Americans use twice the energy per capita to achieve our lifestyles compared to Europeans or Chinese people with the same high-consuming lifestyles. How can we adapt and reduce fossil fuel use in transportation? Significantly changing our behavior is essential to helping create a livable future for our children and other living beings. This column will give you some ideas to think about energy efficiency as an essential tool to save money and carbon emissions and lower asthma-causing air pollution from vehicles.

When energy is used to do work, efficiency is the measure of how much work that fuel produces compared to amount wasted. For example, incandescent light bulbs used several times more electricity than compact fluorescent bulbs and much more electricity than light emitting diodes (LEDs). This transition in lighting technology to more efficient lighting and sensors that automatically turn on lights in grocery store display cases only when they detect customers continue to save money and electricity.

Seth Hall of Waldoboro attempts to charge his Nissan Leaf at a level II EV-charging station at Flight Deck Brewing in Brunswick in March.Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald file photo

Electric cars are much more efficient than gasoline cars, which have more moving parts, with energy lost to energy and road friction and engine combustion. The drivetrain on electric vehicles is direct and immediate, with much more of the electricity doing the work. Combustion-based gas and diesel vehicles produce lots of waste heat.

When you have to replace a vehicle, buy the lightest weight to achieve the transportation you need with less energy. For example, The electric Ford Mustang Mach 8 is built on the Mustang gasoline model frame, much heavier than current electric vehicle frames, so it’s much less efficient in doing your transport work than a lighter-framed EV. The lighter your vehicle, the better your mileage. We used several Geo Metros for 1 million miles, with an average 45-50 miles per gallon from their 1,400-pound weight and motorcycle engine. Americans could demand smaller and lighter cars as Europeans have always used.

As the electric car fleet increases, Mainers will eventually be able to buy used electric cars at prices more people can afford. Until then, many people are adapting their driving habits to see how far they can go on a gallon of gas. Hypermiling is the term for minimizing your braking and coasting up to a stop. Electric drivers already do this, since EVs reabsorb the energy from deceleration and use it for future motion, so don’t follow them too closely. Hypermiling recommends accelerating quickly from a stop, then coasting, never depressing the accelerator more than one inch.

Buck the tendency of drivers in Maine to consider speed limits as suggestions rather than rules and maintain a steady speed at or below the speed limit. Our Hyundai Ioniq 5’s navigation screen includes speed limits and goes red when I accidentally drive more than 5 mph over the area limit. Cars’ milage per gallon is most efficient at 35-55 mph, which was 36 mpg for the Corolla when I drove it conservatively. At 70 mpg, my former gas Corolla would only get 30 mpg, and at 80 mph, that vehicle would get only 26 mpg. I have seen average highway speeds often closer to 80 mph, which reduces mpg by 28% and increases fuel costs from $3.85 per gallon to $4.93 per gallon.


Keep your car well tuned, with wheels aligned and balanced, and adjust the tire pressure regularly to increase your car’s efficiency as temperature changes. Follow your dealer’s recommended schedule to change your air and fuel filters regularly and replace spark plugs. Carry only what you need in the vehicle, keeping the weight as low as possible. Use the lowest viscosity oil recommended by your dealer, and switch to synthetic oil, which greatly decreases engine friction and improves longevity and mileage.

Minimize idling your car to one minute or less. You don’t need to warm up your car before driving when it’s cold if you drive gently for the first five to 10 minutes. Turning off the engine when you stop for more than one minute can improve fuel efficiency by 19%. Yes, it’s a little more work for the starter, but you can minimize stopping and starting by planning your route and where you will park ahead of time.

Feeling I could be comfortable without using my air conditioning in my Corolla, which would save me about 2 mpg, I had my dealer disable the AC. Opening windows works well in town to keep me cool but does create aerodynamic drag, lowering gas milage. So as we continue to get more hot days in Maine, try limiting your car AC use to the freeway, where it’s more efficient to keep your windows up. Auto ACs work most efficiently when set at coolest levels with the slowest fan speed.

If you are planning a trip with several stops, go to the farthest first to allow the engine to warm to its most efficient functioning level. Take advantage of hills to go up them at a lower speed and allow gravity to accelerate your vehicle on the down slope. I felt safe putting my Corolla in neutral on steep or long downhills that would maintain my speed, since I could still brake or steer to avoid hazards.

Let’s keep focused on slower, more human-powered, energy-efficient walking and bicycling to get around. You can enjoy the view and talk to neighbors when you move slowly. If you live in Brunswick, get the Brunswick Link bus schedule at to go hourly from neighborhoods to downtown or out to the hospital and Cook’s Corner, with extended routes into Brunswick Landing and to Crooker trailer park. Please build a grocery list until you need many items to minimize your shopping trips and try to take another rider with you to double your car efficiency.

Nancy Chandler studied Animal Behavior and Anthropology at Stanford University, then received her master’s in biology education in her home state of North Carolina at U.N.C. Chapel Hill. She is passionate about teaching energy conservation and hopes to get you thinking about how to use energy use efficiently to save both money and reduce greenhouse warming gases.

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