Monday, July 07, 2008

KENNEBEC COMMUTER: Saving gas: The myths and the facts


Staff Writer


As the Kennebec Commuter, we’re used to being bombarded with supposed “tips and tricks” from a plethora of sources on how to save gas and the almighty dollar.
Drivers need to be wary of some tips and tricks, though, as they entice you, the driver, to put more money into your car. As a wise man — better known as the Kennebec Commuter’s old man — once said, “You don’t spend money to save money” (or maybe that was “to make money.” Well, the bottom line is, you don’t spend cash to do either).

We decided to call Jessica Lin, a spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit dedicated to (you guessed it) saving energy. This group, which works closely with the Oakridge National Lab (part of the federal Department of Energy), has assembled a web site concerning myths, tips and tricks drivers can use to save gas. Even we learned a thing or two. Check it out at

MYTH: Change your oil every 3,000 miles for better fuel efficiency. You loyal readers already know the drill with this one. Oil changes every 3,000 miles are not necessary for every make or model of vehicle; most can go between 5,000 to 7,500 miles before a trip to your mechanic is needed. In fact, having the oil changed every 3,000 can cost you more money over time and just ups your oil consumption.

FACT: Turning off your air conditioner. The Kennebec Commuter first heard about this one in college. A friend said turning off the A/C actually saves fuel. Though we abhor rolling down the windows and having our hair fly around while we sweat to death this summer, this tip is actually true. Consumer Reports found shutting off the A/C and rolling down the windows in the city shaves a mile off per gallon.

MYTH: Turning the car back on rather than letting it idle consumes more fuel. No. In fact, Consumer Reports recommends to drivers if they will be stopped for an extended amount of time, say, several minutes at a railroad crossing or in bumper-to-bumper traffic, turning the vehicle off will save fuel. Idling ultimately uses more gas.

FACT: Driving slower saves gas. We admit it: We were skeptical for a long time about this one. And even if it does work, we reasoned, you’d create a traffic back-up, enticing a wicked case of road rage. Well, serve us a huge slice of humble pie. Vincent Caccese, a professor of structural mechanics at the University of Maine, set the record straight.
“It’s not a myth,” Caccese said. “There is truth to it. If (the engine) were to run at 80 miles per hour — not that I would recommend doing that — it won’t run as efficiently as it would at 60 miles per hour.”
Alliance for Saving Energy spokeswoman Jessica Lin added that every five miles per hour over 60 mph equals another 20 cents in gas.

MYTH: Using cruise control eats up more gas. On frequent trips to Boston, the Kennebec Commuter has noticed using the cruise control seems to take more fuel than just putting the pedal to the metal. It appears, however, using the cruise control while driving on the interstate for extended distances may serve the driver better.
Why? Let’s go back to the idea of driving slower. If you leave the cruise control on 60 mph (the optimal speed on several, though not all, models of vehicles), the vehicle is operating at its finest and most efficient. Remember, speeds in increments of five miles per hour over 60 means you’re going to start losing money.

Follow Meghan Malloy’s commuter blog and track the cheapest gasoline prices in town daily at

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