Cheap trick: The art of economical driving

By Phil Hanson

How much will greener driving habits actually save you? Photo / Thinkstock
How much will greener driving habits actually save you? Photo / Thinkstock

It's like deja vu over and over again, quips Meg McKenzie of Hillsborough as she fills her Corolla just after the recent 2c-a-litre government petrol tax rise.

"There's no point getting upset about it, the prices go up and down so often you can't keep up," she says. "You might as well just follow it with detached amusement."

The fuel-up cost her an extra 60c, well below some of the other increases motorists have endured over the last year.

The 2c tax took 91-octane petrol to 212.9c a litre. Diesel was unchanged but an equivalent increase was added to road user charges. It came on top of a 3c rise less than a week earlier that the AA's PetrolWatch said was not justified by international commodity prices.

If pump price increases have provided the impetus to start driving more economically, here's some really good news: it might also save your life. Recent research indicates that economical drivers are safer drivers.

But you'll need to seize the moment. A week after the 2c increase, some petrol stations were selling at, or sometimes below, the pre tax-boosted price.

"It's the nature of the business," said car commuter Spencer Whitney, of Henderson. "Pump prices are volatile out west and if one guy drops back a few cents, the others tag along."

"My best fuel-saving tip, don't drive," offers motorist McKenzie - advice she says she's not prepared to actually follow. "Have you tried commuting to town on the bus? It's horrible and haphazard and where I live there's no rail option."

Fortunately, drivers have the potential to save 5-10 per cent off their fuel bill by using fuel-efficient driving techniques that also have the spinoff safety benefits.

The AA Research Foundation and Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) recently compiled results of studies into fuel-efficient driving programmes worldwide.

A study of 350 drivers working for Canon found they had 35 per cent fewer crashes after becoming fuel-efficient drivers. A German company's crash rate dropped by 25 per cent and a New Zealand trucking company recorded 56 per cent fewer safety incidents over six months.

"It stands to reason that, if drivers are trying to get the most out of their fuel by being more aware of their driving and what is happening on the road around them, there are likely to be safety benefits as well." says AA spokesman Mike Noon.

Reducing the fuel bill by 5 per cent is the equivalent of saving 10 cents per litre, says Noon.

"If just a third of the drivers on our roads consistently used fuel-efficient driving techniques it could save New Zealand up to 70 million litres in fuel worth $145 million each year and significantly reduce our country's overall greenhouse gas emissions says Liz Yeaman of EECA.

Saving money at the pump is easy
A well-maintained engine can improve fuel economy by up to 4 per cent.

Smooth and well considered driving will probably save the most fuel. Avoid hard accelerating or braking and look ahead to read the traffic flow. Aggressive driving can increase fuel use by up to 30 per cent.

The AA and EECA add these hints:

Check tyres' air pressure. A tyre under-inflated by one psi (pound per square inch) can reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 3 per cent.

Cut the weight - some research suggests for every extra 45kg carried, there's a 2 per cent drop in fuel efficiency.

Maintenance - a well-maintained engine can improve fuel economy by up to 4 per cent. Change the oil regularly, check the air filter and follow the car manufacturer's recommendation on servicing.

Remove roof racks or roof bars - the reduction in aerodynamic efficiency can cut fuel economy by up to 5 per cent.

Slow down - increased speed equals increasing wind resistance, with some research suggesting cruising at 110km/h uses up to 25 per cent more fuel than at 90km/h.

- NZ Herald

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