Break a habit or break the bank

“I don’t see people slowing down,” Mrs. News Cut remarked to me today as we drove along I-494 in the East Metro — in the far righthand lane, of course. “That’s because people want everything and everyone else to change so that don’t have to,” I replied, invoking the time-honored sweeping generalization method of anthropology.

People are in a big hurry and when it comes to the cost of gasoline, getting somewhere in a hurry is a fair trade, many figure, for a few extra bucks.

And yet, people will sit in line for an hour or more, probably, to save money on gasoline.

There’s got to be an easier way and, fortunately, noted energy consumption specialist — and occasional MPR reporter — Tom Weber has recently completed some research:


I wondered how much gas I might save if I simply change when I turn my car on. In the past, I’d turn it on, then put my seat belt on, then turn on the radio. And when I get home, I’d park, then roll up the windows, then turn the car off. It was all backwards! Actually turning the car on should be the last thing you do when you’re leaving and the first thing you do when you’re parking.

It was actually hard, took me a week to do – to break my habit. Now, I sit in my car, get situated, plug in my phone – maybe turn the car on (but not the engine) to roll down the windows — then I turn the car on and immediately shift it into gear and go.

When I get home, I park and immediately turn off the car. If the windows and radio are still on, I can roll those up without having the engine on.

I just filled my gas tank on the way home today and noticed my car got about 2 miles per gallon more this tank. I actually spent fewer minutes with the engine on, but didn’t limit how much I actually drove and it saved. Sure, only a few bucks. But what’s wrong with using gas more efficiently and saving a few bucks?

I have to admit, I’ve noticed the same thing. I get in the car, turn it on, put the seat belt on, then close the garage door. The radio? You have to turn them off now?

It feels like a good day for chewing on your Weberific gas saving idea.

  • bsimon

    Some would argue that Mr Weber’s method is a false economy. Like it or not, your engine is happier if it has a few moments to circulate oil amongst the load-bearing parts before the engine itself is put under load. By starting the car immediately prior to throwing ‘er into gear & driving off, you may (or may not) be doing [potentially irreparable] harm to your mechanical parts.

    I also question the scientific validity of Mr Weber’s ‘study’. A 2 mpg improvement for cutting off maybe one minute per day of idling time? Color me skeptical.

  • Tyler Suter

    You are certaintly correct about people not changing driving habits while on the road. When I don’t wake up in time to ride the bus, I take Hwy 77 (cedar) to and from work every day – to Apply Valley from S. Minneapolis and visa versa going home – and the speed limit is 65 mph for nearly the entire trip. I sit in the right lane at 55 mph – it can be nerve racking when large trucks sit on my bumper, which is often the case on the way home – and once in a while a string of people will actually sit behind me for a mile or so, but inevitably everyone ends up switching lanes and leaving me in the dust. I must admit that the gas savings is obvious. Because I ‘prefer’ to keep my tank right around the red line (empty line), it is easy for me to track how much gas I am using. Prior to a classic News Cut smackdown I was going 65 mph during my daily work commute. $5.00 got me to work and I had to put another $5.00 in the tank to get home. Now I can get to and from work with the same amount of gas that $5.00 paid for in January.

    I also pass through the construction zone on 35-W between Lake St. and Hwy 62, before traversing to Hwy 77, and even when the speed limit drops to 45 mph people don’t slow down…I feel like I’m driving in Illinois.

    I also have an unrelated question: When is News Cut going to open the flood gates on an Iran discussion? Have I missed something?

  • Zeb

    My observations are similar. People are not slowing down. Impatience rules out common sense and common courtesy. We commute in a Honda Civic and try to keep it under 60 mph to conserve fuel. That works well if you can tolerate the maniacs riding your bumper. We keep law enforcement phone numbers handy. Highway safety is a big issue for us. Story idea, anyone?

  • Bsimon, I’ll be the first to admit my ‘study’ is anything but scientific. Maybe I just caught a few good days of traffic and that’s why my mpg improved – I’m totally on board with that possibility!

    I just throw this example out there more as a hunch – is anyone else changing actual driving habits without changing the amount they drive?

    And I do take bsimon’s comments to heart about letting the car sit there a few seconds to warm up – noted!

  • Lesli

    Went to the movies over the weekend. Somewhere between the soda pop ads and a dancing popcorn box was a PSA for improving fuel efficiency–by keeping your car clean. The ad touted a 7% increase in gas mileage (or was it fuel efficiency?) by simply running the family truckster through the car wash on a regular basis. I hunted high and low for supporting stats but couldn’t find a durned thing, so take it with a grain of salt.

  • c

    ok

    this REALLY happened, (not like anything else that I have already said in this blog didn’t really happen but this one is REALLY is a head scratcher)

    I was just thinking of this topic a couple days ago-(fast driving and people complaining about gas prices) on my way to work on 94 west to minneapolis…actually I think it was last Friday. Admittedly -I was driving 60 in the left lane-which I probably shouldn’t have been but EVERYBODY was passing me anyway. The guy directly behind me on my tail for ohhh say about a mile-mile and a half pulled around and as he was passing -I kid you not -put his hand out the window and flipped me a “c”.

    ‘feelin the love.

  • Being contrarian and argumentative in nature, I will be the only one to argue that not slowing down is not necessarily an example of being “in a hurry.” I did the math, and dropping 10 mph off my average cruising speed on my daily commute costs me something like an additional 80 hours a year spent driving to and from work.

    In the micro view, it may appear that I’m in a needless hurry, but in the macro view it’s just that I don’t want to spend the eqivalent of an additional two work weeks every year trying to save a few dollars. I saved far more by buying four cylinder cars.

  • Marianne Combs

    I’d like to speak up in favor of not just slowing down, but putting the car away for good. Hear me out – it’s really not that radical a concept.

    This is my 8th year not owning a car in the Twin Cities, and I’m surviving just fine. I figure between the cost of the car, gas, insurance, tabs, parking and maintenance, I’m saving $4-5k per year. I’m no do-gooder – I just like to travel. Paris, anyone?

    I read or relax or (heavens forbid!) talk to my neighbors on the bus, which takes perhaps five minutes longer to get me to work than driving and finding a parking spot in a seven story ramp would. The friends I made on the bus ended up helping me install a new door in my house, taught me how to knit, and have become some of my closest friends. (btw – I live in Midway, a ‘hood that deserves a much better rep than it gets)

    Sure, some things take more time (groceries), but it’s really not that hard, and slowing down often feels good. I can always join a friend or neighbor on their errands, which makes it a social activity instead of a chore.

    To sum up – I think we often make certain habits out to be much more difficult to break than they really are.

  • Bob Collins

    For the record, Dave, I don’t have a problem with people zipping along and not wanting to spend 80 hours a year extra on the highway (although, I have to admit last week I calculated how many hours I spend watching Alaska crab fishermen pulling up crabpots, and it wasn’t pretty).

    I DO have a problem with people demanding a solution to a problem that involves someone else making a sacrifice or, for that matter, complaining about the price of gas.

    As long as we have a supply-and-demand economy, we have the power to bring the price down through voluntary action.

    To me, however, this is all related to a greater problem for me personally — trying to identify WHAT we’ll sacrifice for the greater good.

    We’ll sacrifice for our kids and our families, of course. That’s easy. But in terms of the country, what are we willing to sacrifice for its good?

    So driving along at 70 becomes something of a metaphor for me.

  • Bob Collins

    Marianne, my cubicle neighbor. The last place putting a car away makes sense — ‘cept maybe southern california — is Minnesota. It’s a public transportation backwater. The last bus in the morning into the TC is at 7:50 in the morning from where I live.

    Metro Transit, early in the Pawlenty administration, slashed bus runs making it more difficult.

    There is, of course, a bias against the suburbanite here in the cities, so i don’t expect any real sympathy from my city-dwelling friends, but those bus runs were cut so that the city routes could continue

    There’s also a significant part of the economy that doesn’t exist on a bus route.

    All in all, Minnesota’s transportation vision is pretty poor, and until it improves, we’re left with few options but to change driving habits OR pay more.

  • Andy

    bsimon, not to sound like a jerk or anything, but starting your car and going right away does no harm to you engine or drive train. Cars are built today with so much more precision and quality that the quick start and go will do no damage what-so-ever. They used to say get the oil changed every 3000 miles too, but now the average car can go between 5-10K miles between oil changes (check your owner’s manual). Old cars probably did need to be “warmed up”, but today’s cars – not so much. Just don’t drive aggressively, take off slowly – what harm could happen?

    Along with quick start and go, I try to drive 55 mph at the most, accelerate VERY slowly and coast towards stop signs/stop lights. Using those simple techniques, I’m achieving around 42 mpg (my car is rated at 34 on the highway).

    The roads I travel, and the time in which I travel them, make it so I don’t impede other drivers. I will speed up if I have a big rig on my tail, he/she is just trying to do their job and I don’t want to be in the way of that.

    Someday, I will ultimately want to get rid of my car, I am unable to kick the habit just yet…..

    Whoa, long post – sorry folks.

  • Mary

    We should look at cities like Amsterdam where the majority of its citizens ride bicycles (notably without helmets) or take the tram, and compare and contrast their city size and values to ours – maybe we’ll stumble on some answers.

  • j-dogg

    I dropped my morning commute highway speed from 70+ to 55-60 and gained ~10mpg (from 30ish to 40ish) w/ little impact on my arrival time, and I drive 40 miles (virtually all highway) each way. I don’t lose much time because whether I go 75 or 55, I hit the same stretch of freeway every morning that’s jammed at 0-10mph, and I don’t see any need to go 75 to get to that mess (though I’m in the vast minority). The unwillingness to slow down is absolutely an indication of being in a hurry. How can it be anything but? It’s not that people go faster because it’s safer… Most people just can’t afford to sacrifice that extra TV time. Heaven forbid we do something just because it’s right for the world.

  • Andy

    I think another reason people don’t slow down is because the cars marketed towards the masses are so fast. Read any car magazine and if a car goes zero-to-60 mph in less than 8 seconds it’s considered a failure. Even small cars without a lot of power are geared very low so they will be able to accelerate faster. It’s very easy to drive a car with over 200 horsepower fast. A new Honda Accord with a V6 could outpace a 70’s era Corvette. Cars are simply built to drive fast and furious – it’s up to the driver to rein in the power until we get better, less powerful (and economical) choices.

    My 2 pennies.

  • Tyler Suter

    I’d like to speak up in favor of not just slowing down, but putting the car away for good. Hear me out – it’s really not that radical a concept.

    Keep in mind that as long as Pawlenty is King, there will always be the chance that, from the standpoint of one who relies entirely on public transit, one will be left in the cold.

    During my sophomore year at Augsburg College (2003 I think) the public transit worker strike occurred; if my memory serves me correctly the strike lasted over a month. Living off campus in St. Paul and commuting to and from Minneapolis without a car, I happily hopped on the bus each day without much trouble (only one transfer for each trip); that was until the bus strike. For the first two weeks I was forced to go from one on campus student’s couch to the next at night in order to make classes. Two weeks, or so, into the strike Augsburg set up a volunteer based transportation program that connected students driving to and from campus every day with those students who were stranded off campus as a result of the strike. It was really awsome to experience strangers helping strangers in a tight spot, but I was still forced to arrive for classes hours early each day and leave hours after my classes had adjourned. My grades definitely reflected my struggles during this period of time. If this happened right now and I did not have a car, there’s a good chance I’d be out of a job.

  • Bob Collins

    Tyler, as I recall it was a commentary on the public transit system here than when it went on strike, not many people noticed. Obviously, a few, but not that many.

    For a significant number of people in the Twin Cities, the public transportation system is NOT an option because the public transportation system made itself NOT an option.

  • Bob Collins

    //bsimon, not to sound like a jerk or anything, but starting your car and going right away does no harm to you engine or drive train.

    Starting your car by the very nature of engines work, thoug, damages an engine. There’s a period during which there’s very little oil on the cylinder walls and it’s metal on metal. The question I would have is how long that period is and is it any different if you wait a few seconds to increase your RPM.

  • mustang sally

    /Keep in mind that as long as Pawlenty is King, there will always be the chance that, from the standpoint of one who relies entirely on public transit, one will be left in the cold/.

    Correction: Pawlenty is/was never king but merely a puppet controlled by a queen.

  • Marianne Combs

    Two points:

    Bob – before I lived in Minnesota I was a resident in Southern California for many years – also without a car. If I can do it, so can you!

    And to everyone in general moaning about the Public Transit System : I think you’ve got the cart before the horse. If enough people rode the bus, Transit would build it up. Instead of waiting for them to make it perfect, why not start using it, and convince them they need to take better care of it? There’s a reason why the routes with higher ridership have nicer buses.

    Your decision to not use the bus is only helping to perpetuate its image as a last ditch service for those who have no other option.

    Tyler – nice story. I think you’re helping to prove my point.

  • I checked from my house to my work and back, each way 2.5 hours, and a 2 mile walk.

    Nice try Marianne….

    I lived in Portland OR where the suburbs had good transit and it could be used for suburb to suburb travel, but not here. If you want to get into and around MPLS or St Paul fine it’s an OK system. Get into or around the suburb’s forget it!

  • Bob Collins

    I told Marianne the fact Laguna Beach has a better transit system than MSP is kind of sad. On the other hand, we’ve got a big mall.

    Obviously I disagree with your assessment of moaning. If the transit system doesn’t provide a bus, how exactly are you supposed to TAKE a bus?

    Or one other point. When I first moved here I lived near N. St. Paul and I could take a bus. Now, I’ve worked the night shift in New York and I NEVER felt as scared walking an empty street in midtown and taking the subway as I did taking the bus up through the East Side.

    This was in the early 90s and the passenger behavior was frightening.

  • Andy F

    Another reply to Marianne to say that the public transportation in MSP sucks unless you live inside a small area of the cities.

    When living in Edina, my wife worked 2.5 miles away from our apartment but the best Metro Transit could do was a 1.5 HOUR trip one way AND she would have been late. That is absurdly bad.

    Now that we live in the southern suburbs, we’ve found that bus service basically doesn’t exist south of the river. Oh yeah there’s the Burnsville transit station, but it’s only 1/2 mile south of the river so you need to contend with substantial traffic before you can hop on a bus.

    I’d love to ride the bus to work, but until Metro Transit gets many more routes and realizes a lot of people live south of the river it’s not going to happen. Carpooling here I come….

  • Bob Collins

    I recall a story in one of the newspapers a few years ago that documented overcrowding on an express bus from Woodbury to the downtowns. Some people, apparently, began to carry oxygen with them it was so bad.

  • Amanda

    I confess. I drive too fast. It’s not because I just don’t care or because I’m always in a big hurry. It’s really just a bad habit.

    I leave a decent following distance, do my speeding in a really fuel efficient car, and otherwise try to be a pretty safe and courteous driver. I’m pretty much never the fastest driver on the road, and I’ve never been pulled over. Reading these comments, though, it seems that my 4-9MPH habit is really distressing some folks. My apologies. I’ll work on it. Oh, and can you do me the favor of not staying in the left lane when you aren’t passing someone or getting ready for a left exit? Thanks.

  • DI

    Andy writes Now that we live in the southern suburbs, we’ve found that bus service basically doesn’t exist south of the river.

    I think you need to check again. Several months ago, I started using transit. Living south of the river, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that MVTA is the only opt-out transit agency that provides “real” transit service — that is, 7 days-a-week, early morning until late evening routes.

    The two local routes that serve Burnsville are: 444, which runs from 5:05 a.m. until 11:26 p.m. and offers connections at the Burnsville & MOA Transit Stations and 442, which runs from 4:45 a.m. until 11:24 p.m. and offers connections at the Apple Valley & MOA Transit Stations.

    BTW, none of the cities south of the river are served by Metro Transit. The regional transit tax from Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Rosemount, & Savage funds MVTA, not Metro Transit.