Two-Dollar Vacation

Phil Ramsey
Tags: automotive

Could this be you? You’ve refinanced your house with the lower interest rates, bought that brand new SUV with near-zero interest, and with all the money you have saved - you are planning the biggest and best vacation in years. You go to the gas station and in your best impression of cartoon character Bart Simpson, exclaim “ay caramba!” Gas prices of two dollars and more have clouded your vacation plans.

Don’t cancel your road trip. Let’s talk this over. How much will this actually cost? A vacation is a powerful part of our lives. Our children love them and we think we are going to get away from it all for a while. Funny how we then try to take everything with us.

Let’s figure some actual costs and then see if we can save enough to offset the increase in gasoline costs. Saving gasoline has been discussed in previous columns; now let us practice what we preach.

First we need to ask ourselves just how far this trip will take us. According to the American Automobile Association, a two-week family vacation averages about 1,900 miles. So with the increase at the gas pump, we entertain thoughts of canceling road trips, flying or taking a shorter vacation than we’d planned.

Do we want to cancel our trips just because gasoline has recently increased from $1.50 to $2.50? Let’s do the math.

Consider a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon (mpg). If we make the 1,900-mile road trip at 20 mpg at $1.50 per gallon, we can expect gasoline costs to be $142.50. Gas prices of $2.50 per gallon increase the costs to $237.50. That said, do we really want to give up our vacation for an increase of less than a hundred dollars?

Now consider the vehicle that gets 15 mpg. Driving the 1,900 miles at 15 mpg, at $1.50 per gallon, total gas costs $189.99. At $2.50 per gallon, gas expenses increase to $316.67. In a worst-case scenario, is it worth it to give up our vacation for a $126.67 increase in costs?

The first tip for saving costs on vacation is to use premium gas. If the cost of premium gasoline is not more than 10 percent above the cost of regular gas, buy it. The average vehicle gets 10 percent better gas mileage on premium gasoline. In addition, it will burn cleaner, cooler and with greater power for your vacation-bound vehicle. This fact seems to be true only for highway miles, which account for most of the miles on vacation. Recently while on a weekend trip, I noticed regular gas cost $1.69 and the premium was $1.82. The difference was $0.13 or less than 10 percent, so I purchased the premium for the reasons stated above.

New calculations reveal that based on 10 percent premium, gas improvement to 16.5 miles per gallon with a gas cost of $1.82 yields a cost of $209.57. This is compared to 15 mpg at $1.69, which yields a cost of $214.06. We even saved enough to buy a burger combo. These figures, which are at 20 mpg base with regular, increased to 22 mpg with the premium. Consider that $160.55 (at regular and 20 mpg) minus $153.68 (premium and 22.5 mpg) equals $6.87. Now we have enough to supersize that burger order.

There are a few vehicles which require premium gasoline. They are high-performance cars, however, and if you bought one of those, you’re probably not concerned with getting the most miles per gallon.

If your vehicle has been getting only 15 mpg lately, don’t cancel that supersize order yet. There are ways to get even better mileage from your vehicle.

Another way to save is to keep your tires properly inflated. In my column “To Use Or Not To Use” (Machinery Lubrication, July-August 2001) I told you how I got three more miles per gallon by keeping my tires at the proper pressure. Previously, I had been driving around town with a pressure about five pounds below the recommended. Higher pressure decreases rolling resistance and consequently increases mileage by a surprising amount. Do not inflate a tire over the maximum recommendation on the side of a tire. On vacation, your vehicle will be overloaded and the maximum air pressure would be the best choice. Also, low tire pressure is a major factor in SUV rollovers, so inflate for mileage and safety.

Here comes another radical suggestion: drive the speed limit. Like Simon and Garfunkel sang about feelin’ groovy, “Slow down, you move too fast. Gotta make the morning last.” I have never had a speeding ticket. It just isn’t justifiable to go above the limit. What do we lose or gain on the 1,900-mile vacation by driving the speed limit? Driving the entire 1,900 miles at 70 mph, the posted limit, takes 27.14 hours actual driving time. Increasing to 80 mph, we save only 3.4 hours for the whole two weeks, and racing along at 85 mph saves 4.7 hours for the trip. You may feel confident to drive at 85 mph, but the local police may make you pay for the privilege.

And where else do you pay? At the pump is one place. My colleagues and I came up with an estimate for dropping three or more miles per gallon between 70 and 85 mph.

At 85 mph, the vehicle gets 15 mpg, however, at 70 mph, the gas mileage increases to 18 mpg, resulting in a $35 decrease in gas costs. That is 1,900 miles / 18 mpg x $1.69 - 1900 / 15 x $1.69 or about $36.00. It took us 4.7 hours longer driving to save that $36.00, or about $7.00/hr for our trouble. Supersize everyone’s burger.

Driving habits can have a great effect on your mileage. Did you know one of the best things you can do is to let your car idle for about four minutes before you put it into gear? The car’s computer causes the engine to run in a timing-retarded, rich mode, till it warms up. Then the computer takes over and begins to adjust the engine for maximum performance. Until then, it wastes gas and runs with less power. Starting your car and slamming it into gear while you accelerate just destroys your mileage. Some of the new cars have an instantaneous mileage monitor on them. Drive one and look at the mileage fall to less than five miles per gallon while accelerating a cold car.

What should you do while waiting for the car to warm up? Start the car and let it idle. Turn on the lights, walk around the car and look at the tires and lights. Get in, buckle up and check your mirrors, then close the door and put the vehicle into gear. This takes about four minutes and you will actually get better mileage.

Learn to accelerate and decelerate in a slow, steady movement. Most gas is wasted while trying to accelerate. Without getting into the physics, it takes a logarithmic amount of energy to accelerate a mass . . . trust me. The harder you accelerate, the more the mass of the vehicle resists being moved and more fuel is consumed in doing it quickly. Also, keep as much junk out of your car as you can. Toting and accelerating all that dead weight increases costs.

All things considered, driving efficiently is going to cost less, and with a little thought and care, you can get back some of your money to spend on vacation.

Go on vacation, enjoy the trip, and send me a postcard. Wait a minute, e-mails are free. Save that stamp.


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