I came close to dying three times last week. Driving straight east on Baseline Road, I had a full green light. The oncoming car, stopped in the left-turn lane, suddenly jumped forward trying to turn left in front of me. I missed her by skinny inches.
Another day I entered the Loop 202 onramp going west off Val Vista. All of us drivers on the ramp were responsible in spacing our cars. A large van suddenly accelerated from right behind me, and tried to pass me and all the other cars on the right — just where the ramp narrowed down from two lanes to one. Sheesh.
The third time I was on the Loop 202 heading east. The traffic moves at 70 miles an hour. I saw brake lights come on ahead, pressed my own brakes, and felt raw fear as I checked my rear view mirror to see if the tailgating driver behind me was about to give me a giraffe-size case of sore neck. He was so close that I could only see the top part of his car.
All three times could have damaged property — or worse. Some coo-coo, looney-toon, nut-job drivers are hurtling down the road. Some drivers act like they are playing a race-car video game unable to distinguish their windshield from their monitor screen.
What’s the point apart from living longer? The locos don’t even know how to economize on their cars. Jackrabbit starts and screeching stops waste gas.
The real message here: when you treat your car better, you’ll save, and that includes learning how to drive economically.
Don’t carry heavy unnecessary cargo in your car (Uncle Pete doesn’t count). Fill up your gas tank about one-quarter tank above empty to conserve your fuel pump. Decide how much gas to carry around, as 1 gallon weighs 6 pounds. Since 1 in 4 cars needs a new air filter, check yours to improve your gas mileage as much as 10 percent. Keep your tires inflated correctly, especially after a cold spell. Surveys say that 4 out of 10 vehicles have at least one under-inflated tire. Carry a pressure gauge in the car — get a cheapy from Walmart.
Saving gas can be painful. There’s a hierarchy of cars like the animal food chain. A big fish is a Cadillac Escalade on down to the Civic or a motorcycle. A Kawasaki EX250 costs about $3,000, gets 60 to 70 MPG on the highway, and can go from 0 to 60 MPH in 6 seconds. If you like to eat bugs, get one. On hybrids, check out tax breaks and changes in insurance costs — the fees may be higher. Or heck, just walk.
A few more tips to get you started
Don’t idle your car — that’s zero miles per gallon. Starting your car again equals about 6 seconds of idling. Longer than 6 seconds? Turn off your car. Avoid gas guzzlers like stops, starts, rush hour — and above all the school buses. Correct car emissions can save as much as 15 percent on gas. Check to see if your oil change can wait until 15,000 miles instead of 3,000. Ever idled in front of Walmart to let the shoppers cross? You’re better off to park farther away from the entrance, save gas by not idling, and exercise your legs because you’ll have a Rip-Van-Winkle beard before the foot-traffic clears.
Manage the heat
Park in the shade. If you can’t, park with your underneath gas tank (not the filler tube) away from the sunlight. Check your gas cap. Fuel evaporates right out of your gas tank. Budget your air conditioning. It uses up to 8 percent of your fuel. When reasonable, open the car windows which will cause some drag but will not cost as much as the AC.
Reduce other forms of drag
Remove outside racks when not needed. If you carry cargo on top, make it light and small. Keep the original tailgates on your pickup as airflow over the cab forms a lower dome of air in the cargo bed which causes the upper air to flow over with less drag. Do you really want a spoiler? Designed to press a car down for better road grip, the spoiler adds drag and weight.
Choose routes with fewer stops. Dawdle towards a red light (when safe) as it may turn green without having to stop. Speeding up again from 5 or 10 miles per hour uses less gas than starting your car from a stop.
Check your GPS to find the shortest distances. Going 35 to 40 mph often synchronizes with the lights allowing you to sail along on all greens.
A tune up (mostly spark plugs and settings) can boost fuel economy up to 10 percent, says the EPA. Revving your engine before turning off a car with fuel injection is a total waste of gas. Remember the trifecta: a dirty air filter, excessive emissions, and under-inflated tires can combine to reduce fuel efficiency by 25 percent.
Find the gas stations with the cheapest gas. Google phoenixgasprices.com to find the lowest prices near your zip code. Or try gaspricewatch.com. You may drive past one of these places anyway. Why not fill up?
Finally, give thanks that you can afford an automobile. In some cultures, owning a car means you have to be as rich as Trump.
Now, run your car economically because the oil companies sure won’t help you do it.
Linda Hutchings is a Gilbert resident and a life-long frugal consumer — uh, cheap skate. Send her your penny-pinching ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.