It can be argued whether weight or aerodynamics has a greater effect on vehicle mileage, but generally speaking, all of the sources that I checked agreed that you can increase vehicle mileage per gallon by reducing weight.
One of the reasons is that weight has a significant effect on the rolling resistance of tires and another is that greater mass has greater inertia and that it takes more energy to accelerate and to stop a heavier load than a lighter load.
I was curious about these facts because I recently read an article in the Kansas City Star that said that companies in the United States export more than half of the gasoline that is produced here. Imagine that. Rather than using an excess amount of fuel to help reduce the cost of gasoline to Americans, American companies would rather sell that gasoline at higher prices to someone else while also keeping our fuel costs higher.
Actually, under a capitalistic system, this makes perfect sense. After all, nobody here wants the government to be running the energy companies and setting fuel costs for Americans. Fuel prices should be set by corporate America and by the rules of supply and demand.
So, unless we want a more socialized way to provide gasoline for our cars, we have to take things into our own hands if we expect to get more miles per gallon. That takes us back to weight and a few other factors over which we actually have a fair measure of control.
For example, according to a number of sources, each 100 pounds of extra weight in a car results in an increase of about one or two percent in cost. At today's gasoline rates, that is about five cents per gallon.
I know of an individual that carries several hundred pounds of sand bags in her trunk to hopefully help her get around better in the winter. That might make sense on those days when the roads are actually snowy, but the rest of the year she is spending more than $0.25 per gallon extra. Some of us use our cars and trucks to carry bunches of stuff in the rear all year around and each 100 pounds is costing us at least five cents per gallon. That's about as much as you save by driving into Missouri to buy gas.
Another source says that aggressive driving costs as much as an extra 33 percent at highway speeds or five percent around town for an additional cost of 18 cents to $1.19 per gallon. Also, for each five miles per hour over 50, they say that you can add another 25 cents per gallon. Only one source dared to mention that many Americans are obese and otherwise overweight and cost themselves additional money just to drive around town. Actually, that may be the most difficult weight problem to solve for most of us.
Page 2 of 2 - Vehicle manufacturers are trying to get weights down by using carbon fibers, for example, but they presently cost more than aluminum or steel because they are also in big demand for airplanes, bicycles and canoes. So don't expect significant weight reductions in vehicles in the near future.
Do not rely on corporate America to provide you cheap gasoline as long as there are other people willing to pay more for the same product elsewhere. Most of us do not want the government to take over the energy companies even though we seem to hear a lot of blame placed on government for high fuel costs. Reality shows that that argument is bogus.
Besides bicycle commuting to work or taking public transit and car-pooling, the best ways that you can save on fuel are in your control. You can reduce your vehicle and personal weight, keep your tires aired up, and drive carefully. I don't have the kind of money that it takes to drive like a crazy person or at least I don't want to waste it on buying gasoline. You have a choice.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.