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Home > Lifestyle > 5 Technologies That Help Save You Gasoline (No Hybrids Here!)

5 Technologies That Help Save You Gasoline (No Hybrids Here!)

August 27th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

If you are in the market for a new car, you might think that hybrids are the way to go to get the best mileage. Hybrids in general offer the ability to get better mileage because they augment the standard gasoline engine with an electric motor that supplements that propulsion where gasoline engines are least efficient: at lower engine and driving speeds.

However, automobile efficiency in general has gotten much better than people realize over the years. The improvement in the quality, safety, and efficiency of automobiles improves all the time. This trend is about to get even more pronounced because new fuel efficiency requirements over the next 10 years will force manufacturers to increase efficiency even more than they have in the past.

So, you may ask another question: why doesn’t my car get better mileage than <insert your favorite car from 15 years ago>? The main reason is that efficiency improvements have been used to offer other benefits to consumers.

The constant fuel efficiency gains made by car manufacturers have been used primarily to add additional value to consumers over just increasing fuel economy numbers. The car from 15 years ago was lighter, less roomy, less powerful and significantly less safe than a similar car of today. Consumers have essentially demanded these improvements.

Adding to this equation is that the fuel economy estimates made by the Federal Government have changed a few times over the years, to reflect better actual driving patterns of today’s drivers. So, fuel economy numbers from 15 years ago are considered to be less accurate than the ones from today (error on the high side).

The good news is that efficiency will continue to improve due to new technologies like hybrids, as well as old technologies that have been given new life due to recent refinements. Look for these technologies that will become more popular on many vehicles because the benefits are substantial and cost effective.

Here are (5) technologies you will see more of in vehicles.

Diesel Engines

Diesel engines are as old as cars themselves. Diesel engines are very popular in Europe and are primarily used in the USA for commerical vehicles. When you look at their benefits, they have some characteristics that make them as appealing as hybrids: 30% fuel efficiency improvement over gasoline engines and more low end torque. Diesels had been falling behind due to increased emissions requirements and much higher diesel fuel prices over regular gasoline. Newer models from Mercedes and Volkswagen have improved the emissions issue. Estimated fuel efficiency improvement: 30%.

Direct Injection

You may be familiar with fuel injection (FI). FI has been around for decades (it was used in Corvettes in the 1950s). FI has really been improved with computer technologies that control it better than mechanical systems. Direct injection is a further improvement that places pressurized fuel directly in the cylinder as opposed to the intake. DI isn’t new either, but it has been optimized for commercial use by refinement. DI costs more to manufacture but those costs are getting lower. Estimated fuel efficiency improvement: 5%.

Turbocharging

The basic trade-off that a typical gasoline engine makes is to seek a balance between low speed torque and high speed efficiency. The engine needs to typically be larger enough (higher displacement) to provide enough torque, but higher efficiency at driving speeds necessitates a small displacement. Enter turbocharging, which can increase the power of a smaller engine by forcing more fuel mixture into the cylinders.

Turbochargers of the past would typically exhibit lag, which delayed the extra power release. Newer versions have pretty much eliminated this problem offering a full range of power throughout in a smaller displacement engine. Estimated fuel efficiency improvement 10-20%.

CVT/Higher Gear Transmissions

Transmission have the job of matching engine speed to vehicle speed to provide efficiency, power and responsiveness to the vehicle. Typical transmissions recently were limited to only 4 speeds, I remember that some Toyotas from as recently as 10 years ago were only 3 speed. More speeds enable an engine to offer responsiveness as well as lower gearing at the top to improve efficiency. Now, 5 speed is very common, 6 speeds are available and transmissions that have as many as 8 speeds are found in some high end luxury vehicles. Continuously variable transmissions have not gears at all, they match engine speed real time providing a more efficient transfer of power. Estimated fuel efficiency improvement: 5-10%.

Electric Power Steering

Electric power steering (EPS) is one of those small improvements that can help to improve economy when taken together with other improvements. Instead of a hydraulic system of typical power streering systems, EPS uses an electric motor. Estimated fuel efficiency improvement: 1-2%.

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