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Make Driving A Car Suck Less.

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You’d think that a small Japanese hatchback with a 1.8L 4 cyl engine and 6 speed transmission would get pretty decent fuel mileage. Well, we are here to tell you that the ’07 Versa would like to be the exception to that thought. If you just type it into the Google machine, they’ll tell you that it gets 30 mpg city & 36 highway, which ain’t half bad. But, I’d say that those numbers are about as accurate as a drunk guy at the urinal. According to Fuelly, a compilation site of numbers reported by actual owners, the ‘Cash Cow’ should be getting an average of 28-29 mpg. That’s nearly a 16% drop in realized fuel mileage. That don’t make us too happy.
However, I set out on a quest to see how much I could improve my fuel mileage. I read up on different driving techniques for better fuel mileage. And researched all the different aspects of the car that could help improve mileage, but I went ahead and omitted any that would’ve cost me money. The idea being that anyone can implement these tips and techniques without spending a dime. But, be forewarned, perform anything suggested in this article entirely at your own risk.
First off, no one has ever sat in the back of Cow, so this was a prime opportunity to eliminate the possibility. I spent maybe 30 minutes unfastening a few bolts here and there, and popped out the entire back seat. This not only reduced the weight of the car by around 70 lbs, which obviously gave me a better power:weight ratio for fuel mileage, but it also gave me significantly more room to fit things in the back.

With that settled, I went up the street to the gas station (the one that offers free air, of course) and pumped up my tires. Each tire called for 35 PSI, but I went ahead and bumped it up to 38 PSI all the way around. Now this is not to be confused with the “Max PSI” rating on the tires, which on my tires says 45 PSI. Please do me a favor and re-read your tire sidewall multiple times. You do not want to go to the Max PSI rating. Now, I’m not as brushed up on my thermodynamics and heat transfer as I should be, but let’s math this shit up. First, the rule of thumb is 1 PSI per 10° change in air temp. Second, because I drove to the gas station, my tires were partially warm; which works out to +1 PSI every 5 min for the first 20 min, then stabilizing and typically gaining no more than 1 PSI over the next 20 min, at which point it doesn’t increase any further. For the sake of breaking this down further, take your max PSI, and subtract 5 PSI (+1 per 5 min for 20 min and then +1 for the next 20 min = 5 PSI), and for the sake of safety, drop around 2-3 more PSI, and then use that as a baseline.
That’s it. That’s all the “modifications” I did to the car at least. I did adjust my driving significantly though. I optimized my route to and from work, focusing on efficiency. And this is where having a stick-shift worked out greatly in my favor. I learned exactly when I could coast, how fast I could take turns safely, and keeping my speed at an appropriate level without wasting fuel. I cut off my car at every opportunity, including red lights, coasting down hills, and rolling to a stop either to park, stop at a light, etc. I minimized the use of my brakes by anticipating traffic, and knowing when to coast to avoid using my brakes for turns. Utilizing the brakes only hurts fuel efficiency when you’ve used fuel to gain speed. I also used a driving method called “pulse and glide” which is rapid acceleration to a given speed followed by a coast or ‘glide’ down to a slower speed, and then doing the process all over again. For example: speeding up to 70 on the interstate, and then coasting down to 65ish, and speeding back up to 70 and coasting back down to 65.
Frankly, I turned it into a game. It was fun to me to do all of these things and see how high I could get my mileage before I had to stop for fuel. I also pushed the boundaries of my fuel tank, I would let it get as close to empty as I could tolerate, and I would stop for fuel, still having only used 12 gallons of the 13.2 gallon tank. And what was the result of this obsessive driving you ask? 563 miles on one 12 gallon tank. And this includes a trip with +250 lbs of a chair inside the car and a love-seat on top of the car, which had to seriously hurt my fuel mileage and aerodynamics.
That works out to 46.9 mpg, or an increase of 64.5% in fuel mileage compared to the average found by Fuelly. According to the DOT, the average annual mileage driven is 13,476. So to really illustrate the savings, I’ll use some very simple math.
13476 miles ÷ 28.5 mpg = 472.8 gallons  |  472.8 gallons x $2.47 gallon = $1,167.81 per year
13476 miles ÷ 46.9 mpg = 287.3 gallons  |  287.3 gallons x $2.47 gallon = $709.63 per year
$1,167.81 – $709.63 = $458.00 savings
Obviously though, I feel compelled to tell you that the easiest way of saving this amount of money and more is simply by riding a bike more. You won’t have to fret over when you should coast, when you should cut the car off, what speed you should be going, what PSI your tires are (you’ll still want to know that). But, it’ll make you happier not being behind the wheel of a car, and being in tune with your surroundings. Enjoying not only being out in the crisp air, but also enjoying the euphoria that comes during and after a nice bike ride. But, that’s not the topic of this weeks post, I just felt obligated to inject that in this article.
Anyways, I understand that pulling the back seat out of your car may seem extreme to some of you, but you should probably have a serious reflection about how often someone is in your back seat. If you have children that aren’t yet capable of driving themselves, you probably get more use out of your back seat in one day than I have in years. In that case, you can utilize this same idea to a lesser extent. Take all that junk out of your trunk that you’ve been lugging around for who knows how long. I bet you’d be amazed at how much all the useless crap you need to get out of your car weighs. Another thing is that full size 4×4 SUV that you just have to have to shuttle your kids to daycare on the paved roads every day, with an average of 15 mpg an increase of 64% (which you would never get) still only puts you at 24 mpg, so after you spend all this time and effort to get better fuel mileage, you’d still be better off just getting a small car and driving it like an idiot.
Some people might think that nearly $500 a year is a small sum to deal with this type of hassle. To those of you that this applies to, feel free to reach out to me, and I’ll send you my PayPal account so you can just shoot me over that useless amount of money. I look forward to your message. To the rest of you, feel free to implement some of these tips and techniques and let us know how much it helps your fuel mileage.


  • mikmeh

    Great practical advice, but the problem with hyper miling is … I hate drivers that hyper mile. Especially that pules n glide when I’m trying to pass but that’s the moment you pulse. Or the incredibly slow coast to the light.

    • James Lowery

      We definitely understand your frustrations. My pulse-and-glide scenario was just for example. I do much shorter differences. Usually 65-67. On the other hand, we actively mock the person who passes us to speed up to the redlight only for the light to change and we roll right past them because we’ve maintained a consistent speed and they wanted to hurry up and stop. But, we appreciate your feedback either way!

    • James Lowery

      Thanks, Kat! It was an easy conclusion to come to since they’ve never been used. Also, for some odd reason, the versa wasn’t designed with fold-flat seats. I’ve heard of people removing their spare tire and all the tools along with it for the sake of weight saving. I’m a little more risk adverse than that though.

      • CashflowKat

        I usually just try to remove my teenagers from the backseat…talk about dead weight, ha ha. But you are on the right track with your economical manual Versa. I was actually primarily driving a 98 Honda Civic manual until about a year ago. And most people my age (mid forties) with my assets wouldn’t be caught dead in such a beater. But hey, you know, millionaire next door….it works!

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