Top ways to drive on a diet

I don’t know what you would do if one half of the “world’s most fuel efficient couple” complimented you on your smooth, efficient driving style and asked if you might be available to take the wheel on a leg of some as yet unplanned eco drive, but I blushed.

Of course, my first thought was that John Taylor, an Australian who, along with his wife Helen, have set 43 world driving records for fuel economy, was just being a bit of a charmer, buttering up the local journalist for a better story. But, then, he effusively repeated his compliments in front of others — so he had to be sincere, right? Besides, I really was quite smooth.

The Taylors, who educate people all over the world on how to save money and fuel, and reduce CO2 emissions by driving smarter and more safely, were in Toronto Oct. 28 as part of the Smarter Driver Challenge, which in turn is part of Canadian Geographic and Shell Canada’s Energy Diet Challenge, a contest, according to the press information, “designed to engage Canadians in using resources more efficiently in their homes and on the road.”

Each competitor drove a 2012 Toyota Camry with one of the Taylors in the passenger seat. In the first instance, the Taylors evaluated how efficiently the competitor drives without any training. After getting some tips, the competitors were measured on how they improved their fuel efficiency through the application of the tips.

I, too, would come under his scrutiny. Choosing a 2012 Toyota Camry and a 15-minute downtown Toronto route for the evaluation, Taylor stresses that starting off “nice and relaxed and calm” is key to any drive. This means making sure your seat is the right distance so you can be comfortable driving and adjusting all your mirrors for proper visibility — before you start the car.

After complimenting me on my smooth takeoffs, Taylor explained how he got started in the business of breaking world records.

“Thirty years ago, there was a request on television to do a world record drive around the U.K.,” he says. “So, I applied. I did the drive two days later and created the first world record drive around Britain for fuel efficiency. The car [driven] was a Ford. Ford contacted me afterward and said, ‘Do you realize you’ve achieved the best ever [ fuel economy] figures in history? We’re just bringing out a new diesel. We’d like you to drive for us this year.’ And, in one year, we went out and broke nine world records.”

The continuation of world record drives, he adds, meant that other automakers as well as tire manufacturers and fuel companies began to approach them, using them for marketing purposes.

Taylor’s fuel economy tips are not rocket science, many of them common knowledge such as keeping the car’s tires properly inflated. “[Proper] tire pressure would be in the top five. [Then there’s] using a quality fuel and quality lubricant, getting into the highest gear without lugging the engine [in a car with a manual transmission]. Getting your car serviced when the manufacturer tells you to get it serviced is one of the most important things as well. And, of course, being calm and relaxed and courteous. If someone wants to come in [to your lane], allow him to come in. You can be calm and courteous on the road and everybody ends up driving in a straight, calm, relaxed fashion as well.”

The Taylors’ last record was achieved a three months ago. “We just smashed the U.S. 48 contiguous states gasoline record [in a new Chevrolet Cruze Eco with less than 400 kilometres on the odometer]. “We were told that if we got 42 [U.S.] miles per gallon [5.6 litres per 100 kilometres], then we would have done very well. We said, ‘We can better that by 50%.’ They said ‘you’re joking.’

Taylor says the 16,000-km drive was observed in its entirety, complete with independent witnesses filling the car and sealing the fuel tank. “We did it in 21 days. We ended up with 64.44 miles per gallon [3.65 L/100 km], and that was without trying. Could we have got a better figure? Yes, if we had tried harder. But we want to make the drives that we do realistic. So, when we were driving in a 60-mph [96 kilometres an hour] zone, we’d sit at 55 mph [90 km/h]. When we were in a 75-mph [120-km/h] zone, we’d sit between 68 [110] to 70 [113]. So, we were just under the legal speed limit all the way through.”

And, although one of his tips includes avoiding rush-hour traffic if possible, the record drive included rush hour in a half-dozen major cities.

“As far as driving in city traffic is concerned,” Taylor says, “it’s very important that we try to educate people on how to be more patient and to be a little bit nicer to other people on the road. In a two-lane situation, if you stay in the right lane and let people overtake you on the left side, that makes life a little bit easier. But, it doesn’t matter which city you’re in, there’s no easy fix.”

Back to me: “You’re driving beautifully, you’re consistent and your [fuel economy] figures are superb. You’re achieving about four litres per 100 km. You’re sitting just five km/h an hour under the legal speed limit. Our recommendation is: If the speed limit says 60 km/h, we will sit at 50 or 55. If it’s a 110 zone, we sit at 100. The difference between driving at 100 and 110 km/h is about 23% of your fuel efficiency. So, you can save 23% without doing something too crazy”

As for being stopped at red lights, Taylor says, “If you are going to be idling for more than 10 seconds, turn your engine off. Actually put your car into Park and put your handbrake on. It takes 10 seconds of fuel to restart your car. In Toronto, I’ve noticed some counters that tell you how many seconds you have before the traffic light changes. So, if it tells you 90 seconds, turn your engine off. Then you’ve got 80 seconds worth of credit fuel wise.”

Taylor is hopeful that stop/start systems that are becoming common in Europe will find their way into vehicles bound for North America. “It’s the way to go because you’re releasing less CO2 into the air and you’re saving fuel at the same time.”

We pull in to the parking lot and I quickly kill the engine. I await the critique: “ Let’s look at how relaxed you were in the car — very relaxed. Your driving was smooth, it was calm, it was collected. You have the best all around vision and visibility of any driver I’ve seen. You’re very tuned in. Your awareness of what was going on around you was absolutely world class. Brilliant to watch.”

I couldn’t help myself: I grinned like an idiot.

If you want to be a smooth operator, here are 20 fuel economy tips from John and Helen Taylor:

1. Drive smoothly
Aggressive driving can use as much as a third more fuel than safe driving. Avoid accelerating or braking too hard and try to keep your steering as smooth as possible.

2. Use higher gears
The higher the gear you drive in the lower your engine speed is, which can improve fuel efficiency. So change up a gear whenever you can, without labouring the engine.

3. Tune and service your engine
A well-tuned engine can improve fuel economy by up to 4%, so change your car’s oil and follow your car manufacturer’s recommendation on servicing.

4. Keep your tires at the right pressure
Correctly inflated tires are safer and last longer. A tire that is under-inflated by just one psi can reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 3%. An under- or over-inflated tire is also more susceptible to failing.

5. Avoid carrying excess weight
For every extra 45 kilogram you carry in your car, fuel efficiency can drop by 1% to 2%. So keep your trunk or back seat clear of unnecessary items that just add weight to your vehicle.

6. Remove the roof rack
If you’re not using your roof rack, then remove it. It affects the aerodynamic efficiency of the vehicle and creates drag, reducing fuel economy by as much as 5%.

7. Use the correct oil
Always use the recommended grade of motor oil. Using the manufacturer’s recommended lubricant can improve fuel efficiency by 1% to 2%. Higher-quality motor oils can help your engine operate more efficiently.

8. Fuel matters
All fuels are not created equal. Fuel economy is maximixed in the engine through a combination of good driving habits and using the right fuel … one that helps reduce friction and improves cleanliness in the engine, thereby improving fuel efficiency.

9. Avoid excess idling
Idling gets you nowhere, but it still burns fuel. Turn the engine off when you’re in a queue or waiting for someone until you need it.

10. Plan trips carefully
Cutting down on the time spent in the car is the easiest way to conserve fuel. To reduce driving time, combine all your short trips and errands into a single journey.

11. Avoid over-revving
Change gears prudently when you’re accelerating. Never redline the rev counter.

12. Keep your distance
Leave a sensible distance between yourself and the car ahead to give you ample time to brake safely.

13. Avoid high speeds
[if it’s safe to do so, in the right lane] The faster you go, the more wind resistance you’ll encounter and the more fuel your vehicle will consume just to maintain speed. Driving just eight km/h over the speed limit can affect fuel economy by up to 23%.

14. Use air conditioning sparingly
Air conditioning puts added strain on the engine and uses fuel to operate, so limit use to particularly hot or cold days. When possible, use the fan instead.

15. Breathing in
A clogged air filter can increase fuel consumption by as much as 10%, because insufficient air intake means each combustion is less efficient.

16. Avoid rush hour
If you can travel outside of peak times, do so; you’ll spend less time stuck in traffic and consume less fuel as a result.

17. Conserve momentum
Instead of coasting when you reach a downward slope, maintain steady engine revs. This will mean you pick up speed and, if you then have a hill to climb, it gives you considerable added momentum to help go up it energy efficiently.

18. Ensure your fuel cap is air tight

Fuel evaporates every time you open the fuel cap. To stop this, make larger fill-ups as opposed to repeatedly topping up your tank.

19. Keep calm
When you’re not calm, you’re more likely to make errors of judgment. Fuel efficiency is all about smoothness. Keeping calm is absolutely crucial to achieving best fuel economy results.

20. Headwinds
When you’re faced with a headwind, the engine has to work much harder to cover the same distance because of drag. The only thing to do is to moderate your speed to ensure that the engine doesn’t end up labouring too hard.

John and Helen Taylor with writer Brian Harper.
Photograph by: Darren Calabrese, National Post