I have a confession to make: I am a smug driver.
While gas prices are now hovering around the $4 a gallon range with no relief in sight, I am blissfully tooling about town in my little Toyota Prius. Though the car averages about 48 mpg, my emotional state hits the delirious range when my consumption meter hits 99.9 mpg. Oh, yeah, baby, I watch that thing like a hawk. It’s the kind of entertainment that’s really fulfilling.
I hit the gas station maybe once every two weeks, or after about 400 miles. Last night, I stopped to fill ‘er up and almost had a heart attack when the total came to $33. That’s the most money I’ve put into a gas tank since 2005.
Being a smug driver is not an easy thing to achieve in Motown. Here, Ram Tough pickups, hemi engines, and enough horsepower and muscle to blow me off the road surround me. Actually, being blown off the road happened on a regular basis when I first started driving my hybrid. At the time, there weren’t many of us on the road, and it was easy to find the traitorous Prius, which is, I must admit, a damned ugly automobile. We stuck out like sore thumbs.
Nevertheless, it took a road trip from Michigan to California in 2005 to convince me I wasn’t going to give the gas companies and the state of Michigan any more money in fuel and taxes than I needed to. Of course, there are environmental concerns, but my entire impetus for buying a hybrid was to save money.
I bid a teary farewell to my Monte Carlo, which I loved for its sleek lines and immediate pickup. (I was a proponent of big engines back in the day. Zero to 75 in six seconds. Yup, I did that every day while entering the freeway on ramp.) That summer, I went to the local Toyota dealer and plunked down my deposit and was told there was a three-month waiting list.
Six weeks later, the saleslady at the dealership called to let me know my name was next on the list. A stripped-down, bare bones Prius was leaving Japan that week. Did I want it? She didn’t need the phone to hear my “Hell, yes!” from two cities away.
I live in the heart of Union-Town, where every couple of weeks an editorial is prominently placed in the local paper urging all of us to buy “American.” Every other Big Three car on the road has some sort of ominous bumper sticker on it proclaiming that “foreign” cars will put us all on the unemployment line.
Today one of those ginormous Ram pickups with the telltale bumper sticker blew by me doing around 55 mph on a minor thoroughfare where the speed limit was 35. Then he swerved in front of me and slammed on his brakes because that pesky stoplight turned red. Meanwhile, I coasted to a stop using regenerative braking. Yes, I was the slowpoke doing the speed limit. After all, it was a school zone.
These days, there are more Prius owners, but I still park my car at the far end of the mall parking lot. I’ve had my car dinged enough times to know better. Now, three years later, I have become a smug driver, but it hasn’t been easy. First of all, the estimated 60 miles per gallon that Toyota first claimed for the Prius is a pipedream. The best mileage I ever got was around 56, but that was with careful driving and it didn’t last the entire tank. As with most cars, it’s entirely possible to get horrible gas mileage with a hybrid.
Like an all-gas engine, if you gun the motor, speed up too quickly, or slam on the brakes too fast, you will burn up your precious gas. I’ve learned that my car gets terrible mileage between 48 and 70 miles per hour, and worse with the cruise control on (terrible – meaning around 40 mpg.) I’ve also learned to take advantage of coasting to improve my mileage, and to look far enough ahead to not make any sudden stops or turns. Every little bit helps.
All around me, I see people flying around in monstrous machines using up precious fuel. I’m as far away from a tree-hugging liberal as you can get, but sometimes I shake my head at how badly they are driving. Don’t they know they’re getting bad mileage? Doesn't it matter to them? What kind of job do they have where they make enough money that it doesn't matter? My husband used to own a Tahoe. When it started to cost almost $100 to fill up that gas hog, it was time to unload.
The current spike in gas prices are still going to make me slightly unhappy. No one likes to pay more money for any commodity. I’m pretty sure that by the end of this summer — which promises to be the worst in history with regard to gas prices — I’ll still be a smug driver.