I commute 45 minutes each way to work in the city, and even when gas prices are “cheap” at $2.50 I still feel like a chump for spending all that money to sit in traffic. No one I work with lives close enough to carpool. How would you suggest I figure out whether it’s worth it for me to buy a hybrid car or electric car? Or do you have any other suggestions?
— Traffic Weary
If I’m breathing, I have suggestions! (It’s so nice to have an advice column; my friends were getting really tired of all the unsolicited suggestions.)
First of all, no matter what the price, gas is never “cheap.” We spend a billion dollars a day on foreign oil, and shell out over a trillion dollars a year as taxpayers to subsidize oil and coal producers. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute puts the real cost of a gallon of gas at $11. We may not be paying that much at the pump, but we are paying it.
Is public transportation an option? Riding the bus or train gives you time to read and relax on your way to work. If the bus or train stops are too far from your home or workplace to walk, take a bike for that portion of the commute.
If no one you work with lives close by, check out these carpooling sites to find other people who live and work near you:
It is almost certainly not worth it economically to buy a new car, even if it’s hybrid or electric. Wait until, eventually, your car gives out completely to consider buying a new, used one. By then, I hope, you can find a good hybrid or electric on the used-car market. Buying a used electric or gas bicycle, scooter, moped or motorcycle may be worth the expense. Even the larger motorcycles can to get 40–60 mpg, and some scooters will get close to 100 mpg.
In the meantime, there are simple things you can do to improve gas mileage:
• Don’t peel out. Slowing your acceleration time can make a real difference. Simply taking 15 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60mph can improve fuel economy by as much as 37%, and what’s 15 seconds out of your day? Driving as smoothly as possible (no quick starts and stops) makes for a more efficient – and pleasant – ride.
• Slow down. Optimum MPG are found at 35-45 MPH. Driving at the posted speed limits improves fuel economy by an average of 12%, and you can save 15-20% by driving 65 instead of 75.
• Stay tuned. And pumped up. A poorly tuned car can loose up to 20% in fuel efficiency, and though it may seem minor, keeping your tires correctly inflated can really make a difference in safety, lifespan of the tires, and fuel economy.
• Lighten your load. As the weight of your car goes up, the gas millage comes down. Avoid carrying heavy items around in your car, and ditch the roof-racks or anything that adds weight or negatively effects aerodynamics.
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