How to save on fuel costs (and is it worth it?)

With the price of Gow Hah (95 octane fuel) now into the 18 baht per litre bracket, and heading inexorably towards 20 baht, what can you do to lower your fuel bill? Lots, actually, but is it worth it?

Lamborghini L-147 Murcielago

To start with, check that your car really does need 95 octane. The owner’s manual will tell you. You can probably use 91, which is cheaper. Or even a 50/50 mix of 95 and 91. Using higher octane fuel than the engine actually needs does not give you more fuel economy. It is just more expense.

Gasohol? Right now I’d give it careful consideration only. I would wait and see what happens with other vehicles, similar to your own, letting them be the mobile guinea pigs. Or perhaps bunny rabbits.

Another certain way of improving the vehicle’s fuel consumption is to make sure the engine is in tune. How long is it since you had a service that included plugs, points, ignition timing, valve clearances and the like? To get the best fuel economy, the engine must be in its best state of tune. Inefficiency makes for fuel wastage. The engineers say you can save up to 30 percent here. But that is in extreme situations only. Like one plug that doesn’t fire!

Honda Insight

Another factor that influences the fuel economy is the rolling resistance of your tyres. Running under-inflated uses fuel. Bringing your tyre pressures up to a few psi above recommended levels will help. There’s another 5 percent here.

Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes fuel. It can increase fuel use by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. Cruising at more than 100 kph also lowers fuel economy by as much as 20 percent. Steady cruising is the answer of course. Better for fuel economy, and the comfort of the passengers.

Of course, the vehicle you drive also affects the fuel consumption, and I found the following examples given by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

First off, the top three gas guzzlers!
Lamborghini L-147 Murcielago
Aston Martin V12 Vanquish
Bentley Continental GT

Since all of these vehicles will cost more than 20 million baht in this country, I think any estimate of their fuel economy is a total waste of my time and yours! When you’ve splashed out the equivalent of 10 three bedroom houses and bought your Lambo Murcielago, do you care about its fuel consumption? I doubt it. I certainly wouldn’t!

The US EPA does also publish a list of fuel efficient vehicles, and not surprisingly, the hybrid vehicles are on the top of the list. The pundits suggest that we should choose from the good fuel economy vehicles and think of the money we save. However, it’s not that simple from the overall point of view.

Take for example, their number 1 fuel miser, the Honda Insight. This little gem costs 3.7 million baht. Compare this with the Honda Jazz that costs about 0.6 million baht, a saving of 3.1 million. I will now consult my crystal ball and suggest that in five years, the Insight will be worth 1 million baht, and the Jazz 0.2 million. You will have lost 2.7 million baht on the Insight and 0.4 million baht with the Jazz. So the Insight owner will have ‘lost’ 2.3 million baht more than the Jazz owner in the five years (ignoring servicing, insurance and other standard expenses). That breaks down to 460,000 baht a year.

So will the Insight owner save more than 460,000 baht per year in fuel costs? This is not possible. Not even the Lambo Murcielago owner will spend 38,000 baht a month on fuel.

I have always said that fuel is the cheapest part of motoring. Depreciation is the most expensive. Think about it.

For interest only, here is the EPA ‘good guys’ list, but I have only published vehicles that can be purchased here:

Honda Insight (Hybrid)
Honda Civic (Hybrid)
Toyota Prius (Hybrid)
Mini Cooper
Toyota Rav4 2WD
Ford Ranger Pickup 2WD
Mazda B2300 2WD

Honda and BAR to continue till end of 2007

One important factor for any race team to continue to improve is stability. That is stability in management, funding (and dare I say it - the driver line-up) and engineering, including supply of engines.

That Ferrari has done so well in the last few years relates in many, many ways to that stability. Now look at Toyota which has changed everything, including its drivers and toilet cleaners practically every year. And look where Toyota are on the manufacturers championship! And look at Jaguar, who has had more management and driver changes than anyone else, with mutterings now that Klien is on the way out. I agree that he is not scoring points for the team and hits things more often than his experienced team mate (who does score points), but what did they expect by taking on a rookie ‘pay driver’? Rather than sacking him, they should bite the bullet and have him driving and testing as many days as they can.

One team that has risen to the top is BAR. With Dave Richards, a true proven manager now at the helm, and a little stability in the driver line-up, now that the over-rated (in my opinion) and highly overpaid Canadian prima donna has gone, BAR have been on the podium almost every race.

In Germany at the GP, it was announced that Honda will continue to supply engines to BAR till the end of the 2007 season. “This season we are realizing concrete progress in this new challenge and are aiming to reach our initial goal of getting our first victory,” said Takanobu Ito, managing director of Honda Motor Company.

“In order to consistently win races in the future, we have made a new multi-year contract with BAR in which we will supply engines and conduct joint development of chassis technology,” he said.

“The flourishing partnership between BAR and Honda is now starting to show in our on track performance and Honda’s commitment to our future will ensure both long term stability and the continued competitiveness of the team,” added BAR team principal Dave Richards.

The second place at Hockenheim bears witness to that last remark!

Autotrivia Quiz
Last week I mentioned that Mazda has always been very successful at putting its rotary engines into two seater sports cars or four seater small sedans; however, it was not successful with the rotary in a larger 5/6 seater sedan. I asked what was the name of this vehicle? It was a Holden Kingswood body from Australia, fitted with the rotary (a 12A I think from memory) and called a Mazda Roadpacer, but it was not popular.

So to this week. What was the first 500cc car to win a hill climb outright? It was August 1946 at the Prescott hill climb. Clue - it wasn’t John Cooper!

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email auto [email protected]
Good luck!

What did we learn from the German GP?

Well we got some real racing - at last! Despite another win by Michael Schumacher, his 11th this season, this was probably the best GP of the year. Why? Because we actually saw some motor racing action! Finally!

Button, Alonso, Webber and Sato all gave us plenty of action with good passing and re-passing manoeuvres. What we have been waiting for - passing on the track, and not in the pits. Motor racing is about going fast on a circuit and beating other cars. It is not about using ‘strategy’ to bring your man in to get him out on a vacant track. We can all go fast on our own, it’s the ability to race and beat other drivers for possession of the same piece of bitumen that sorts the men from the boys.

I must admit the following fact was pointed out to me by my old mate Alan Coates, but what happened to the much touted “dirty air” that is supposed to stop the cars getting too close together and therefore putting an end to passing? Did the German authorities ‘clean’ it all before the race? The efforts of the above named drivers put the lie to all that chit-chat.

And talking about chit-chat, I continue to appeal to Star Sports to get rid of the inane bletherer Steve Slater, and while they’re showing him the door, the woman that introduces and closes the show can share his taxi. Can they find nobody who knows the sport and doesn’t just babble to fill up the airwaves? The Slater person finishes every race talking up the chances of the guy running second. This week, shrieking that Button had just pulled 0.5 seconds out of Michael Schumacher’s lead and could make it to the top step of the podium. This was eight laps from the end and Schumacher was 10 seconds in front. A Grade 3 schoolboy could work out that at that rate it would take Button 20 laps to catch him, but there were only eight. Button drove well, but he wasn’t going to catch Schumacher.

So what other things did we learn, other than the fact that Button can’t do up his helmet properly! We learned that BMW Williams have a test driver in Antonio Pizzonia, not a race driver, with him finishing behind Mark Webber’s Jaguar. Webber will be going to Williams next year is the popular rumour; however, it could be Renault, as Jarno Trulli has announced he is leaving Flavio Briatore’s team. Since Flavio owns Webber’s contract, you might just see the Aussie in the Anglo-French cars.

While still on Williams, Montoya is not having a golden year. He stuffed the start and never looked as if he was in the hunt after that. We know he is going to McLaren Mercedes for 2005. Perhaps his mind is elsewhere?

Another driver whose mind was elsewhere, in fact I think he left it in the motorhome, was Ferrari’s “equal number 1” (quote from R. Barichello). Rooby Baby’s move on Coulthard on the first lap had no hope of coming off. The only thing that did come off was his front wing. He rejoined, but never even looked to be in contention.

Another driver who was strangely detuned all weekend was Sato. Slower than Button by far, and despite some feisty driving in the race, failed to capitalize on the car’s performance the way Button did.

Young Kimi Raikkonen showed he is still a very young man, with yet another display of spitting the dummy after his McLaren spat its rear wing element, while David Coulthard demonstrated why he won’t be at McLaren next year!

The next race is the Hungarian GP on August 15. Let’s hope it will be as entertaining as this one was.