The petrol price has just increased significantly again . Residents of the Western Cape will soon be required to pay drought taxes to help fund government’s incompetence with regards to our water issues, because they didn’t do anything about it 10 years ago when the problem first became apparent. A 2L coke costs almost twice as much as it did in 2009, and there is almost nothing in any store that you can still buy for less than 10 bucks. Electricity prices, food prices, basic household stuff, it is all getting more and more expensive.
Our government, at national level at least , seems hell bent on driving the entire country into poverty, but honestly, if I had to write about that, I would probably end up so angry I’ll just smash my keyboard to pieces…. so back to cars.
Obviously life is getting more expensive and we are all looking for ways to save money. Petrol has become a major expense on most people’s budgets, so it only makes sense to try and save petrol wherever we can – but how exactly do we do that? There seems to be more than a million myths on the internet, most of which is complete rubbish. Car manufacturers are claiming better and better fuel economy figures on their new models, most of which is complete rubbish. And the allure of the electric car is also looming – surprisingly enough, not complete rubbish!
A good friend of mine has a really apt saying – information gained from the internet is usually worth the price you paid for it. In other words, the free advice you get from forums and websites (and in fact this blog?) is most likely inaccurate in most cases, and completely misleading in others. The number of stories about taping up your panel gaps, using the AC in stead of opening a window and the plethora of fuel saving devices you can install in your car, is simply astounding. Yes in some cases there is ‘some’ truth to it – if you are driving mostly motorway/ highway speeds, yes taping up panel gaps will have a tiny effect on your fuel consumption. The AC vs open window debate has also been heard a 100 times, and the fact is that the AC uses much more fuel than what you would gain in aerodynamics from keeping the windows closed. And yes electric cars do reduce your fuel costs massively, but I don’t believe that electric cars, in their current form, is the answer.
At the end of the day, there is only one way to save fuel, that really has a significant effect on consumption – Change the way you drive. Keep your revs in a nice happy medium, without going too high or too low, accelerate sensibly and don’t drive everywhere like your hair is on fire. Take all the unnecessary weight out of your boot and just use your common sense – it’s that simple.
Moving over to the more drastic end of the scale, replace your car with something more economical – simple right? Well as it turns out, this is a minefield of false advertising and a historical belief that has been drummed into all of us – smaller engines use less fuel. Yes my 4.0L V8 does use more petrol than my fiancee’s 1.4L corolla, but not as much as you might expect. In fact, I have been very lucky to have owned and driven many cars in my life, and I can not say for certain that in all cases smaller engines were more economical.
It doesn’t make sense, I know, but there are facts to support this theory of mine. Generally speaking, people have become very ignorant about cars in my opinion. The traditional ‘Test Drive’ has become a formality rather than an actual test. In fact most people decide what car they would like to buy before they’ve even physically looked at one, and most of these people buy THAT car, without looking at any others. This makes life easy for manufacturers because they can now design cars like fashion accessories. As long as it looks good, has the right image, a long list of features and a reasonably impressive set of numbers, it will sell! The problem with this approach is that the resultant cars are designed SPECIFICALLY to hit their target numbers and the actual ‘drive’ takes a back seat.
This is especially bad in the case of fuel economy figures, where the cars are now designed specifically to perform really well in the fuel economy test, but in the real world, there is no way they could ever match those numbers. It is here, especially, where smaller engines fake their way into giving a fantastic figure in the test, but in real world driving conditions, they struggle to even manage half of what they claim! Even Nick Molden, founder of Emission Analytics, has said that the massive differences in claimed figures vs real world figures are down to the way that cars are tested, and the fact that manufacturers are designing their cars specifically to perform well in the test rather than in the real world – a trend that seems to be worse in smaller engined cars where buyers are more focused on fuel economy.
Official fuel economy figures are obtained by testing cars in a lab, on a rolling road using the NEDC or New European Driving Cycle. The cycle was designed to mimic typical driving for a vehicle in a European city, but unfortunately, it isn’t very realistic. The test ‘favours’ smaller engined cars, because it involves fairly low speed driving and very, very gentle acceleration cycles. The cars also spend a lot of time stationary during the test, simply idling in one spot, which is why Start/Stop technology has found its way into many new cars on the market. Yes it makes the official fuel consumption figures better, but in the real world it makes almost no difference to fuel consumption, and significantly increases wear and tear on various engine components.
This is why I champion larger displacement engines. At the bigger engine-end of the market, buyers are less concerned with fuel economy, so the official figures are not that frightening when your L per 100km climbs into double digits. In my experience, larger engine variants of a particular car, can in fact be more economical to drive in the real world despite having worse economy figures, simply because the bigger engine doesn’t have to work so hard to shift the car around. Science even backs me up to some extent. In 2014 a study was carried out testing over 500 cars on British roads and comparing their claimed economy figures with the actual figures achieved and the results were very interesting!
Cars with engine sizes of 1000cc and smaller were found to use on average 36% more fuel than advertised. Cars with engines between 1001cc and 2000cc were only using 21% more fuel than advertised, and cars between 2001cc and 3000cc were only missing claimed figures by 15%. In the test they also checked cars with much bigger engines, and this trend continues. The bigger the engine, the closer you will get to the claimed figures. In fact on average, cars with engine sizes over 5L achieved within 1% of their claimed figures.
The new breed of downsized turbo engines also fail to deliver the fantastic economy claims from their brochures. Again the test is at fault, because with the slow acceleration used in the test, the turbo never actually spools up, so the engine never really ‘wakes up’ or delivers anywhere near the fantastic power they are capable of. But when you are out on a real road and that little turbo spools up, that tiny engine is capable of burning a lot more fuel than what it would have done in the test lab!
OK so the bigger engined cars can clearly achieve real world figures, closer to their claimed marks, but surely a smaller engine will still use less fuel? Why else would manufacturers keep ‘downsizing’ engines on all their cars. Well this is where it gets scary, in the 2014 tests, cars with engines smaller than a liter were found to average about 6.09 L/100km, despite claiming 3.9 L/100km. In contrast, cars with engines sized between 2 and 3 liters, achieved in real world tests, an average fuel consumption that was LESS than the sub-liter cars. Yes you heard it right…. In REAL WORLD test conditions, a car with an engine between 2 and 3 liters in size is actually MORE economical than a car with an engine size below one liter.
Hybrids fall into a category all on their own – yes their claimed figures look like magic! And to a certain extent they are like magic, because it’s all an illusion. In fact the new generation of Toyota Prius (still king of the hybrids), claims an average fuel consumption of 3.7 L/100km on the combined cycle, but most owners are reporting real world figures of more than twice that – and I have read reports of some Prius owners getting into double digits! The reason is simple – The NEDC test loves a Hybrid, because the acceleration is so gentle and the speeds for most of it so low, that the petrol engine remains switched off for more than half the test! In the real world we don’t drive anything like they do in the lab, so the figures end up being MUCH worse. In fact it is cheaper, more economical and much better for the environment to buy something like a BMW 320d than it would be to drive a Prius – not to mention that the BMW is an infinitely better car than the Prius!
So the obvious solution must be the electric car then! In theory I completely agree – in fact I firmly believe that the electric car will turn out to be the salvation of the petrol car! As more people switch to driving electric cars every day, it will save the resources for petrol powered ‘toys’ and classic cars to be enjoyed by dinosaurs like me! I digress…. Electric cars have one massive problem in that their ‘fuel tanks’ still need to come a long way – as does the electricity you fill them up with. Commercially available electric cars are still in their infancy, and already there are reports of battery packs failing after x-thousand miles, and people who complain that it takes longer and longer to charge them up. Others report that the range on the battery decreases year on year. This gradual deterioration of batteries is well known to anyone who owns a laptop or a phone, and would make me very worried about buying a second-hand electric car, since in most cases a replacement of the battery pack would greatly outweigh the value of the car.
To be fair, the technologies have gotten a lot better over the last couple of years, and new advances are being made almost daily. Manufacturers like Tesla are already re-writing the rule books on what we thought would be possible for electric cars. I think in the near future electric cars will become a genuinely viable option for car buyers, and I look forward to that day, but for now I’m still going to stick with internal combustion. My biggest problems with the electric car still remain – long charge times, unknown battery lifespan and the fact that the electricity is still being generated mostly by fossil fuels in this country, thus you are only moving the emissions from one place to another!
So what am I saying? Should we just accept our lot and forget about trying to save fuel? No. But educate yourself! Don’t believe a word you read in a car brochure and certainly don’t buy any of the crap a salesman might try to tell you! Stay away from cars that appear to be engineered specifically to get good results in the NEDC test and rather go for something with a sensibly sized engine, where you know you will at least get close to the claimed figures. For the love of all things Holy, GO AND TEST DRIVE a car before you buy it, and test drive more than 1 so you can compare it to its competition… but more important than any of this…. if I only manage to teach you one little thing today…. Don’t buy a Prius!
What do you drive? What kind of real-world figures are you getting? Was it better or worse than what you were expecting when you bought the car? Let us know in the comments!