Derby paves the way to improved fuel economy

On September 23, teams of two participated in the ecoDriver Derby, a competition geared at awarding the most fuel-efficient drivers at the University of Manitoba.

The teams drove to several stops around the city while tracking their vehicle’s overall fuel economy at the event, co-organized by ecoDriver Manitoba, University of Manitoba Student Association [UMSU] and University of Manitoba Recycling and Environment Group [UMREG].

After navigating their way to various checkpoints on Kenaston Boulevard, Pembina Highway and the university campus, the teams’ fuel ratings were compared to those provided by Natural Resources Canada [NRC]. The team to beat this NRC government rating by the largest per cent difference was deemed the winner.

As a joint project between Manitoba Eco-Network and Resource Conservation Manitoba, ecoDriver Manitoba is a relatively new program that has certainly made big moves toward promoting fuel efficiency since its debut last May.

“This is a great way to get people involved [in sparing fuel] that aren’t able to take the bus, ride their bike or walk to school,” said Kate Dykman, the program coordinator for ecoDriver. “There’s always times when people need to drive,” she continued.

Among the participating vehicles, a Subaru Baja that beat its NRC economy rating by a whopping 43 per cent won first place in the derby. In second place was a Honda Civic, which achieved a difference of 36.5 per cent.

The trip computer responsible for producing these ratings, called a Scangauge, provides instant feedback to its driver on various factors ranging from oil temperature to engine run time, all of which are considered when calculating a vehicle’s overall economy.

“[The device] makes a huge difference,” said Mike Sefton of UMREG, who also participated in the derby. With experience in other hypermiling competitions, similar types of car fuel efficiency events, Sefton has found the use of these computers extremely useful.

“You really don’t know what you’re doing, whether it’s better or worse than what you’ve done before. [ . . . ] It coaches you to practice what saves fuel and stop practicing what doesn’t.”

According to Dykman, many of these practices are centered on a “more relaxed way of driving.” To cut fuel use while driving within the city, she encourages drivers to “coast to a stop, not accelerate quickly and look far ahead so you can plan to maintain your speed.” On the highway, the key is to simply stay within the speed limit, as going more than 100 km per hour lowers fuel economy drastically.

Dykman adds that employing these habits not only saves money and cuts carbon dioxide emissions, but they’re “also safer because you’re paying more attention, and you’re conscious of the way you’re driving.”

Other techniques to save fuel include regular maintenance, not idling and not taking time to warm up once cold Winnipeg winters come along. “It’s a difficult thing for drivers to remember that you don’t need to warm up your car for more than 30 seconds before driving away, as long as you drive it gently for the first 5 km.”

Despite how easy it is to follow this system, Sefton believes that time constraints are partly to blame for our often fuel-hungry society.

“People are just so busy with everything, they don’t really have much time to dedicate to traveling. They often want to get that task accomplished very quickly, without much attention to how much it costs them or how much emissions they’re producing.”

According to Sefton, spreading awareness on the importance of reducing fuel consumption is a key issue.

“If people just became aware of a few very simple vehicle maintenance practices and driving habits, that would probably make a large difference in how much fuel they use.”