Gas Gauge and Fuel Costs ~ Hybrid Car Review
Hybrid Car Review: Gas Gauge and Fuel Costs

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gas Gauge and Fuel Costs

Fuel Economy GaugeForget about CAFE, make car companies install fuel economy gauges into every car. I bet fuel efficiency would climb by 10%. But only if the gauges give the driver enough feedback that they can make real time decisions.

Hybrid car owners know all about these gauges. Some get addicted to watching the readout. So much so, they join hypermiler clubs and compete against others to raise the bar as far as they can. But most people don't get that chance.

How to Save Gas: 101

You always see it in advice columns on how to save on gas. Somewhere after the list the government made up 30 years ago about closing the windows and getting rid of the dead weight is the most important thing. Pay attention to how you're driving and you'll waste less fuel. If you think to yourself, that was money flying out the exhaust after stomping on the gas pedal, you will start to modify your own behavior.

Now think how much easier it would be for those who are interested to do so if they have a fuel economy gauge giving them real time feedback on how much gas they're wasting when they floor it.

This would not work for everyone, of course. Some people would ignore the gauge no matter what. Others will pay attention sometimes, but won't really want to do anything about it. But I bet enough people would pay attention to it that it would make a huge difference in the long run.

Different Gauges for Different Folks

But what kind of gauges would be necessary? There are some out there that are just a waste of space, if you ask me. Those 'eco' lights that come on (see GM and Chrysler) when you're driving economically are a waste of dashboard. There's no real feedback, no ability to test, no way to really learn from your own experience on the best way to drive. Give me a fuel economy gauge that gives me mpg (even if it isn't all that accurate) and I can do something with that.

It also gives you motivation. I've talked about this before (Nissan fuel economy meters), but I once rented a car for a week. The car had an instant fuel economy gauge, plus a real-time mpg readout. When I first got the car, the overall number was sitting at 16 mpg and my first thought was how much was it going to cost me in gas to drive this monster.

Because I was motivated and because I had the instant feedback, by the end of the week I had gotten the average up to 25 mpg. And that was without any special techniques.

What the Car Companies Are Doing

According to a story at, the major car manufacturers are already working on this.

•Nissan. A fuel-efficiency meter started going into the instrument cluster of select Nissan and Infiniti cars, pickups and SUVs. It's going to be phased into the entire lineup. Nissan says the gauge can cut gas use by 10%.

•Ford Motor (F). Vehicles such as Ford Mustang, Edge and Fusion have a fuel-efficiency meter in the optional information center part of the instrument cluster. It denotes fuel use in a bar chart like the one denoting signal strength on cellphones.

•Chrysler and General Motors (GM). Displays show when cylinders are deactivated in the gas-saving systems of certain V-8 and V-6 engines. Chrysler vehicles show the message "fuel saver mode" on the instrument panel.

•Honda (HMC). Some models have a dashboard light that illuminates when gas mileage is optimal.

Toyota wants to find out if drivers will use the fuel-economy gauges.
Just Do It

This seems like a good idea to me. If you ask me, getting a law passed to make fuel economy gauges mandatory should be straightforward. The pluses are easy to point out:
  • The gauge is inexpensive,
  • Popular with the environmentalist crowd,
  • Easy way for car companies to show they are doing something
  • Reduces oil dependence
  • Creates jobs (somebody has to make the gauges and install them)
What do you think?

Could it happen? What are the negatives?

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