fuel Efficient Driving Advice From The Boffins

Sometimes, it’s not what you drive but how you drive that counts. The boffins have done all sorts of research into cutting fuel costs and driving more efficiently to find out just how you should drive to trim down the fuel costs. Sometimes it’s not as simple as looking for a little small-engined hatchback such as a Peugeot 207 or a Mazda 2 to replace a large gas-guzzler.

 

A lot of that research has been done with heavy trucks – after all, if you’re the owner of a company with oodles of big rigs to top up with diesel or petrol, you will want to know what you can do to save on fuel bills without affecting your performance. And, as the boffins found out, what works with heavy vehicles tends to work with smaller vehicles – fleets and privately owned vehicles – as well.

Boffin doing the calculations
One of the most interesting ways of saving fuel that does apply to all vehicles (obviously, things related to truck design don’t relate to your family wheels) is how you drive. The difference in fuel consumption between a good driver (i.e. one who drives efficiently) and a not-so-good one could be up to 35%. As an added bonus, the boffins found that the more fuel-efficient drivers were also the safer drivers, which provides an extra incentive for improving your driving behaviour.

 
What were the factors that made the difference between a good driver and a not-so-good driver? Speed was the first factor – if you keep under or to the speed limit, you will consume less fuel than you would if you stepped on the gas a bit more. Gear selection, i.e. picking the right gear for what you’re doing, was another important factor mentioned, as was changing gear at the right number of engine revs. Of course, if you have an automatic gearbox, these two factors aren’t really an issue.

 
The fourth point on the list is one that does come down to the individual driver: the aggressiveness of using the brake and the accelerator pedals. In a nutshell, if you step on the pedals like you’re trying to squash cockroaches, you will go through the gas a lot more. If you use the pedals like you’re trying to walk across gravel barefoot, you use less. This factor has been noticed by the car manufacturers as well, and they’ve introduced indicators on the dashboard to let you know if you’re driving aggressively or not – the Honda Insight is one good example.

 
Idling time was another factor that the boffins noticed, but is probably one that we could have told them about. If you leave your motor idling for longer, you go through more petrol. Unless, of course, you have a hybrid vehicle such as the Toyota Prius that lets the electric motor take over if you do have to sit there with the motor going – at the traffic lights, for example. What shouldn’t be done, electric vehicle or otherwise, is sitting there at the side of the road with the motor going. If you have to take a phone call (and you haven’t got a hands-free phone) or if you’re a courier or tradesperson who has to do a bit of paperwork at every stop, then leave the motor off when you’re doing it.

 
One factor, albeit a lesser one, could be controversial. This advice was to open the windows instead of using the air conditioning, as this uses less fuel. However, another set of boffins have concluded that doing this exposes you to more nasties from pollution getting into your airways and you should use the air conditioning if you want to minimise your exposure to particulate matter, carbon monoxide and all the rest of it. On the other hand, if everybody opened their windows instead of using the air conditioning, we’d all use less fuel and there’d be fewer pollutants in the air. The big thing here is getting everyone started with the good habits.

 
Other factors mentioned by the boffins for reducing fuel consumption included aerodynamics (take those roof racks off if you’re not carrying them), keeping tyres at the right pressure and maintaining the engines properly (a clogged air filter can increase fuel consumption by 10%, for example). Another one was picking the right vehicle for the job, which is very relevant to a fleet but is less relevant to the private driver, except it gives you an excuse to ask your mate for the loan of his/her Land Rover if you need to shift a heavy load of furniture and you’ve got a little Mini.

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