Hyper Space

I’ve lately begun to take offense to high gas prices. I’m not going to go into the politics of why I believe they are so high right now, or why I think the price hikes are completely unjustified, reactive and irrelevant to anything worldly at all. I’m just going to say that the price of gas has started to rise again, and I’m taking action against it.

Just like when I got my last traffic citation: I decided that I was no longer going to pay the state one more dime of my hardly earned money. The main highway just out of my neighborhood is a tollway. I have the American standard 2.4 vehicles per household, plus a camping trailer that I have to register plates for every year. Plus inspections, state-required insurance (instead of a check-box that reads “Opt out: Dude, seriously, I don’t need insurance because I’m not an idiot driver”) and all other types of ill fees I have to pay just to exist in this state. No way am I going to let them catch me speeding or something so I’ll have to pay more fines and fees! I decided right then and there that I was going to obey every traffic law to the K.

Anyway, the point (and moral) of the story is that I’ve likewise decided to stop paying any extra at the gas pump. Four bucks a gallon? Fine. I’ll just make it go further. And farther. They raise the prices, I raise my efficiency. It will all even out in the end. That’s the way I look at it. That’s right, folks: I’ve become a hyper-miler.

Now before you giggle to yourself and drop donut crumbs on your shirt, let me talk some sense to you real fast. Or for you fans of the relevant pun, let me talk some cents to you. Let’s say you stop at five traffic lights between your home and work every morning. Because let’s face it, they’re always programmed to turn red when you are approaching. Same with me. Five lights, and let’s say the average sit time at each is two minutes. Is that unreasonable? Is it far-fetched? I don’t think so. So that’s ten minutes on the way to work that you’re just sitting there at a light. Right? Right. Is that unbelievable in any way? You still with me? Good. So carry on.

Now, let’s pretend your commute is about twenty minutes under average circumstances. The quick simple math on that says that you’re spending almost half of your commute sitting completely still at a traffic light. So why is your car running?

The scenario above is mine almost exactly. My morning commute is about twenty-five minutes, and I sit at six traffic lights, averaging about twelve minutes of idle time. So I’ve begun to turn my car off and coast to a stop at these lights. It helps – and it’s a lot easier – when you drive a manual transmission, because you can just push it out of gear and turn off the key. If you get lucky and the light turns green, you just put it back in gear and turn the key back on. No start necessary.

Now I said I was a hyper-miler, but that’s not entirely accurate. Some of those guys shut their cars off at the crest of every hill, and on every long straightaway. I don’t do that. But I do not see any reason to leave my car idling at stop lights when I could be saving the gas for things like driving. And it has cut my vehicle’s fuel consumption almost in half. I can’t do anything about long commutes out to other sites I visit for work. I mean, when I drive sixty miles, I’m driving, and there’s nothing I can do about that – aside from installing the Flintstones’ foothole in the bottom of my car. But I can shut off the engine at every light on the way.

Before you start blabbing some urban legend about how it takes more fuel to start your car than it does to leave it idling, take a look at what the Washington State Department of Ecology says:

  • Drivers who shut off their engines, rather than idling for 30 seconds, benefit from both fuel savings and improved air quality. (average of recommended times from the U.S. EPA, Natural Resources Canada and Programs Europe)
  • Frequent restarting has little impact on engine components like battery and starter motor. Wear caused by restarting is estimated to add $10 per year to the cost of driving, money likely recovered several times over in fuel savings. (Natural Resources Canada)
  • Excessive idling can be hard on your engine because it isn’t working at peak operating temperature. Fuel doesn’t undergo complete combustion, leaving spark plugs dirty and contaminating engine oil. (Oregon’s Clean Air Action Day fact sheet)
  • Idling isn’t an effective way to warm up your vehicle in cold weather. Modern engines need no more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days before starting to drive.

On the weeks that I don’t drive out to other sites, and my car is used strictly for the normal commute, I use less than a quarter-tank. Expanded out, this means I would fill up once a month as opposed to the way it used to be, where I was filling up once a week. That’s some ridiculous savings. But be sure to read my last paragraph.

Here’s the climax of my column right here. If you don’t believe that shutting off your engine at traffic lights will save you money, read this next sentence! Ready? Okay not that sentence. Or that one either. This next one. Ten minutes of sitting is one way, on the way to work. Coming home is another ten. That’s twenty minutes a day. That is one hundred minutes per week. One hundred minutes per week is four-hundred minutes per month. Dude seriously, that’s six and a half hours per month of sitting there idling. You still think shutting off your engine won’t save you some gas?

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