When did you last fill up?

As my regular readers will know, I’m currently visiting family on the East Coast of the USA. While I’ve been here I’ve been noticing the differences between the UK and USA cultures from things as diverse as eating out and shopping to travel and environmental issues.
Now, before I go any further I feel duty-bound to put a mini-disclaimer here. I know the USA is a gargantuan country, encompassing many different communities and lifestyles. But I feel that the generalization I’m about to make holds good enough for most of the country that I won’t feel bad making it. Not only that, but the generalisation I’m about to make holds true for my home country and most of Europe just as much as it is true for North America.

The car is king.

America, like most of the western world, is in love with gas.
America, like most of the western world, is in love with gas.

Photo by Nikki Bloomfield
More after the jump
Seriously, there are wide roads everywhere. Even if you live in a sleepy suburb of a major city like my in-laws, who as it happens live in Fairfax, VA – only about 40 minutes from the nation’s capitol – most things are a drive away.
The store is a drive away. The bookshop is a drive away. Even the local take-away places are a drive away. In the course of a week in a busy American household (as is true in the UK) tens and sometimes hundreds of miles are covered making short trips well within a twenty-mile radius of the house. The car has become the enabler of frequent errand making. As I’ve pointed out before, short trips are the most inefficient trips you can make in a car. Gasoline and Diesel powered engines don’t even have a chance to warm up to the optimum operating temperature when making a short sub 5 mile trip. The consequence of all these short trips, as my father in law commented this morning when he drove my partner and I to a local restaurant:

“Well all this running around sure as heck hammers the mileage”

Of course, my father in law normally uses his prius to drive to and from work, and very little else. It doesn’t get used for all these little errands that so many cars do as my mother in law tends to do all the short errands. But after a week of being on vacation while we visit, his car had been given a huge dose of short-trips, taking the fuel efficiency from a respectable 55 mpg down to just above 50. He was right. Lots of small, short trips don’t give you good fuel economy – prius driver or not.
As an owner of a Plug-In Prius I am used to doing over 800 miles on a single tank of fuel. I have a T-Shirt which reads “I Get 100 MPG (I forget when I last filled up)”. It would be better of course if I never filled up my car. Which brings me to the next point.
Think about your trips around town. In the course of your day how many miles do you travel? Of those miles, do you ever go more than 40 miles in a single trip? Do you return back to your house after each? If so, how about the following:
You drive a car which never needs filling up at a gas station. You refuel it every night on your way out of the garage into your house. It’s easy to fix and never requires an oil-change. It goes round town and, in some urban areas, gives you priority use of HOV lanes (even when you only have yourself in the car) and specialist, close-to-store parking. The fuel is cheaper to buy and doesn’t ever need queuing for.

Cars like the Smart ED could revolutionise urban and surburban tranportation
Cars like the Smart ED could revolutionise urban and surburban tranportation

Photo by Thingermerjig.
If the above description sounds good then an EV can probably meet your needs. There aren’t all that many models to choose from right now, unless you convert your own, but for those urbanites who don’t need that big SUV there are vehicles which will save you money and time.
For those who need to make longer trips on a regular basis (and I don’t mean those who make the once-a-year trip upstate or cross-country to see relatives – they can hire a petrol car for the week and get a vehicle which meets their needs exactly) then a Plug in Hybrid is a sure-fire way of saving money and filling up less.
If you get frustrated about filling up than maybe you’re filling up with the wrong stuff. If like my father in law, filling up seems like only yesterday – then give sites like Pluginamerica or the PluginBritain
could help you achieve fuel filling nirvana.
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Regardless of belief (speaking here as a non-christian) Easter has for a long time symbolized the start of spring and a new start. Perhaps tomorrow should be yours.