All Things From All Cars For All People

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Can driving have a permaculture method? Can driving fast be a useful skill for driving for economy? I am convinced that these aspects of machine handling go together, and here's why...

 

Driving is indulgent fun.

Even vegetarians who love all life on earth can take great pleasure from the experience of a motor car, and sometimes its larger variant: a camper van. They should not feel guilty for it. Toy rocket-ships are what we have to traverse dimensions that can bring distances together so people can be together, which always makes the best journeys worth it.

The infrastructure for non-fossil fuel burning things just isn’t here yet: it’s very difficult to build a fully viable alternative to a fossil-driven engine, even as a car company. Corporate stagnation is quite slow off the mark for radical change, so we still fill our cars up with dinosaurs and sickening biofuel land-grab. Painful though it is, this negligence to adapt what we know to be damaging into a non-harmful evolution of technology should not detract from our enjoyment or most efficient usage of cars. In fact, it would be a waste of all the things that make a car if we were not using them to their full potential…

There are ways to drive which will reduce your fuel consumption by as much as a number of percent. There are also ways to drive which enhance and optimise your experience of owning a car, and these are detailed below. In isolation they may not provide much, yet combination into a new driving style will assist you in saving a little money over the long run. Many of these tips work best during after-hours driving or in places where the roads are quiet.

Some common mistakes drivers make include taking a vehicle out of gear while moving forward. Neutral isn’t really a gear, unless you’re Vin Diesel pretending to change gears for effect. It’s the most fuel-inefficient way an engine runs in a modern moving vehicle, because it is fuelling to spin it and idle against nothing. 

By leaving a car in gear and coasting during braking, going downhill, or turning a corner, the motion of the car’s wheels can move the pistons in the engine alone. This works at all times when not accelerating or cruising. As long as you’re moving along in gear with no throttle, electronic fuel injection systems from about the year 2000 onwards will shut fuelling completely off to the engine.

This mechanical linkage is severed when in neutral or with the clutch down, so the kinetic energy cannot be used to keep the engine moving because fuel does it instead. Coasting also gives you the safety benefit of engine braking, which is useful for extending the life of your brakes (probably made from horrible stuff), plus it gives that bit more control and feedback through the steering wheel in front-wheel drive cars — especially handy as extra tactile driving information in modern power-steering systems.

Everybody has to pay exact attention to where they are going, all the while they are on the way there. If during driving you can be completely present, it will allow you to enjoy greater competence, comfort and safety in your activity. This doesn’t mean driving like Miss Daisy — or driving to get lost and crash. To be fully aware of the current road situation, is to act with caution but not hesitation. 

If you’re approaching a reasonably quiet or open junction, slow so that you can crawl up to the line with enough time to see if it’s safe to go or not. In doing so, you will avoid the debt of force that stopping penalises the moving through inertia. All it takes is a few lines of sight, and especially during empty late night time driving, it will endow the driver with flow and confidence.

Obviously you should always stop, if to do the opposite is a red light or unsafe. Brakes must always be used when it is necessary to stop or slow down a vehicle. However, if their use is spared only for these occasions, not only will their life increase slightly, but the coasting at all other times will reduce your fuel consumption. At any time you are slowing down, engine braking will give extra stopping power to the vehicle, so the clutch should always go down at the brink of stalling to maintain optimum slowing efficiency.

This is particularly easy when going downhill. In order to maximise fuel efficiency, it’s worth leaving the vehicle in gear and using engine braking to keep at a steady speed. Obviously don’t get too close to anything in front, but by going down a gear or two until the right speed is held compared to the slope of the hill, it is entirely possible to take down hill roads whilst applying the brakes for minimal periods to slow or stop the car as required.

On a motorway, try and find space as much distance away from other road users as possible. This means driving in the safest possible way by planning ahead for two or three vehicles in front. Viewing the flow of traffic early allows any waves in the fluctuating speed of traffic to be countered by gently coasting, with enough timing. Avoiding a complete stop is never always possible, though with practice can be pulled off quite easily to reduce inertia friction demands from breaking the grip of gravity on a stationary object.

70mph +7 is plenty. Speeding may be exhilarating (if dangerous) at extremes, however it’s not the fastest way to get anywhere far by very much. Our time-saving bias tells us that the faster we try to immediately cover a distance, the shorter a time it will take. This is quite flawed logic: it’s only effective over long distances, and even then by surprisingly small amount. It’s not really possible on the M25 anyway, but in theory…

It doesn’t get made up by general relativity. This would mean that the faster anything moves, such as a car, the slower time is perceived due to relativity with slower-moving things, such as the ambient passing landscape. Perhaps this is a mechanism which physically causes an almost imperceptible shift in the unconscious experience of time, and that forms the pleasure from speeding itself. Who knows? I can’t imagine scientists conducting time dilation experiments on the experience of time for the average Audi A4 diesel driver.

The sat-nav timer may be a worthwhile challenge over a large distance, but often it simply cannot be beaten as real-life traffic time costs negate any marginal gains. It’s a diminishing return for the car too: fuel consumption is affected most strongly by air resistance in driving speed. This increases exponentially as the speed of the car increases. The way to avoid this is to accelerate no more than is necessary, and to hold a steady load on the burning vibratory box. 

A constant steering radius is easiest to do on familiar corners, and you may already drive like this anyway. The key to losses on any closed system like a car, (or the complete industrialised process of a planet) is to remove all unnecessary steps that create inefficiency. Using our senses better, like computer sensors, we have the ability to control a vehicle with all the precision of a sculptor’s scalpel. This is because, like the scalpel, or paintbrush, a car can literally become an extension of a user’s body. Slightly more complicated tool, but nonetheless, a tool.

On a car that draws its desire lines through space, minimising the steering wheel input allows you to accomplish manoeuvres more smoothly. In order to reduce drag from tyres, some racing drivers even move the steering wheel very rapidly in quick successions to reduce the time the car is spent moving forward with wheels pointing off-centre.

Road markings are mostly useful most the time, but sometimes the optimum driving arc forms a desire line away from what has been painted on the road. As with all of these tips, be aware of your surroundings. Check your inner wing mirror on long sweeping motorway corners to see how this works. Holding a constant steering angle over an excessively long, variable corner cause a terrible accident — if the road has not been read…

It shouldn’t be underestimated how much reading the road can help your own driving, particularly to the extent to which you match your speed to it. If you are on a back road at night, you are able to read the road as far ahead as your headlights shine, but with a bit of warning from road users in the opposite lane since you can see the headlights before the car. Reading the road also includes taking terrain into account, as well as weather conditions that affect the levels of grip, as well as other likely road user scenarios in urban areas.

“If in doubt, flat out” was the adage of the late great Colin Mcrae. This quote can still be seen in small vinyl stickers adorning the flanks of Subarus and the like. These days, this advice is slightly less likely to murder naive supercar drivers than when the cars were a lot more basic on the passive safety gadgets…! 

Yet on modern cars, these very lifesaving devices have detracted from the human interface by reducing the threshold of organic intuitive control — which also has lifesaving potential. The designer of the original Mini, Alec Issigonis, was quite fond of active safety: “I design my cars with such good steering, such good brakes, that if anyone has an accident in one it’s their own fault.”

No matter what driver-aiding devices are engineered into cars, the driver is still potentially the strongest and weakest link in the chain. Until automation fully takes over, this is always the most crucial aspect of driving. It’s always driving technique which provides the biggest gains, from abstract kinetic enjoyment from speed or cornering, and fuel economy.

This brings us to probably the easiest beneficial impact that can be had on your fuel economy, which is the state of the car you are driving itself. The pressure and condition of the tyres, balance of wheel weights, brake condition, whether you bothered to take your roof rack off or not, plus any minor body panel damage, may all have a minute effect on their own, but a much larger impact when the cumulative effects are felt over the passage of time.

The same is true of driving technique. It’s well worth considering driving as a skill with things you can do actively in order to get the most from your vehicle — whether it is for ragging at the limits, or making fuel go further. Both are related skills, both are worthwhile, especially in small-engined cars — they remain the most fun to drive on a road. 

Hyper-performance vehicles simply have more ability than can be granted within the margins of error for road safety — which ultimately is only to drive as fast as you can see, that way you can stop in time. Large power is thirsty. Small power used wisely can quench the same thirst...

 

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