Get better gas mileage - improve your mpg. Tips from carbibles.com.
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|09/15/2014 06:31 AM|
|Why self-driving cars really aren't "just around the corner".|
In light of the news this month that London is going to start allowing fully autonomous drone cars to be tested from 2015, I thought it was worth rehashing some of the finer points of why these cars are not "just around the corner".
We'll concentrate on one particular car here - the Google self-driving car - simply because they're further along than anyone else.
The biggest single issue facing drone cars is really simple : they don't have quantum artificial intelligence. They can't deal with unpredictable situations, so they rely on meticulously collected information from (human-driven) scanner cars that analyze the route ahead of time. Think Google Street View, but a thousand times more detailed, mapped with cameras that photograph every sign, and laser scanners (LIDAR) that maps every bump and crevasse. So every time you see a video of a self-driving google car, you need to understand that thousands of intricate preparations have been made beforehand, with the car's exact route extensively mapped. Data from multiple passes by a special sensor vehicle must later be pored over, meter by meter, by both computers and humans. And because a laughably tiny number of roads in the U.S. have been analysed at this level to allow autonomous car use, essentially if you take a google car off-campus, it's a very expensive paperweight.
Tied to the unpredictability part of that are three other factors - weather, construction, and humans. Drone cars are currently so stupid that they can't even drive in rain, let alone ice or snow. Google have so much trouble with rain in particular that they haven't even reached the testing stage yet. The reason is simple : to a human, rain makes things look wet. To a computer synthetic vision system, they might as well be driving on Mars.
Remember I said how much work goes into mapping a road for a Google car to drive on? Go and park a utility truck in the inside lane and put some cones out. Voila. One incapacitated self-driving car. Because the truck and cones weren't there when the road was mapped, the car can't handle it. The same goes for potholes and open manhole covers - the car will just drive straight over (or into) them. Some changes can be handled, obviously. Google's cars look for things like stop signs - even in unexpected places - and react accordingly. At least that's the theory. They also look for pedestrians and other traffic all the time, so missing one stop sign shouldn't be a problem right?
If we welcome pesky humans into the equation, things change radically. As Google says, "Pedestrians are detected simply as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels, meaning that the car wouldn't be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop". Similarly it has trouble with pedestrians who don't use crosswalks (ie. all of them) and people standing in the road where they shouldn't be.
So whilst headline-grabbing mayors and confused mainstream newspaper editors may have everyone believing they'll be able to go out and buy a self-driving drone this Christmas, it simply isn't the case and won't be for probably another 10 years.
Get better gas mileage - improving your fuel economy
They used to say that you could only rely on two things in life - taxes and death. Not true. There's three things. Taxes, death and the cost of petrol sprialling forever upwards. So consider this page your guide to making the best of a bad situation. Follow these tips and you should be able to improve your mpg - miles per gallon. Better fuel economy = more money in your bank account.
First things first : measuring your gas mileage
It seems obvious but a lot of people just don't know how to measure their average gas mileage. Fuel economy is a total mystery to them. So bear with me - I realise to a lot of you this is the age-old adage of teaching you to suck eggs.
So - a lot of cars nowadays have an mpg readout that you can select from their onboard computer. Whilst these are useful, they do tend to be a bit optimistic. I've found over the past 6 to 8 years that on-board mpg displays tend to over-read by about 7%. Not much but enough to give you a skewed view of reality. So how do you measure your average mpg? It's easy. You need to start with a full tank and always fill your tank to the point where the pump cuts off. It's painful to your wallet, especially at today's prices, but it's the best chance you have.
So first - fill up. Fill your car to the point where the pump cuts off and zero your trip counter. Now you know you're starting from a 'full' tank. I say full because each car has a different amount of dead space at the top of the tank and in the fuel filler neck, but if you let the pump cut off on its own each time, it will generally fill to around the same level each time.
Next time you fill up, again fill the tank to the pump cutoff and importantly, make a note of the number of litres or gallons you put in, and the trip counter reading. Divide one by the other and you get either miles per gallon (mpg) or km per litre. Zero the trip counter again and keep a note of the mpg calculation.
Each time you fill up, fill it to the pump cutoff, and make a note of the amount that went in and the trip counter reading, calculating your mpg or litres per km each time.
Once you have four or five calculations, you can start to figure out your running average using some simple maths, or an online mileage tracker like mymilemarker.com or trackyourgasmileage.com. Below is the ongoing tracker for my current vehicle.
New car or something else?
One of the first things that people think of once they think they're getting bad gas mileage, is buying a new car - not necessarily brand new - perhaps a more fuel-efficient used one or even a hybrid. But be careful - you have to do your homework here. Take into account how much you could sell your existing car for and how much you're going to pay for the new one. It's important because generally speaking, going this route will normally result in a net loss - you'll end up losing money unless you keep the new car for 5 years or more. Better fuel economy will mean that the day-to-day running expenses will be less once you've got the new car. But think about it - the initial outlay to swap cars will likely be huge.
So then you're left with the other option - getting better mpg out of your existing car. In order of ease-of-attainability then, the carbibles.com ten tips for better gas mileage:
1. Your right foot
So simple anyone can do it. If you're caning it away from the traffic lights, you're wasting petrol and your mpg will be down. If you're endurance racing at 80mph on the motorway, you're wasting petrol. Here's the thing - your gas mileage can drop off as much as 15% between driving at or below 65mph and driving above 65mph. Now I love speed as much as the next person but you have to be realistic here - do you want better fuel economy or to get there marginally quicker? I sound like a total wet blanket telling you this of course, but driving slower absolutely will improve your mpg. Why? Because once you get over about 65mph, you're using more engine power to overcome drag, which means consuming more petrol to do it.
What about when you're not on the motorway? Well consider a little less braking if you can. If you can see the next set of lights ahead of you are red, don't race up to them and come to a complete stop. Try to moderate your speed a little if you can do it safely. If you can get there as they turn green and the traffic in front begins to move, you're doing OK. That's because it takes more energy to get you going from a complete stop than it does from a slow roll. So if you can do this, it will improve your mpg.
2. Change octane if you can
Too many people drive around with medium or premium gas in their tank when they just don't need to. If your owner's manual says "regular", it means it. Putting mid-grade or premium in is just wasting money. Why? Unless you have a high-compression engine which could be prone to detonation (pinking / pinging), you have absolutely no need for high-octane petrol. The only thing that higher octane gives you is less probability of detonation. In high-performance cars with high-compression engines, that means allowing the engine management system to work at peak efficiency but for probably 75% of you, your car will quite happily run on the cheapest petrol you can put in it. Not an improvement in fuel economy per se, but a money saving at least.
3. Use the internet
Again - not so much about improving your mpg as saving money; no matter where you live, there will be one or more internet sites that can provide you with petrol prices in your area. Vote with your money. Buy from the cheap ones, and shun the expensive ones. It's not improving your mpg, but it is saving you money, and in the long term, that's what counts here. Apathy in this area is what the petrol companies rely on. To get you going, here's a couple of examples. US petrol prices. UK petrol prices. For others, use your favourite search engine.
4a. Check your tyre pressures
This is a total no-brainer. Check your tyre pressures regularly - make it part of your sunday routine or something. All motoring sites and magazines tell you the same thing and that's for a reason. If your tyre pressures are low, you will be increasing the rolling resistance of the tyre on the road and that will be robbing your fuel efficiency - your gas mileage will be down. So make sure they're up to manufacturer recommended values (at the very least) and watch your mpg get a little better.
4b. Get low rolling-resistance tyres
You might never have considered this, but manufacturers do make tyres designed for low rolling resistance. This means that there's less effort required to roll the tyre along the road surface. Less effort means less load on your engine. Less load means better mpg. When I went for aftermarket alloy wheels and tyres on my Honda Element, my gas mileage dropped by about 1mpg due simply to the change in tread pattern of the tyres.
5. Get rid of the roof rack
You go biking or skiing at the weekends. Great. When you're commuting to work, that empty roof rack is adding aerodynamic drag to your car. More drag means more power to overcome it, which means worse mpg. Take it off when you're not using it. Same goes for those 'aerodynamic' roof boxes - if you're not using it, get rid of it. Yes they look aerodynamic but the fact of the matter is they do induce drag. And to be honest, they look silly. Hey - I know it means getting up and doing something rather than just routinely getting in your car and driving off but we're talking about gas mileage here. mpg. Fuel economy. It's all to do with money. Be lazy? Or save money?
6. Change your air filter
Out of sight, out of mind. I'm guilty of this. Your air filter is what protects your engine from ingesting all the dust, dirt and crap in the air. If it's doing its job well, it will clog up, much like the bag of a vacuum cleaner. Once it clogs up, your engine has a harder time sucking air through it. To compensate for the reduced airflow, the engine management system will richen up the mixture, using more petrol to keep the engine running smoothly. Replace your air filter once a year and you'll guarantee better gas mileage. So why am I guilty of this? At the time of writing I change the three-year-old filter in my car and my mpg jumped by 2.5 overnight. On my car that equated to a 13% improvement for an outlay of $14. Duh! This is one of the easiest ones to do yourself too. Go out to your local parts store and look through their catalog to find the right filter (or use any of a myriad of online retailer who normally have better prices on aftermarket and performance stuff like K&N air filters). It will normally be a simple matter of some plastic or metal clips to get the airbox apart and then you can replace the old duffer with the new hotness.
7. Change your oil and oil filter
Whilst you won't see any massive improvement by changing your oil and filter, you're ensuring that your engine is keeping its 'fresh blood'.
8. Get new spark plugs
Spark plugs work in an incredibly hostile environment. If you've got more than 30,000 miles on yours, change them. Fresh plugs that aren't covered in carbon desposits will certainly help you in your quest to become a fuel miser.
9. Ultrasonic cleaning for your fuel injectors
The only surefire way to clean your fuel injectors is to have them removed and given an ultrasonic bath. This is like those jewellery cleaners you might have seen. Basically it's a small tub filled with detergent solution that is hit with ultra high frequency vibrations or sound waves. The net effect is that any carbon deposits are shaken off the fuel injectors. Clean injectors give a more even fuel-air mix which results in a more predictable burn in the cylinder, which will contribute to improved gas mileage. If your injectors have never been done, or you've got more than 60,000 miles on them, consider getting the professionally cleaned. It won't be cheap but it's cheaper than a new car (by a huge margin) and it will help your mpg.
10. Remapping your ECU - chipping and tuning
Expensive one this, but it might be worth investigating. For the most part, chipping or remapping your engine management computer would normally be done to improve performance. It is possible however to go the other way - trade off some performance in exchange for better gas mileage. Not a lot of places are advertising this yet but as the price of petrol continues to spiral, I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen. For example, a few tuning houses in America have seen some interesting results from flashing European engine maps into US vehicles. It's a bit dodgy because it means those vehicles won't pass the emissions tests, but if you're serious, you could get a dual-map system. For the inspection and emissions, leave it in "US" mode. For everyday driving, use the European map. Of course you didn't get that idea from here :-)
What does all this add up to?
Realistically, if you religiously stick to the above points (from a regime of previously doing nothing special), you should expect to see an mpg improvement of about 15%. Doesn't sound like a lot? Let me put a number on it. Last year I spent around $2600 on petrol throughout the year. A 15% improvement in gas mileage correlates to a 15% decrease in outlay to fill my car. In my case about $400 a year. How useful is that? It's a round trip to Vegas (no hotel). 6 months car insurance. 5 weeks grocery shopping. And so on and so on. So you can keep wasting money if you like, but if you're serious about getting better gas mileage, these simple steps really will help.
Happy motoring, and I hope you see some improvements in your fuel economy.
Oh - and if you're interested, send me your ideas. After my initial blog post, I had some good ones come back straight away so on page 2 you'll find the expanding list of reader-submitted tips.