Maryland Blogger Alliance

Alliance FAQs

Latest MBA Posts

July 28, 2008

The car mileage Olympics

Maybe some of you recall the Shell Mileage Test commercials from, oh, about a couple of centuries ago?

There was another commercial I remember even better, in which the winning car (the one with Shell with Platformate) drove through a sheet marking where the car without Platformate had stopped.

With the current price of gas more than 10 times its price when these commercials ran, the whole subject of mileage is back at the fore. I have a mileage gauge on my 2006 Toyota Avalon, and I'll confess that it's somewhat affected my driving style. For example, I've taken to accelerating slowly and consistently from a stop; I use cruise control a lot, including the cool "laser cruise control" that adjusts your speed based on your distance from the guy in front of you; and I try to avoid unnecessary downshifting when I go up a hill (this is an automatic transmission, by the way). The car is rated something like 22/31 EPA, and I get about 18/31, which I think is pretty good. I pay a lot of attention to the mileage, but I'm not kooky about it.

So I have to tell you this story. A few weeks ago, we were having dinner at the house of a couple we're friends with. My friend -- call him "C" -- was poking fun at himself for being extremely concerned with the mileage gauge on his hybrid Camry to the point that he would turn off the air conditioning in the summer and leave the windows open even in scorching heat. C told us he also took an alternate route in his neighborhood to avoid a slight hill that might cut into his mileage. And on the highway, he'd get into the right lane and drive 55. We were all laughing about this, including C himself, because he realized it sounded silly. He doesn't do this so much to save the money. I mean, he's a serious lawyer at a serious law firm. It's more like he's playing a video game with the mileage gauge and trying to beat the top score. Mrs. C said at dinner that she was convinced that if the government required all cars to have mileage gauges, the guys of this country would all compete in an attempt to increase their mileage, and we'd save a lot of money on gas.

That was probably the funniest line of the evening. But I had to re-evaluate my reaction after having a conversation this weekend with another friend of mine -- call him "P." A few weeks ago, my daughter and I came up beside P and his son at a traffic light, and they waved to us. But within a few seconds after the light changed, P's car was nowhere to be seen. My daughter wasn't driving particularly fast, so we were baffled. I asked P about it this weekend, and he said, "I must have been driving the hybrid." And then he told me all the things he does to try to get the highest possible number on that mileage gauge. The punchline was that his son once drove home from out of town and got in late. P asked his son why he was late, and his son grumbled that he was "stuck behind some guy in a hybrid."

So if any of you drive a hybrid or otherwise have a gas mileage gauge on your dashboard, I'd like to hear from you. And even if you don't, what's your opinion of this business?