The old saying is that “a leopard never changes its spots” – by which we mean, with people, in that you cannot change someone’s character or personality. In relation to motoring, it’s a fascinating subject, as I’m sure that we have all come across people with the mildest of personalities in normal life, but who become real tigers behind the wheel of a car. It’s a big surprise though, when you encounter such people, and it’s not necessarily a pleasant one. The casual acceptance of a lift, expecting an undramatic, possibly even boring journey, can end up as a white-knuckle ride that takes your breath away. Such split personality is not out of keeping with wild animals though, like the leopard and tiger. They may not change their spots, but their spots are part of their hunting strategy and, until the hunt really begins, they use the camouflage of their spots or stripes, and their slow and quiet stalking style, to be as invisible and inaudible as they can be, before then dramatically launching themselves on unsuspecting victims, when a manic chase often begins.
What’s this to do with saving fuel, and adopting a specific driving style to achieve that? Well, as many have attested, those top stars who drive fast on the track are often the most careful and apparently introverted drivers on public roads. Maybe it’s because they take quite enough risks on the track, when their own skills are the prime determinants of their safety. The first 200 yards of any F1 race show that it’s not always the case though, but I somehow imagine that the promoters of Grand Prix racing probably think, quite correctly, that the usual first corner and first lap car-to-car contact is a major part of the entertainment. But those guys are actually astonishingly fast, point-to-point, even on public roads, and it’s their observation skills, anticipation, and supreme car control that gives that false impression of a mild, inoffensive personality.
That leads us on to what we’ll refer to as ìeco drivingî, which is not necessarily slow, laborious, boring, or lacking in challenges. Even when you need to go from A-to-B as fast as is legal, there’s ample scope for saving at least 20 per cent in your fuel costs compared with another driver who lacks an appreciation of the benefits of skilful, considerate, economical driving. As we have said many times before, it’s all about observation, anticipation, and knowing your car, and particularly its engine and gearbox ñ just like any racing driver. Plus, the appreciation of what pure speed does to your fuel consumption. And there’s no way of avoiding that penalty other than taking advantage of favourable winds, and maybe skilful slipstreaming, which can be dangerous, in most, but not all, circumstances. But using a few key skills, particularly on busy or unchallenging roads when there’s little fun in even trying to drive fast, is when ìeco drivingî offers an entertaining alternative to the norm. But it does demand a change of mindset, just like the leopard, from hunter to stalker.
Where do fast drivers waste most fuel? Mostly in three or four of these activities:
1. Closing fast on traffic ahead, when there’s no obvious overtaking opportunity, and braking hard to join a queue. It just wastes fuel. Lift off early to save fuel and reduce brake wear.
2. Sitting close behind a vehicle ahead, in a low gear, mile after mile, hoping for overtaking opportunities. Drop back a bit for a better view of the road ahead, and grab a high gear to save fuel.
3. Being in the wrong gear: when you see an overtaking opportunity, drop a gear, maybe two, accelerate hard, and you’ll be past quickly, safely and using less fuel than in a higher gear.
4. Driving too close to any vehicle ahead, full stop! It foolishly puts a driver ahead in charge of your car, forcing you to brake and accelerate when they choose, not you, as it should be.
5. Not planning, or leaving enough time for, a journey, and having to break speed limits to get there in time. Cruising at 80mph uses at least 20 to 25 per cent more fuel than at a more modest 70mph.