As I write this, we're heading into one of the biggest travel weeks of the year. According to AAA Auto Club, 38.2 million Americans will hit the road (making trips of 50 miles or more) over the Thanksgiving break, representing a 4 percent increase from 2010. By contrast, only 3.4 million will travel by air, and 905,000 in all other modes, including buses and trains.
According to Environment America: "While not everyone will be traveling over the river and through the woods, Americans will drive to Thanksgiving dinners all across the country in cars that gobble up too much gas at the pump, generating global warming pollution that threatens our environment while also unnecessarily emptying our wallets."
The group estimates that if we had an average of 54.5 mpg now (instead of 2025, when it will be mandated by federal regulations) then we'd save a whopping $260 million at the pumps and save 75 million gallons of gas. And let's talk turkey, here: the average U.S. family would save $14.90, enough to put a few more pumpkin pies on the already groaning table. The standard right now is 26.4 mpg, so chances are you're stuck with some kind of gas gobbler.
To make the best of it on the weekend's holiday road trips (if you MUST drive), I suggest (courtesy of Mom's Guide to Travel):
Use supermarket reward points. A typical plan lets you save 10 cents a gallon for every $100 you spend on groceries. Does your friendly mega-mart offer a plan like this? Mine does.
I know, I know, you've heard it before: inflate your tires properly, and a before-trip tune-up wouldn't hurt, especially if it's been a while. Defy Sammy Hagar and drive 55 — and not just to avoid the coppers. It's the highway fuel economy sweet spot. Close the windows while on the highway for better aerodynamics.
Travel during odd hours to avoid the congestion that will blow your schedule — and fuel economy — to smithereens.
Travel as light as possible, which means taking that 100 pounds of useless junk (including the Goodwill donation that never makes it to the Goodwill box) out of the trunk. Take the pod off the roof if you're not using it.
As it happens, I've been reading "Car Guys vs. Bean Counters," the new book by former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz (who famously said that global warming is a crock of $&^%. In it, he sounds off against the evil Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) villains who dictated that Americans switch to smaller more fuel-efficient front-wheel-drive cars, abandoning their beloved big gas-guzzling SUVs, pickups and what is euphemistically called "full-sized cars."
To that, I say "$&^%." If American cars were anything like the road hogs Detroit rolled out in the '70s and '80s, the industry would be hopelessly non-competitive with Japan, Korea and Germany now.
With that in mind, the EPA has come out with a 2012 Fuel Economy Guide that provides a handy reference to the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, in many different categories. Note that imports still dominate, but some American vehicles are actually competitive, which wouldn't be the case if Lutz and his horsepower-loving friends had his way. It's probably too late to trade the gobbler in before Thursday, but how about making it your New Year's resolution? Note that the green cars aren't all hybrids or electrics — diesels also make the grade. I'm not sure why the Honda Civic Natural Gas isn't on the list somewhere, but it should be. That Civic was the Green Car of the Year. MPGe is miles per gallon equivalent.
Two-seater: Honda CR-Z (four-cylinders, 1.5 liters engine displacement), 37 mpg combined.
Mini-compact: Scion iQ (four cylinders, 1.3 liters), 37 mpg.
Subcompact cars: Mitsubishi I-MiEV (battery electric), 112 MPGe. Also placing are two versions of the Ford Fiesta and the Chevrolet Sonic (both 33 mpg). That's the I-MiEV at left.
Compact: Chevrolet Volt (plug-in hybrid with a 1.4-liter four), 60 mpg. Also placing is the Honda Civic Hybrid (hybrid, with a 1.5-liter four), 44 mpg.
Midsized cars: Nissan Leaf (battery EV), 99 MPGe. Also placing is the Toyota Prius (hybrid, with a 1.8-liter four), 50 mpg.
Large: Hyundai Sonata (four cylinders, 2.4 liters), 28 mpg.
Small station wagon: Audi A3 (diesel, four cylinders, two liters), 34 mpg. Also placing is the VW Jetta Sportwagen (diesel, four cylinders, two liters), 34 mpg.
Midsize station wagon: Toyota Prius v (four cylinders, 1.8 liters), 34 mpg.
Small pickup: Toyota Tacoma two-wheel-drive (four cylinders, 2.7 liters), 22 mpg.
Standard pickup: Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid two-wheel-drive (eight cylinders, six liters), 21 mpg.
Cargo van: Chevrolet 1500 Express two-wheel-drive (eight cylinders, six liters), 17 mpg. Also placing is the Ford E150 Wagon FFV (eight cylinders, 4.6 liters), 14 mpg.
Passenger van: Chevrolet Express 1500 two-wheel-drive (eight cylinders, 5.3 liters), 14 mpg.
Minivan: Mazda 5 (four cylinders, 2.5 liters), 24 mpg.
SUV: Ford Escape Hybrid (four cylinders, 2.5 liters), 32 mpg.
Special Purpose Vehicle: Ford Transit Connect van (battery electric), 62 MPGe.
Finally, in a shameless bid to add traffic to this post, I'm including a Thanksgiving video starring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal: