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March 14, 2012 - Larry DeHays

Gas prices have gone nuts, as we all know, mostly because we allow gamblers to speculate with oil futures (in my humble opinion), but the point is that we need to protect ourselves from this gouging by reducing our consumption. As Americans, we're not very good at that. Europeans and Asians have had $5.00 gas for decades, and that's why they make economical cars. We like to emphasize massive horsepower in our cars, so that's what Detroit specializes in. Having more horsepower than you need wastes fuel. Driving a powerful car slowly is not the same as driving a less powerful car. Corvettes cannot get the miles per gallon of a volkswagen. The technical reason is that internal combustion engines are most efficient when they are producing their most horsepower, and when they go slower, they are less efficient. It's that lack of efficiency that wastes gas. A smaller engine running harder makes better use of fuel. So the first step is to buy cars with smaller engines. Sounds un-American, I know. When the Detroit Big Three first tried their hand at it, they half heartedly gave us the Pinto, the Vega, and the Horizon. They figured if we wanted economical cars we would also want cheap cars. Welcome, Toyota, to the Promised Land. Welcome, Detroit, to bankruptcy. If you think they've learned their lesson, watch current advertisements for American cars, and see if they advertise economy or horsepower. Welcome Kia, welcome Hyundai, welcome all the other European and Asian car makers. There seems to be some demand in this country for economy and quality in the same car. Detroit doesn't get it.

The next step is to drive more efficiently. Slower accellerations, longer coasts to a stop, lower top speed. Out of all the things that are using up your fuel, the largest by far is aerodynamic drag. The faster you go, the harder it is to push the air out of the way, therefore using more fuel per mile. 55 mph is much more efficient than 75 or 80 mph. A few other tips; leaving the air conditioning off is usually less efficient, because opening the windows causes more aerodynamic drag. Using premium fuel in cars designed for regular fuel wastes gas. The higher octane is not used by these engines, and just blows out of the tail pipe. Forget about the miracle devices sold to improve mileage. It's just snake oil salesmen still plying their trade. Don't tamper with the emission control devices, they now help fuel economy. Keep tire pressures near the high end of their rating. Hard tires roll much easier than soft tires do.

Finally, lets talk about the fuel. Most now contains alchohol. You've probably heard that it can cause problems in older cars. It can do that, and it can also cause problems in everything from cars to trucks to boats, because it has a shorter storage life. The alchohol attracts water, which is OK if you burn it quickly, but if left in the tank for months, it turns to a gel that won't burn, and will seriously plug up a fuel system. Stabilizers are sold which can be added to the fuel to help this problem, and should most definitely be used before storing these alchohol-gasoline blends. Once it spoils it has to be disposed of, and that wastes gas.

When the price of fuel, or anything else is too high, we have to either produce more or consume less to make the market bring the price down. You and I don't have much control over production, but we can cut consumption, and that will get the attention of some sheiks, and maybe even the wall street bandits. Probably the same ones who robbed our retirement accounts, but that's another story.


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