Electric Vehicles In the Cold

Do electric vehicles suffer worse performance in cold weather? The idea that they might is grounded in basic battery chemistry. At colder temperatures the chemical reactions driving the battery are slowed down and this in turn reduces the current they produce. However, with proper insulation and a battery heater the loss in performance is completely negligible. This article on EV Cold Weather Performance reports that Canada's Environmental Technology Center found only a 0.4% drop in performance after cold soaking an electric vehicle for 42 hours at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

The special insulation and heaters needed are not a weakness unique to electric cars. As the article points out, gasoline powered cars also need a laundry list of adaptations to make them able to handle winter weather. Among the necessary modifications are engine block frost plugs, block heaters, winter gasoline mixes, special winter oil and radiator antifreeze. Cold conditions are tough on all manner of animals and machines, so it is no surprise that electric vehicles need to get dressed up for the winter too! And when they are prepared, they can take the cold without giving up performance.


Cost of Car Ownership Calculator

Owning a car can be a great convenience. Mobility on demand and the ability to haul a reasonable amount of cargo and passengers is worth something. But how much is it worth? Here is an online car ownership cost calculator that lets you find out. It takes purchase price, financing ( bank loan ) costs, maintenance and of course gasoline as inputs and returns the monthly cost of car ownership. It also provides some comparisons, showing for example how much money you would have at retirement if you didn't own a car and instead invested the ownership money.

The calculator comes preset with default average values for each cost category. You can adjust each one, in particular the gasoline cost. That lets you see how bad things could get in a future with much higher gasoline prices.


Tests Prove It : Tonneau Covers Help Trucks Save Gas

Pickup trucks can gain a significant aerodynamic improvement if they are fitted with a tonneau cover. That can lead to as much as a 10% reduction in fuel use. They say seeing is believing, and this video shows a road test which reveals the advantages of fitting out your truck with a cover.


How to Save Gas on Hills

One way to save some gas is to efficiently go up hills. The trick for fuel efficiency is to never accelerate up a hill. Instead, build up a little extra speed on the flat as you approach the hill. This way you will be accelerating on the level instead of accelerating against gravity. Then as you begin to climb the hill, allow your speed to drop away. You can recover the lost speed with the help of gravity while descending on the other side. Using this technique you will only accelerate on the level or with gravity, never against gravity.

The video demonstrates this technique. If you have a fuel economy gauge included in your dashboard or if you have added an after market one such as the ScanGauge you can directly see yourself that this technique works. For those without such a gas mileage gauge, the video will have to do. By the way, anyone interested in fuel economy should seriously consider getting a real time mileage readout instrument. The feedback is invaluable because without it you really have no way to know your current fuel consumption.


Online Route Planner

The TomTom website is an interface to some pretty sophisticated route planning software. They maintain an up to date map of road networks in several countries and are able to combine that with real time traffic data to show you what they consider the best route between two points. They use the traffic data to find the shortest time route based on the predicted travel speed. The video shows off the website.

Two potential pitfalls with the route planner are 1) it is based on minimum time and 2) it offers only one choice of route. Many or possibly most drivers are indeed looking for the minimum time path between the start and the destination. However, minimum time might not be minimum distance or minimum fuel consumption. For example, a high speed low traffic route which goes over several large hills will get you to the destination quickly, but those hills could really harm fuel efficiency. A different route which avoids the hills could take a little more time but save on gas.

Providing only one route to the driver is also quite limiting. There could easily be several routes to a destination which differ only minutes in time. The website seems to always pick the single route it considers absolutely shortest. Imagine a situation where there are half a dozen routes between two places, with predicted travel times ranging from 2 hours 5 minutes to 2 hours 20 minutes. A difference of 15 minutes on top of a 2 hour drive is not very much. However, there could be other factors to choose from between the routes which are very different. For example, some routes could include toll roads and others not. Some routes might go through dangerous neighborhoods. Some routes might include a lot of hills. Some might be more scenic than others. Some might have more potholes or rough pavement.

All of these factors are things the website does not know about. Different people would weight these factors differently anyway. For example, some people would be happy to drive an extra 5 minutes to avoid paying a toll and others would not. Given these other factors, I believe it would be better to have a route planning software that offered a selection of all routes with approximately the least time. Then each driver could choose among these routes to find their best trade off between minutes and everything else.


Cargo Bike in Action

Do you find yourself driving a few blocks to the supermarket when it comes time to buy groceries? Even if you have considered walking those four or five blocks maybe you never did it because of the difficulty you would have carrying all the groceries back home. Walking a handful of blocks takes very little time, saves on gas and is good for your health. But it is true that on foot you are really limited in how much cargo you can carry.

That is where cargo or freight bicycles come in. With a cargo bike you could quickly cover a few blocks to the supermarket ( getting some exercise on the way ) and then carry your groceries back home without trouble. And best of all, the whole shopping trip would not cost you even a drop of gasoline!

The video shows off a cargo bicycle for those people who have never seen one.


Fred Flintstone Saves on Gas

Remember Fred Flintstones' pedal powered stone age car? He would put his feet down through a hole in the cabin floor and run to get it going. It might have been stone age technology, but it didn't use a drop of gasoline. As our petroleum era starts to go into the decline phase, the circle has come around again. Just as the stone age cars of the imagined Flintstone past were, so will be the future: petroleum free. Bicycles are an excellent solution for individual personal neighborhood or short range travel.

The video shows a Flintstone style car that has been converted into a four place bicycle. Not very practical ... you would be much better off with a bicycle. You can use a freight bicycle or a bicycle trailer if you want to carry small loads. But it is amusing. Note how at the end of the video the police pull the contraption over. Although the video took place in Toronto, Canada that could be seen as a symbol of the US addiction to cars and oil consumption. The authorities slap down fun, innovative ways to save on gas even as GM and Ford are dying from their failure to adapt to the emerging expensive oil future.


Peak Oil is Not About Running Out

This little video tries to reinforce the point that peak oil is not about "running out" of oil. It is about the production rate of oil not being able to match the demand ... people want to use more oil per day than can be produced in a day. Many people consider global oil supply to be like the gasoline in their cars. In your car, you drive along and there are no fuel problems until the tank runs dry. That is because the rate at which your engine can draw gas from the tank is constant ... it does not go down as the tank is used up.

But in the world of oil production, as the easy to discover and extract oil is used up, it must be replaced with difficult to get oil. So as the world supply of oil is used up, the rate at which we can get it also drops. Thus problems with oil supply show up long before the oil runs oil.


Some Gas Saving Humor

Here is a video compilation of a bunch of cartoons lamenting the high price of gas. Good for a chuckle or so. Just ignore the product promotion at the end; it is pushing a water for fuel scam. I like the cartoon where a father is walking his son to school. The father is saying that walking is not so bad; he used to walk miles as a boy. His son replies "so your parents couldn't afford gas either then". That reminds me of a saying which I have seen attributed to Saudi Arabia, which goes something like "My father rode a camel, I drive a car, my son flies a plane and my grandson will ride a camel". We can see the temporary lift oil can give to Saudi Arabia, but somehow we don't see it when it happens at home.

In the past, there was no oil production in the United States. As a result, personal transportation was difficult and time consuming. Only the wealthy could travel at will across the country. Then the oil age came along and cheap widely available personal transportation shrank the country for almost everybody. But in the future, oil production will inevitably decline, which could return us to the old situation, where transport is only available to the wealthy. The more we learn to save on gas, the further off that day will be.


This Hypermiling Couple Saves on a Lot of Gas

This video details the story of a married couple who has earned their place in the Guinness Book of World Records for low fuel consumption. They give out some tips as to how they do their hypermiling. Watch and learn!


Nissan Leaf Update

The Nissan Leaf is slated for production in 10 months. It is an electric vehicle with a lithium ion battery. Top speed of 90 miles an hour, seating room for 5 adults and goes 100 miles on a charge. And does not use a drop of gasoline.


Hypermiling in a Toyota Yaris

You can use as little as 2.00 GPHM (gallons per hundred miles) in a Toyota Yaris. This car is not a futuristic gas sipper and is easily available. Yet with the application of a few hypermiling techniques you can get excellent gas mileage with it.


Terminator Calls for More Rail

California Governor Schwarzenegger calls for development of high speed rail in the United States. In the video below he points out that the country's rail infrastructure is considerably underdeveloped compared to for example Europe. I believe the main reason for this the the excessive focus on the personal automobile and highway transport in the US. Since rail transport is more fuel efficient relative to highway transport, in the future of permanently high gasoline and diesel prices we as a nation are going to regret our choice. Rail is a way to save on gas at the national level which we are missing out on.


Motorcycle Gas Saving Tips

Many people buy motorcycles for their sporty performance. However, some people buy them because they were looking for a vehicle that saves on gas. And some people buy motorcycles for sport and then look for ways to save on gas, possibly because they lost their job in the current economic depression. The video has some tips for motorcycle owners on how to save on gas. The first and most important tip is to avoid driving at high speeds and driving in an aggressive manner. This is bread and butter for gas mileage. It will be true for cars, trucks, motorcycles and airplanes. The basic principles are that more speed costs more fuel and failure to maintain momentum burns extra fuel every time you slow down and then speed up again.


Eight Tips for Saving Gas

Here is a Howcast rundown on eight tips for saving on gas. The title says they are "secret", but they are actually quite commonly found. Anyway, try them out and see if you can save on gas!


What Will Gas Prices Be In 2010?

What level might gas prices reach this year? In many areas of the United States gas prices are now approaching three dollars. The last time gas prices were this high so early in the year was in 2008. We all remember that the summer of 2008 saw gas prices at and even above $4.00 per gallon. Normally gas prices are lower in the winter and rise in the summer. If that pattern holds true in the year ahead, we could be in for another year of very expensive gas.

Although many people were thinking about or taking action to reduce their gas usage in 2008 at the time of high prices most dropped off the bandwagon when gas prices came down again. However, the fundamental reasons for expecting high gas prices have not gone away. What we are seeing is a typical bumpy market response to the situation. Financial markets are supposedly ever so effective, but in reality they do a poor job of providing satisfactory outcomes to the typical person.

Anyway, we are probably going to see a sawtooth pattern of gas prices rising and dropping over the next few years. This up and down will hide the pressures responsible for the long term rise in prices until it is too late. The best response is for all of us to begin to save on gas for the long term right now.


Peapod Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle

Using the most fuel efficient vehicle for a purpose can be a great way to save on gas. For example, if you are just going to drop your child off at a play date, you don't need any more carrying capacity than two seats. A heavy gas guzzling SUV is not going to do the job any better, but it will take a big bite out of your wallet. A solution to this could be a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle. These are small, lightweight energy efficient vehicles designed to carry a couple of people a short distance. That is perfect for getting around locally and saves on a lot of gas.

The video introduces the Peapod, a NEV made by a subsidiary of Chrysler.


How Much Gas to See the Country?

In the early years of the automobile in the United States there was a feeling of freedom and almost mystical liberty attached to owning one. The famous highways and the idea that Joe Typical was now empowered to see the entire country. The idea that now anybody could overcome the tyranny of distance. This ease of movement and shrinking of apparent distance depended not only on cheap automobiles but on cheap gasoline. So let us see how much gas it might take to see the country.

First we have to decide on what we mean by "See the Country". Let us consider taking a trip that passes through Washington DC and one city in each state. We will follow a path that visits each of these 49 cities exactly once, and we will go around in a loop, finishing where we started. There are very many possible such paths, even after we have picked our 49 cities. We will choose the shortest such path, so as to save on gas. Finding the sequence of cities to visit that gives the shortest road distance to travel is a hard problem, known in the technical literature as the Traveling Salesman Problem. In the case of our tour through a city from each of the 48 continental states plus Washington DC, a solution was worked out in the 1950s. You can read this paper by Dantzig, Fulkerson and Johnson which finds and proves the shortest road distance path. The picture above illustrates the cities and the shortest route. The paper lists the cities themselves.

The shortest tour around our 49 cities has a total length of 12,345 miles. So any road tour of the country that visits each of our continental state cities and Washington will put at least that much on your odometer. Visiting those 49 cities gives a pretty good claim that you have seen the whole country. Now how much gas will that take? It depends on the fuel economy of the vehicle you drive. We will use the highway mileage estimates because most of that driving will be at speed on interstates and freeways without stops and slowdowns due to traffic.

A 2010 Acura RL gets 22 miles per gallon on the highway according to the EPA. If we get to know the country in such an Acura, we will use 560 gallons or so of gas. Gas Buddy is showing a US national average fuel price of $2.635 per gallon today. Using that price, we would spend $1480 keeping the gas tank of our Acura topped up.

That is not cheap, and of course a national tour will have other costs (like food and lodging). However, considering that the US occupies a pretty big land area it is an amount of money remarkably within reach. Joe Typical can afford that much gas if he wants to. So even today the car still delivers on some of that century old mystique of mobility and motion.

By learning to save on gas and building highly fuel efficient cars we can make sure that even in a tomorrow featuring yet higher priced gasoline that mystique stays alive.


The Story of Petroleum

Here is a great 3 part series of videos that show how the oil business was in the United States about ninety years ago.


Aptera in the House

The Aptera is a highly streamlined and lightweight electric car. It has a range of 100 miles after a short two hour charge. It gets up to 60 mph in 10 seconds and has a top speed of 90 miles per hour. And best of all, you can buy this futuristic beast today!


Homemade Boat Tail

Aerodynamics is the dominant factor for getting good gas mileage at highway speed. The faster you go the more important air drag is. While most of us think of the aerodynamic form of our vehicle as being fixed at the factory, that is actually not so. You can add aerodynamic extenders made out of fiberglass or even plywood or cardboard that can actually reduce drag considerably. For example, you can add a boat tail to your car in your own garage! The video shows how this can be done. In the video, a Geo Metro had a homemade boat tail added. This simple addition improved fuel economy 15% at highway speeds of 55 miles per hour.


Fuel Economy Tips

This video gives a rundown on three of the most effective things you can do to improve your fuel economy. First and most important is your driving habits. Aggressive driving, idling, repeated slowing down and speeding up and plain old speeding will cause gas mileage to plummet. Second up is tire pressure and wheel alignment. Under inflated tires or a misalignment will generate extra friction your engine will have to spend gasoline on fighting. And lastly, maintaining your engine in good shape with tuneups will keep it in top efficiency.


RV Fuel Savings

If you have an RV and you want to use it instead of leaving it parked like a lawn ornament, you have to find ways to save on gas. Hoping and waiting for fuel prices to go down will not get you anywhere ... you have to take action! But what can you do? This video has some tips for you.

Remember that in an RV which may use as much as 15 gallons to a hundred miles even a 10% improvement can represent a lot of money.


James Randi Warns About Gas Scams

Here is another video warning about buying all manner of gas saving devices based on sketchy manufacturers' claims. There are a lot of con jobs out there. Entrepreneurs are waiting to sell you a $100 piece of plastic gizmo that does absolutely nothing for your gas mileage. Take care and don't be a sucker! Remember that most claims that sound too good to be true are just con jobs.


Device Scams

Lots of con artists are waiting to sell you gas saving devices that don't really work. The only way to really know what effect a device or fuel additive has had on your vehicle is to run it on a dynamo and measure it. The Mythbusters test out three supposed gas savers. One is a magnet, another is using acetone as a fuel additive and the third is a carburetor claimed to provide hundreds of miles per gallon. Each one is found to either have no effect or actually reduce gas mileage. Watch and see!


Rail vs Trucks : Which Saves More Gas?

There are two choices for moving bulk freight over land: by truck or by rail. There was a time when America was criss crossed by a vast rail network. Today most of that is gone, and almost all of our freight is hauled by truck. But was that great change a wise move from the point of view of fuel efficiency?

The Department of Transport's Federal Railroad Administration looked into the comparative fuel economy of rail vs truck hauled freight. The study, titled Comparative Evaluation of Rail and Truck Fuel Efficiency on Competitive Corridors is available as a PDF file for download. Although the study is more than a hundred pages long, the result in terms of fuel efficiency is clear. Rail is more efficient.

When considering hauling cargo, fuel efficiency is measured not just in gallons spent to cover a given distance but must also take into account how much cargo was carried. Therefore efficiency is measured in ton-miles per gallon. That is the normal miles per gallon rating multiplied by how many tons of freight were carried over that distance. The actual fuel efficiencies depend on various factors including the type of vehicle and cargo.

Efficiencies for rail ranged between 152 to 512 ton-miles per gallon versus 68 to 133 ton-miles per gallon for trucks. The figure at the top of the post shows the rail and truck fuel efficiencies for 23 different types of cargo movement studied. Clearly, rail is the winner when it comes to saving gas while moving cargo around the nation. In a future of permanently high gas prices, the US will come to regret scrapping all that rail for asphalt.


Drilling Technology

Getting the gas into your car is the last step in a long process. That process begins with the drilling for oil. Oil exploration and production is very complicated. The video below explains a process used to recover natural gas from coal seams and not oil production. However it shows some of the technology used in drilling. For example, at about 4 minutes in it shows how a horizontal extension to a vertical hole can be made. The trick is to put a ramp or wedge down the hole that deflects the drill into the desired direction.


Fiat Start and Stop System

A great way to waste gas is to sit still with your engine idling. Every second of idle wastes gas to turn the engine over without getting you anywhere. Stop and go city traffic can be a big gas waster because of this. While it is fairly easy to remember to shut off the car while waiting to pick up a friend, for example, it is much harder to manage stopping and starting the engine while you are driving in city traffic. The Fiat 500 Start & Stop System is a technological fix to that problem. The Start and Stop System automatically shuts off the engine when the car comes to a stop and automatically starts it again when the driver presses the accelerator. The driver does not have to think about idling at all. The system takes care of avoiding those fuel sucking idles.

The Start and Stop System is based around a special high performance starter and battery that together are able to quickly start up the engine over and over again. If you tried to replicate that with an ordinary car, you would find the starter would not have to power to instantly fire up the engine. Worse, after a half hour of starting and stopping in stop and go traffic, you would drain the battery and be stopped dead! Of course the Fiat Start and Stop System also depends on computer control to decide exactly when to stop and start the engine.

This is an excellent example of a relatively simple technology being put to work to save on gas. There are many other similar non revolutionary but rather incremental changes that could be combined to produce cars that get double the fuel economy of typical Detroit products. Fortunately for those who want to save on gas, nobody has to wait on Detroit anymore: just buy from the Europeans!