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DayCreek Journal

September 3 , 2005

Increase Your Fuel Mileage

The Honda Insight

What constitutes price gouging? How do you define it? If the price varies by 50 cents over the course of a 250 mile trip, is that considered price gouging? If the price varies by 30 cents over a 2 mile area, is that considered price gouging?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina the price of gas has been going crazy and you know that someone is profiting from it. But who? Is it the refineries? Oil companies? Politicians? The Saudis? Unfortunately there's too many unanswered questions.

What I do know is that driving from La Crosse, WI to Illinois yesterday was an eye-opener in many ways. My usual course of action when driving to and from Minnesota is to either fuel up in La Crescent, MN or at one of the truck stops on the Illinois-Wisconsin border. Their prices are usually the most reasonable along my trek.

Considering that Jo had already informed me of the extreme price range of gas in the NW suburbs of Chicago, I elected to top-off my tank in La Crescent beforehand. La Crescent used to have four gas stations: A Kwik Trip, a BP Amoco and two independents. Kwik-Trip (not to be confused with Quick Trip) is a La Crosse, WI company that has done a number on other gas chains and independents. in the area. The recently opened up a new Kwik Trip in La Crescent and pretty much drove all the other gas stations out of business. As it stands today, there is one independent gas station left on the south side of town and the two Kwik Trips and that's it. There is also one other gas station between La Crescent and La Crosse that also is in competition, but it's not in the heart of La Crescent.

When I do fill up, I go to the independent gas station on the south end of town. His prices are always the same as the Kwik Trip, plus he'll give you a cash discount if you do not use a credit card. Plus, I'd rather give my money to someone trying to make a go of it themselves instead of a large chain.

Now the interesting feature of both the Kwik Trip and in dependant is that 87 octane and 89 octane gas are the same price. So, I get the mid-grade for the same price as regular. Filling up on Friday afternoon, I paid $2.75 for a gallon of mid-grade gas. Earlier in the week, it was $2.55 per gallon. Not bad at all considering what's been going on elsewhere in the nation.

I do have to say that their prices were fluctuating quite a bit. I asked the women behind the counter if the price had been fluctuating much. She replied that the price had just dropped by 20 cents per gallon just a few short hours before I arrived to fill up.

On the way to Illinois prices varied from $2.75 (La Crescent) to $3.29 (Illinois-Wisconsin border truck stops). That's a range of 54 cents. What I found appalling was the price of gas at the Illinois-Wisconsin border. These truck stops (Citgo and Shell) are usually within pennies of the price of gas in La Crescent, MN. How could it be that there was NOW such a discrepancy? Maybe it's due to different refinery prices...Sure...that's what it is. The refineries that serve northern Illinois must get their oil from the gulf area that was hit by Katrina and the refineries in Minnesota must get their oil from... ? Hmmm...

I decided not to concern myself with this quandary too much and drove the rest of the way to the Chicago area. When I arrived, Jo informed me that the price of gas in our area ranged from $2.99 to $3.29 per gallon of regular, unleaded gas. That's about par for the course—it's usually higher than any place along my travels to Minnesota.

So what about the price of gas at the Illinois-Wisconsin border? It had the highest price of anywhere in my travels and matched the prices around the NW suburbs of Chicago. Gee...It's the Labor Day weekend with lots and lots of people on the Interstate. Could it just be possible they are price gouging?

No Bitching Allowed
Now with all the price fluctuations in gas lately I'm here to get on my soap box for a bit. NOBODY has a right to complain about the price of gas if they are not CONSERVING gas wisely. There are a number of ways to increase fuel mileage and I will give a few tips here shortly, but first I must mention my number one pet peeve: DRIVE THE SPEED LIMITS!

The speed limit in Wisconsin and Illinois on the interstates is 65 MPH. Now for those of you who remember the days of the last gas crisis, the speed limit nation-wide was dropped to 55 MPH. Why? Because it conserves fuel...lots of fuel. Even at 65 MPH, it's a heck of a lot better than 75! 75? Why of course. Most drivers are driving 75 MPH or more in 65 MPH zones.

For those of you who drive between 70 MPH and 80 MPH on the interstates, you have no right whatsoever to bitch about the price of gas. As the speed of the vehicle increases, the wind resistance goes up exponentially. I really do wish that everyone had an instantaneous MPG readout on the dashboards. You would be amazed to find how much better your fuel economy is driving at slower speeds. It makes a BIG difference!

And guess what? Practically nobody is driving the speed limit. Not even the truckers. To prove my point I counted the number of vehicles I passed along my trip from Minnesota to Illinois yesterday. I drive to conserve energy—usually between 60 and 65 MPH. Guess how many vehicles were driving slower than me on my trip home? Three. Yup. Just three along a 250 miles stretch of road.. Most drivers passed me going at least 10 MPH faster. You want to bitch about the price of gas? SLOW DOWN and I will listen.

Now I will admit I am a convert. Before buying my Honda Insight last year, I usually drove about 70-72 MPH on the interstates. I never realized until I had the gauges in front of me to see how much of a difference speed makes when it comes to fuel economy. But now that I can see how the car performs in various conditions, I'd like to share a few tips that will increase your fuel mileage even if you do not own a hybrid:

  1. Slow Down! (Nuff Said)
  2. Keep your tires inflated to the maximum allowable rating. This is just as important as tip number 1! REALLY! Your gas mileage can be improved by at least 3%.
  3. Give yourself plenty of room from the car in front of you and coast as much as you can before braking.
  4. While going uphill slow your speed down a bit.
  5. While going downhill, coast as much as you can.

I have a sixth tip here and I will probably get emails on this one—it's a bit controversial but I will mention it nonetheless. Always keeping a safe distance....get behind a truck and follow their draft. Wind drag is another big factor and if you can block the head wind by getting behind a large vehicle, this will increase your fuel mileage...but keep at a SAFE distance behind. I always follow the three second rule.

I'm not sure how truck drivers feel about this, but if I'm a safe distance away I feel they should have no complaints. I'm not at all effecting their fuel economy and if anything I am making use of wasted energy.

Gloating? Not really.
For those of you who are a follower of my journal, you are probably aware that about a year ago I purchased a used Honda Insight. Since I have owned the vehicle, I have averaged 69 MPG. That includes winter driving with four snow tires (lower mileage) and some city driving too, although 90 percent of my driving is highway.

I had a friend write to me the other day saying how wonderful it was that gas prices were now $3.00 per gallon here in the U.S. The reason why he was happy was that it now has the attention of the American public who have been buying gas guzzlers for decades. Although this may be true, it is hurting the people who can't buy fuel efficient vehicles. Think about the impact this is having on families who are struggling to make ends meet. They are taking the brunt of this!

There's something really wrong with this picture.

I would most certainly be happy if the gas tax was reduced and a heavy tax imposed on those vehicles that waste the most fuel. Of course, that would hurt the car sales of American made cars and gosh...it might force them to build fuel-efficient vehicles. But that will never happen as long as politicians from both Democratic and Republican parties are lobbied by the auto industry. We really do have our collective heads up our butts and if this continues, we will all pay the price.

Okay...I'm getting off by soapbox now. Sorry if I offended anyone. That was not my intent. It was just to maybe open a few eyes.

To end this rant, I will now gloat a little. My fuel mileage driving from Minnesota to Illinois doing between 60 and 65 MPH, with a tail wind and following behind a few trucks who actually do the speed limit netted me an average MPG of 87 for a distance of 263 miles. That's only 3 gallons of gas to drive 260 miles!