In search of lower gasoline costs

At $3.69 a gallon yesterday, I finally filled up the official car of NewsCut after two weeks, thus ending an experiment in patience and safe driving.

I wanted to find out how much more mileage I could coax out of the beast. To be fair, I’m not one of those people who guns it when the light turns green so that he can get to the next red light faster. But I was more mindful of all the lessons I was taught as a kid driver when the Arab oil embargo was underway: Drive like there’s an egg between your foot and the gas pedal.

I coasted when I could. Tried to adjust my speed between lights to avoid stopping altogether. I accelerated slowly and I drove no faster than 55 mph, all of which probably bothered the SUV drivers who were racing past me at 70 mph or so. I was sure I’d have the last laugh.

Of late, the car — a 2004 Chevy Cavalier — has been getting about 27 miles per gallon. The previous fillup in February yielded 27.92 mpg. I figured if I could get two more miles per gallon, I would effectively roll the price of gasoline back to an astonishing level.

How’d it turn out? Because I drove farther once the “fill” light came on (I figured a “lighter” car would stretch the mileage), I bought 12.58 gallons and got 29.49 miles per gallon, an increase of 1.57 mpg, or about 19 “free” miles over previous driving habits. That saved me $2.36 or 18 cents a gallon, making the effective price of the gasoline $3.51, which is also the price of gasoline at several stations in the Twin Cities today.

In other words: big deal. There was some benefit to driving differently, but the only real way to save money is not driving the car. Coincidentally, the American Public Transportation Association reported today that as gasoline prices increased, light rail ridership in the country was up about 5 percent in 2011.