Driving a Hybrid Vehicle? – How Real People Are Dying for Your Prius

Driving a Hybrid Vehicle? – How Real People Are Dying for Your Prius

Are you driving a hybrid vehicle? 10 years ago, Prius ownership was as much about making a statement as saving a few bucks on gas. Now, as fuel prices hover around $3.75 per gallon (except in the northwest, where drivers are shelling out closer to $4.25), owning a Prius, or any other hybrid, just makes plain good economic sense.

It is true though that although Toyota could easily make their segment leading Prius nearly indistinguishable from any garden variety small car,

Toyota-Prius-C-2012 Hybrid

Toyota’s affordable, new for 2012 Prius-C hybrid brings the economic benefits of hybrid motoring to even more people, and just in time, too as fuel prices are near record highs. Wha price are others paying for our obsession with fuel saving, though?

they have, wisely as it tuns out, chosen not to. After all, a 2007 survey revealed that the number one reason Prius owners made their vehicle choice was not the stellar fuel economy, the money saved, or anything about the car’s driving dynamics or ergonomics, but rather “What it says about me.”

Obviously, if you’re choosing a car primarily to make a statement, rather than for any practical reason you’re one of principle. A Honda Civic hybrid, while in some ways a better car than a Prius, is virtually identical to the garden variety Civic that Honda sells by the thousands. Ditto the Ford Fusion; a great car, but not much of a statement piece, if that’s what you really care about. It’s off to the Toyota dealership, then.

Do These People Really Care About MPG, Really? (or is all about appearances)

As with many things, however there  are greater forces at work here, if one chooses to dig deeper. Ironically, many of those Prius buyers, who would never dream of failing to drop a scrap of aluminum foil in the recycling bin, are blissfully ignorant of the true cost imposed by their fuel sipping hybrid vehicles.  For them, it’s all about the latest bogeyman, carbon emissions, and the resultant (we’re told) climate change. The fact they’re saving a few scheckles on gasoline is but a bonus.

The question is then, what is the true environmental cost of a hybrid vehicle, and who’s paying it? The environment casts associated with a hybrid are derived from the same technology that enables it to achieve such remarkable fuel economy; the batteries. Batteries, you see, are made from some pretty nasty stuff. The Prius electric motor is also home to a kilo of the rare earth material neodymium, also used in the car’s stereo speakers, but in much smaller quantities.

Where and how said nasty stuff is extracted from the ground, and what happens with it when it’s no longer useful as an energy storage unit for their regenerative braking system, somehow escapes consideration from many of these self-professed environmental statement makers.

Unfortunately,thousands of people around the world haven’t the luxury of ignoring such things. They are directly impacted by them.

Lanthanum, used to make the Prius’ nickle metal hydride batteries, is moderately toxic and should be handled  carefully. Nickle, as the battery’s name suggests, makes up the majority of the Prius Ni-MH batteries.  Nickel is not something you’d want to roll around in, as it Toyota asserts however, that properly recycled, the batteries pose no environmental hazard. That’s fine after the Prius battery pack has fired off it’s last electron, but what about before? Where does lanthanum come from and how environmentally friendly is it to extract from the ground?

Although the material exists in quantity in the U.S., it is currently sourced almost entirely from China. The last major U.S. lanthanum production facility, the Mountain Pass, CA mine, closed in 2002, due to price pressure from Chinese suppliers and environmental concerns. Ironically, shifting production from the U.S. to China will do little to change the world wide demand for such materials, or clean the environment, as Chinese environmental regulations are typically less restrictive than those in the U.S.

Increasing domestic demand for the metal in China may soon re-energize U.S. Production, because the Chinese will be hard pressed to mine enough for their own use, let alone supplying Panasonic EV Energy Corp, battery manufacturer for the Prius. In fact, mining concern Molycorp has already reopened the mine and is processing leftovers there, with plans to resume production by Q3 of this year.

The Prius’ Other Shoe

Of greater concern form an environmental and social cost standpoint is lithium (Atomic symbol – Li), used in the next generation of hybrid car batteries. Lithium ion batteries are already used in the Chevy Volt, Mercedes S-class hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Toyota’s own plug-in hybrid Prius version. Some form of lithium batteries will likely be used in all new hybrids going forward in the near future, especially as research discovers new ways to make them more cost effective and efficient.

They are attractive to auto manufacturer due to their higher energy density, meaning they can be lighter and more compact for a given power output. This leaves more room for other important things a typical vehicle must carry, such as people. In addition, weight is the enemy of good fuel mileage figures, so a lighter batter pack is a boon to fuel economy figures.

Now for the bad news. Lithium is not found just affordably laying around  in very many places. As demand rises, not only due to hybrid and electric vehicles, but mobile electronics and medical device use, there is legitimate concern that it will outstrip supply. Outstrip is also a great description for what mining companies will be doing to the few areas fortunate enough to have significant affordable quantities of the material.

Please Pass the (Lithium) Salt

That’s what some Bolivians may well be wishing soon. The home to the world’s largest lithium deposits is southern Bolivia’s Salar De Uyuni salt flats, a dizzying expanse of white stretching seemingly to the ends of the earth. In reality, the vast salt flat is 5,000 sq miles, or about 108 times the size of Utah’s famed Bonneville Salt Flats.

The Bolivean Salar_Uyuni salt flats, a center of controversy over litium extraction.

Soon, the world may be even more aware of the Bolivian variety. This, as the world’s thirst for lithium grows, in an attempt to build hundreds of millions of electronic devices, and hundreds of thousands of electric and hybrid autos each year.

The average hybrid or electric car uses substantial quantities of the metal. For example, the Chevy Volt’s lithium battery pack tips the scales at 400lbs. While only a small percentage of that mass is lithium metal itself, there are still significant quantities in each Volt Chevy rolls out the door. The dear, departed Tesla Roadster’s Li-Ion battery pack, essentially containing over 6,000 of the same cells used to make laptop batteries (which normally contain 6 – 9 cells), was nearer to 950 lbs.

It’s easy to see that as hybrids change to Li-ion battery packs from Ni-MH units, and more purely electric vehicles are sold, lithium demand will surge. There are few choices to feed that demand, outside of the concentrations in South America. While extracting the metal will prove an economic stimulus to the Bolivians rivaling the Texas oil boom of the last century, the environmental consequences could well be severe.

As do-gooder environmentalists in the U.S. And Europe happily tout the “clean” virtues of their Leaves and Prius grocery getters, there will be a different picture being painted in the southern hemisphere. The economic benefits to Bloivia will be impossible to ignore, and mining will move forward. Experts predict the demand for lithium will increase 1,000% in the next decade, just to feed the increased demand for vehicle’s electric power train components. That says nothing of the world’s insatiable gadget thirst, which is sure to only keep growing, fueling lithium demand even more.

So, how will the world’s lithium hunger affect the Bolivians and their environment, besides causing them drive around in huge Cadillacs with steer horns on the hood? The U.S. Government estimates roughly 5.9 billion tons of the yellowish metal are hidden in the Bolivian salt flats, with other estimates  ranging as high as 9 billion. A staggering amount, to be sure. To put things in perspective, Chile, the current lithium production leader, has but 3 billion tons in proven reserves.

Bond, James Bond

What cost to get at all of this newly precious metal? Movie goers who watched the Bond film Quantum of Solace have a good idea. The problem is that lithium extraction requires water, and lots of it. Leave aside for a moment (don’t worry, we’ll get back to it) the strip mining like impact of extraction operations on the  region’s landscape, the real problems likely lie with the vast amounts of H2O necessary to get all the lithium out an ready for use.

In the near term political issues may well stem the extraction process. Not of the environmental variety, the political objections come form the Bolivian government, who retain tight control over the country’s resources. A few years ago, Bolivia nationalized the nation’s oil and gas industry, and gave foreign companies the boot, claiming rampant exploitation.

Welcome to My Villa

Unfortunately for the Bolivian people, what all too often happens in these situations is that the exploitation simply shifts from foreign companies exploiting the local people, to the national government exploiting the local people. Someone typically lives high on the hog, but it’s rarely the locals.

Once political impediments are swept aside and mining proceeds, the Bolivians will face their next hurdle. What’s going to happen to their water if large scale lithium extraction begins. For an answer to that, they can simply ask the Chileans. Forbes Magazine once called Chile the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium” due the country’s vast lithium reserves and the metal’s potential to be the primary material fueling our motoring industry in the future.

Chile, like Bolivia, has firm political restrictions in place regarding lithium extraction. These, however, have little to do with the environmental concerns surrounding the process, which is not really mining at all. Rather than being dug from the ground as in the past, the metal is contained in a brine solution that is pumped to the surface, then allowed to sit in the sun and evaporate, leaving behind a concentrated solution.

Chile is about to streamline the political process for extraction, opening the door to more large scale production, in an attempt to keep others, like their Bolivian neighbors, at bay as the market heats up. The country is due to auction lithium permits and award it’s first contracts by the end of 2012.

What does the exploding interest in Lithium mean for the average people in those South American countries fortunate enough to enjoy significant reserves?

What will the environmental cost be for the regions that feed the world’s drivers, trying to avoid spending hundreds of dollars each month for the privilege of private transportation?

1) The brine extraction method, while using significant amounts of water, causes fewer long-term environmental effects than extraction by mining.

2) The environmental cost of the batteries’ lithium is but a small part of the batteries’ total environmental impact. According to Stanford University, “the lithium extraction accounts for less than 3 percent of the battery’s entire environmental burden” of a lithium-ion battery. This is primarily due to the fact that the lithium carbonate used in the battery accounts for a very small part of the battery itself. Getting the battery’s copper and aluminum are much more environmentally damaging, accounting for more than half of the unit’s environmental impact.

3) According to Jean-Francois Meilleur, VP of the Canadian lithium mining concern Critical Elements (Canada is poised to become a major word player in lithium supply as well.),  claims that there will be minimal long term environmental impact from his company’s mining process, saying in an interview in April, 2012  “…..at the end of the mine life and processing we will revamp and rebuild the site and we are putting capital every year and a big amount of capital to make sure that we will recondition the environmental footprint, to make it nice and clean and that is a law in Quebec. ”

4) Despite the assurances that lithium extraction will have minimum long term impacts, the short term problems alone can be significant, according to critics. Naturally, the mining companies are not among these. Local residents are, however. In March of this year, representatives of 33 native communities in Argentina, another South American with large brine lithium reserves actually filed a lawsuit in the country’s supreme court, demanding they be included in any decision making process that affects their home land, and given right of first refusal when deciding on any lithium extraction.

5) The largest problem is that the regions’ using brine water lithium extraction can easily contaminate significant quantities of fresh water. In some cases, nearly the entire supply is contaminated.This poses a huge problem for local residents. Leaving them with little naturally occurring fresh water. This is compounded by the fact that  fresh water is fairly rare in the arid regions.

More on the lightweight metal that stores energy for our hybrid vehicles and electric cars.

1) Lithium is currently produced from the salt flats in Bolivia and Chile due to the relative extraction ease and affordability. If costs rise, other sources would become viable again, and the metal exists virtually everywhere, even in seawater.

2) Lithium is recycled, unlike oil, and as more car batteries are produced, the recycle-ready supply will grow as well. The recycling is strongly encouraged (read, monetarily incentivised) in developed countries because simply disposing of the material could pose an environmental problem.

Once again, a story that seems simple to people bent on saving the environment and a few dollars on gasoline, is much more complex. There are tremendous political and environmental concerns facing people on the other end of the hybrids’ battery packs.

Considering them when deciding on buying a hybrid vs. a fuel saving, traditionally-powered vehicle will certainly not make the decision for most people, but few stop to think about what happens to those 10,000 miles away as they silently glide from their driveways on their way to Whole Foods.

What do you think? Do you own a hybrid or electric vehicle? Are you considering one, or would you in the future?

Please share this using the social sharing buttons, thanks!

One Of These Cars Gets Great Gas Mileage

One of these cars is actually a gas saver. The other two…… Well, they make up for it in other ways!

1969 Camaro RS/SS 350 MPG: 11 combined (approx)

2005 Lotus Elise MPG:  23 city / 27 highway (EPA estimates)

2004 Ferarri F360 Modena: 11 city, 16 highway (EPA Estimates)

Then again….. do you really care?

gas saver cars

One of these gets good gas mileage, the others, well……….

Get Better Fuel Economy – Diesel Truck Fuel Economy Tips

If you want to increase the fuel economy on your diesel pickup, there are many ways you can do it.

Do you want to get better fuel economy from your diesel pickup? Here are some great tips that will help you squeeze a few extra MPGs out of your diesel powered pick up truck. Some of these tips are good for a few 10ths of an MPG, while others will give you substantially more miles out of every gallon of whatever you’re burning in there.

Tip 1 – Drive with the tailgate up. Sure, this flies in the face of everything you’ve been told about pick up aerodynamics since you were a kid, but it is true. Why does driving with the tailgate up get you better fuel economy than driving with it down? After all, when it’s down the air flows right over the roof, through the bed, and out the back. When it is up, the air slams into the tailgate, slowing down your truck, right? Wrong!

When the tailgate is raised, the air does not slam into it. What actually happens is that a rotating vortex of air forms in the truck’s bed. This vortex actually guides the air over the bed and deposits it gently beyond the tailgate, forming a nice smooth airflow over the bed and beyond. Opening the tailgate destroys this vortex, creates more aerodynamic drag, and kills your mileage.

Tip 2 – Drive and accelerate slower. Why sure, this is another one that you’ve heard since you were a kid, but this one happens to be true, and more so if your truck is jacked up into the stratosphere. Trucks are about as aerodynamic as the proverbial barn door, and the more it’s jacked up, the worse the aerodynamics are. It’s is a matter of both frontal area and a statistic called drag coefficient, which is a measure of how much resistance the vehicle presents to the air as it moves past. The combination of the two measures how hard it is to get your truck through the air. Jacking up your truck hits you with a double whammy. It increases the frontal area and makes your drag coefficient worse.

Since air resistance increases with the square of vehicle speed, relatively little air resistance at slow speeds turns into huge walls of air standing in the way of your truck at higher speeds. That means driving twice as fast will actually cause 4 times the air resistance. That means it takes 4 times more power to push your truck through the atmosphere at 70mph as it does when you’re driving 35mph. Take your foot out of it and you’ll save fuel.

Tip 3 – Clean up your act. All those tools you keep in the bed of your truck weigh a ton. Well maybe not a ton, but probably a few hundred pounds, especially since you keep them in that steel bed box. The combination is a heck of a lot of weight you’re carrying around every day. If you don’t use them all the time, remove them, or at least change the box to a lighter, plastic variety, especially if theft isn’t a concern. Every pound of extra weight you’re carrying takes more fuel to accelerate and take up hills. Even if your truck can tow 10,000 lbs, those 250lbs of extra tools you’re lugging around will still cost you money. It also burns up your brakes faster when you stop, costing you even more money. You could get .5% – 1.5% increase from this alone.

Tip 4 – Get an aerocap for the bed. This is a smooth, faired cover for the bed that extends form the top of the cab to the top of the tailgate. It significantly improves aerodynamics over the bed area. In fact, tests have revealed a 4% fuel economy improvement at only 55mph, with high speeds promising even better returns. These things must be expensive, right? Hardly, you can build one for less than $100. Even if you buy one and get it color matched for your truck, it should still set you back less than $500. Obviously you’ll have to remove it if you’re carrying anything in the bed that is too large.

Tip 5 – Conserve momentum when driving. This is one of the most effective driving techniques to increase fuel mileage. One of the reasons that hybrid vehicles deliver such outstanding fuel economy is because they recapture energy through regenerative braking. Since you can’t do that in your truck, you are going to conserve the momentum you have already built up.

There are 2 keys to accomplishing this. The first is to look far ahead when driving and anticipate when you might need to stop. Every time you use the brakes, you are turning your momentum into useless heat. That heat cost you precious fuel to get. Look at the traffic signals and traffic ahead of you. If traffic slows or the light turns red, get off the accelerator and coast. Your goal is to coast up to the light and get there after it has turned green, so you never have to stop. The same with heavily traffic situations. If traffic is slowing to a crawl or a complete stop, try to anticipate the flow, so you can slow down, but never entirely stop. In heavy traffic you’ll often be foiled by drivers cutting in ahead of you, but it is worth a try.

This technique avoids wasting the fuel it takes accelerating from a complete stop or a very slow speed, and sometimes can save you 10% depending on driving conditions.

Tip 6 – Drafting large trucks ca save substantial fuel, but can also get you killed. If you use this technique, make sure you’re not too close. Even having a large truck 100 feet ahead of you can offer substantial aerodynamic gains at freeway speeds. The problem is that at 65mph, you’re only about a second behind a vehicle at 100 feet. Thatb is about half the distance experts recommend for safe driving. Sure you can use the “I can stop faster than he can.” logic, and that may well be true when you’re talking about an 18 wheeler, but it is a big risk to take. If you do this, it is essential to be paying 100% attenuation at all times.

Tip 7 – Replace your factory air intake with a free flowing, after market unit. This reduced restriction in the intake tract, often leading to a 3% – 5% fuel economy improvement, depending on the truck you’re driving.

Tip 8 – Replace the exhaust system with a free flowing exhaust. Similar to the reasons that cause your engine to operate more efficiently when you change the intake system, you can do the same thing with the exhaust. Any time you lower the resistance, especially on a turbo charged engine, where exhaust tuning is less of a concern, you will improve fuel economy, throttle response, and hp/torque. All in all, a great deal.

Tip 9 – Maintain your truck. There is no sense in spending any money on any sort of add on if your truck isn’t operating at peak efficiency in the first place. Proper tire inflation, clean air filter, clean fuel injectors, and regularly changed oil all factor into your truck’s fuel mileage. Keeping your injectors clean is a matter of using a fuel additive at regular intervals. Crawling under your ride every few months to check on things, change the oil and lube things up isn’t a bad idea, either. A fuel additive will also help ensure there is no water in your fuel system and increase fuel lubricity, both of which are important to maintaining optimum performance. After spending 2 hours at the side of a road, in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a tow because the F-350 I was driving had gotten water in the fuel system, I can vouch for the fact that water and diesel do not mix.

Edge performance ECU

Modern electroncis have done wonders for driveability, performance and feul economy. Thankfully, you can take it even further with some minor mods.

Tip 10 – Add an Electronic Control Unit (ECU) programmer targeted at increasing fuel mileage. These days virtually all engine and transmission functions are controlled by one or more electronic processing units. So it was only natural for people to soon try and market ECUs optimized for more power and better fuel economy. There a half a dozen or more of these things on the market from such manufacturers as Hypertech, Edge, Bully Dog and Jet. You’ll not only get improved fuel mileage, you’ll typically get improved performance as well. Several of theses units let you change the tune for your application. That means if you’re towing, for example, you can set the ECU in tow mode to increase low and midrange torque. It is easy to set it back to fuel economy mode for increased fuel economy in normal driving when you’re finished towing. As an added bonus you’ll often get lower exhaust gas temperature, lower noise, and better throttle response when using these performance ECU systems.

How to Tell If Engine Modifications Pay Off

It is all well and good to spend several hundred or thousand dollars on increasing your fuel economy, but will you ever get your money back, and if so, when will that payoff arrive? It is all a matter of simple math.

Say you drive 20,000 miles per year and your truck averages 14mpg overall. That means you’ll burn about 1,428 gallons of fuel in a one year period. As this is written, the national average for diesel fuel is $3.07 a gallon. That means that you’ll spend $4,384 a year on fuel at current prices. If your modifications net you a 15% fuel economy increase, your mileage will go from 14mpg to 16.1mpg. Your annual fuel usage will drop to 1,242 gallons, costing you $3,813, and saving $571 per year. How much did your modifications cost?

If you spent $1,000 on an ECU programmer, a performance exhaust, and a free flow intake, you’ll be earning money on your modifications in only 21 months If you are going to keep your truck for longer than that, it makes sense to go ahead and install those modifications, because they will pay for themselves fairly soon, and then save you almost $600 per year. In most cases these mods not only give you better fuel economy, but added power too. It’s kind of like getting something for nothing or buy one, get one free.

To find the best deals on exhaust systems, intakes and ECU programmers for your truck click here now.

Check Out These Fun Diesel Cars – High MPG / High MPH

Fun Diesel Cars – High MPG / High MPH

Did you know that the EPA has calculated that if only one-third of the vehicles on American roads ran on clean diesel, the U.S. would use 1.5 million fewer barrels of oil each day. Remember, that’s barrels, not gallons! Would we be subjected to lifetime of merging difficulties and other symptoms of dull, boring, and slow vehicles if we were driving to swap our gas powered cars, trucks, and SUVs for force-fed oil burners? Hardly!


Modern clean diesel power plants are not only fuel efficient, but they’re pretty darn fun too. That is because they have prodigious torque, delivered low in the power band, at least compared to a similar sized gas engine.
Here are some of the fun, new clean diesel powered vehicles you can buy right off your local dealer’s lot this very day.


The 2010 A3 TDi - A heck of a lot of fun and it sips fuel, too.

The 2010 A3 TDi – A heck of a lot of fun and it sips fuel, too.

2010 Audi A3 TDi

This new Audi is one really cool ride. It uses the same 2 liter turbo direct injection (Wait, aren’t most diesel engines direct injection?) diesel you can find under the hood of the new VW Jetta and Golf TDis. The compression ignition engine is coupled to Audi’s 6 speed automatic tranny, their acclaimed, dual-clutch DSG box. The 2010 A3 should be in showrooms about the time you’re done cleaning up your kid’s Halloween candy. One sad note to report; the A3 TDi is not yet available with Audi’s signature Quattro all wheel drive system.


Base MSRP $31,950 – Figure another $1,400 for the sport package, containing sport seats, 18″ five-tri-spoke wheels with 225/40 summer performance tires, and sport suspension, because really, why would you order this car any other way?
HP: 140 – Torque: 236 – Drive Wheels: front
EPA – 30mpg city, 42 mpg highway, 34 combined
0-60mph time = 9.0 seconds – That’s stock. The good news is that it is very easy to make these TDi powered cars much quicker, and sacrifice very little in terms of fuel economy. (Unless, of course, you just can’t seem to keep your foot out of it.)


The 2010 VW Jetta is easy on the wallet when you buy it and also when you feed it. (Just hope you don't have to take it to the doctor!)

The 2010 VW Jetta is easy on the wallet when you buy it and also when you feed it. (Just hope you don’t have to take it to the doctor!)

2010 VW Jetta TDi

Kind of like a larger A3 for people with a smaller auto budget. Same power train, except you can have your Jetta with a 6sp manual trans, or the DSG automatic box.
HP: 140 – Torque: 236 – Drive Wheels: front
Base MSRP $22,660 – add $1,000 for the DSG automatic transmission…..or don’t. There have been several recalls for the DSG. In addition, it costs about $500USD for a fluid change every 40,000 miles. Ouch! Although it is one of the best functioning transmissions on the road from any manufacturer, it just may not be worth it. Might want to stick with the slick, 6sp manual tranny. Take the extra grand and spend it an intake and ecu upgrade. You’ll have cash left over and an even funner ride to boot.
EPA – 30mpg city, 41 mpg highway, 34 combined
0-60mph time = 8.2 seconds – Again, that’s stock. A simple intake, exhaust, new injectors, and an ECU mod = way more hp and torque, but still spectacular fuel mileage. Owners of modified TDi powered cars regularly display dyno sheets with torque figures near 300 lb-ft.


Light up the tires, but still get 35+ mpg......Awesome. Welcome to the 21st century!

Light up the tires, but still get 35+ mpg……Awesome. Welcome to the 21st century!

2010 BMW 335d

Now we’re talkin’ fun’fuel mileage! This thing is really quick, courtesy of the 425 lb-ft of torque generated by the turbo diesel lurking under the standard 3 series skin. Not only can it scorch the 0-60 clock at 5.6 seconds, but it also returns 36 mpg on the highway. It’s a BMW 3 series, the same vehicle the car press fawns over every chance they get, so its driving dynamics are guaranteed to be superb. Add that to the BMW cachet, and you’ve got one heck of a great car. Keep your foot out of it though, or your rear tires will be going up in so much expensive smoke. The 335d is only offered with a 6-speed automatic trans, there’s no manual to be had here.

In Europe BMW offers other diesel power plants, such as 2.0 4 cylinder with 204 horsepower and 295 lb-ft  of torque. Fitted to the smaller BMW 1 series coupe, the engine returns 45mpg on the freeway, while still giving a 7.0 0-60 time. The extra 200lbs in the 3 series would doubtlessly slow that figure somewhat, but it would still be around 7.3 seconds, not half bad for a 3 series that would be on the far side of 40mpg.
HP: 265 – Torque: 425 – Drive Wheels: rear
Base MSRP $43,900 (2 Jettas) Be careful, like many premium German vehicles, you can quickly get a bad case of optionits (for many items you’d think would be standard on such expensive vehicles) and tack on another $5,000 – $10,000 before you realize what happened.
EPA – 23mpg city, 36 mpg highway, 27 combined
0-60mph time = 5.6 seconds

So, you can get a diesel powered vehicle that is a blast to drive, yet will let you go sailing by gas stations with impunity. If BMW would bring the 120d over here, we’d really have some frugal fun, to the tune of 50+ mpg. Australian road tests of the 5 door hatchback version of the 120d averaged over 57mpg, which is doubly impressive, in light of how hard auto journalists tend to drive their test vehicles. Driven like you stole it, the Australian 120d also rips off 7.4 second 0-60 times. 57 + 7.4, now that’s good math.
If BMW and other automakers would bring cars like the 120d to the U.S., we’d have some nice, fun to drive cars that would keep us from spending all our money on fuel.,/p>

Best Fuel Saving SUV Comparison – A Gas or Diesel Engine in Your Next SUV?

If you want the best of everything in a fuel efficient SUV (except the ability to tow or go off road) The new BMW X5 35d is your kind of vehicle

If you want the best of everything in a fuel efficient SUV (except the ability to tow or go off road) The new BMW X5 35d is your kind of vehicle

Just in time for ski season and trips over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house, is my post to pick the best rated SUV. I’m looking at things from a gas mileage perspective, among other things. Obviously you don’t typically buy an SUV with fuel economy as your first requirement. If you looked at things from a fuel economy first point of view, you’d be motoring around in a Mini Cooper or Honda Fit.

No, it’s typically mundane requirements such as how many kids and their gear can I fit in it for soccer practice, or can it take the whole family skiing or camping? Other considerations enter into the picture as well, if you have any off road aspirations or even have the occasional need to venture into the back woods for camping or exploration. Then there is the question of towing? If you have need of a tow vehicle, what you’re after in an SUV will obviously change a bit.

Recently some manufacturers have introduced clean diesel technology. How do those clean diesel engines compare from a power and driveability standpoint to their gas fueled brethren? Should you consider one?

Okay, here are the picks for an SUV to drive,  if you want to keep a larger share of your fuel budget in your pocket instead of your tank.

Luxury / Performance SUV – BMW X-5 x-drive35d
If you want to roll around in an SUV that actually handles and goes more like a sports sedan, the BMW X-5 is on your short list. It has almost no competition in the area. For all it’s street cred, it was short on fuel mileage with the V-8 engine. That’s nothing to be ashamed of in this category, where no mid or large sized SUVs really excel. Enter BMW’s new twin-turbo, 3.0 liter diesel, torque monster.

I’ve always been a big fan of diesel engines in SUVs, due to their amazing torque curves; perfect for towing, pulling your boat out of the water, and crawling around in the muck. The new BMW twin turbo definitely doesn’t disappoint in the torque category, furnishing 425lb-ft of beautiful twist. What does all this torque do for you? Zero to 60 in a very sports sedan like 6 and a half seconds, but it feels even faster. It’s no off roader, even with all wheels driven, what with it’s more summer oriented rubber, but it does great in the rain, as long as you’re a bit judicious with your right foot.

What’s the damage at the pump for the BMW X-5 x-drive 35d? A huge amount better than you’d expect. The EPA combined rating is a respectable (for a mid sized SUV) 22mpg, but it gets even better. The TV show Motorweek got a very nice 27+ mpg out of their X5 -x-drive 35d during its stay with them. As per the norm with journalist test vehicles, the vehicle received more than its fair share of flogging, what with the numerous 0-60 and quarter mile acceleration runs it was subjected to. You might even get better mileage out of yours. Any way you slice it, that’s great fuel economy for an SUV, especially a mid sized one that can scorch its way to 60 in almost 6 seconds flat.

Sure the X5 is a bit pricey, at around $60,000, but you can offset some of the pain with an $1,800 federal diesel vehicle tax credit.

Luxury SUV – Alternate – Lexus RX450h – Hybrid
If your preference lies more toward the luxury end of the spectrum, the Lexus RX450h is right up your alley. It’s smooth as glass, quiet, and screwed together with the top quality we’ve come to expect form Lexus. To top it off, it returns stellar gas mileage numbers, with an EPA combined rating of 29MPG. As with all hybrids, you’re distribution of highway / city mileage will have a significant influence on your mileage numbers. If most of your driving is done in town, where the hybrid drive train can strut it’s stuff, you’ll see better mileage, than if you do most of your commutes on wide open freeways.

While it’s not as sporty as the X5, the RX450h is a jewel and will save you even more at the pump. The Lexus is undoubtedly reliable for the long term, but how it will stack up against the BMW diesel after 150,000 miles or so remains to be seen. Then again, few purchasers of either of these two vehicles will probably keep them around for anything approaching that length of time.

The new 2010 CRV adresses the down on power iussue of the previous CR-v (somewhat)

The new 2010 CR-V addresses the down on power issue of the previous CR-v (somewhat)

Small SUV – Honda CRV AWD
Honda has been known for smooth, efficient power plants for decades, and the CRV uses the corporate 2.4l in-line 4, which is the very picture of unruffled, almost rev happy bliss. The small Honda covers just about the whole $20,000 price range, with the least expensive AWD CRV fetching less than $23,000, and the mack daddy, EX-L Nav version nearly touching $30,000.

Technical wizardry such as variable valve timing and a drive by wire throttle helps give the CRVa broad power band for a mid sized four cylinder. The high tech power train is also a large part of the reason  the CRV returns such great gas mileage, despite the fact the 2010 CRV has significantly more power (180hp) than the ’09 version. (166hp) The EPA says you’ll average 23 mpg in the AWD CRV, although many magazine tests have recorded substantially better fuel economy. For example a Car and Driver test of an earlier model got over 25mpg, and the 2010 is supposed to be even more efficient.

A knock on the CRV has been its lack of get up and go. The added power on board you’ll not be buying a V6 CRV anytime soon. Seeing as how this is a fuel economy oriented blog,  that’s not the end of the world, but more power is never a bad thing if it comes with too larrge of a fuel economy penalty.

The plus side for the CRV:
Great handling and fuel economy, substantial cargo room for a small SUV, Honda reliability, vehicle dynamics, and overall quality. Improved looks for 2010.

The negative side:
The aforementioned power deficit, not enough zip, could be faster, a bit more torque would help things along some, only has a tow rating of 1,500lbs.

As the Fuel economy leader among SUVs, the Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD deserves an honorable mention here. However, at over $32,000, it is about $8,000 more than the CR-V. Looking a the Escape’s thrifty, fuel sipping EPA mileage rating of 29mpg, you may well be impressed. I know I was. However, even if the price of regular unleaded hits over $4.00 per gallon, it will take you about  220,000 miles to get that money back. If gas prices stay at about $3.00 per gallon you’re looking at almost 300,000  miles before you see a return on your hybrid investment. If you buy and Escape before April Fool’s Day, 2010, you’ll be eligible for a $487 Federal income tax credit, so you’ll want to figure that in as well. Also remember to add in the cost of a battery pack replacement, because if you keep your escape hybrid for over 200,000 miles, you’ll be needing one of those, too.

For those of you who plan on keeping your vehicles that long, or just want to make an environmental statement, by all means break out with the Ford. If fuel prices should hit around $6.00 a gallon, you’ll look like a genius and be laughing all the way to the bank. The above ROI calculations ignore any interest expense you might be paying should you have financed your Escape purchase. Since the vast majority of people do finance their automotive purchases, these should not really be ignored. As for me, I’ll take the CR-V.

If you need the ginormous variety SUV, you’ve really got only one choice in something that gets any kind of decent gas mileage, the Hybrid Chevy Tahoe / GMC Yukon. If you’re up for dropping about 60 large, the Mercedes GL-350 BlueTec is almost as large as the TahUkon and gets a respectable (for the Titanic) 19MPG combined, and actually out does the Hybrid GM twins on the freeway, where it delivers a decent 23mpg. However, many folks with the new clean diesel engines actually do even better than the EPA estimates on the highway, and so may you.

I’m awaiting some developments in the SUV arena, namely the TDi Diesel powered VW Tiguan, which should deliver spectacular mileage, decent handling, and a hint of luxury at a not quite luxury price. With any luck it will have some off road prowess as well.

This proves that if you need an SUV, (although  for many folks, a mini van would actually be a better choice) and want to do your part to save gas (or diesel) you have options, and these are my picks for fuel saving SUVs for 2010.

Ford Issues (Its) History’s Biggest Recall – Or is it?

If you have one of the recalled Fords, take it in before you end up like this.

If you have one of the recalled Fords, take it in before you end up like this.

The Ford Motor Car Company, not wanting any of its loyal customers to meet a fiery death, issued a recall for some of it’s vehicles, about 4.5 million (more) of them to be precise. Why more? This recall is actually related to similar recalls in the past, it just expands the scope some. It concerns a faulty switch manufactured by Texas Instruments, that can reportedly cause the vehicle to burst into flames, or at least start smoldering a bit.

It works like this: Switch leaks flammable hydraulic fluid, said fluid commences to ignite, and vehicle is toast (literally). As this can happen even when the vehicle is off, simply leaving your rig at home is no defense. In fact, you might come home to find you no longer have one. How often has one of these switches actually caused someone’s Ford to end up in the well done state? According to a 2008 piece in the New York Times, about 1,500 of them!

Here are the vehicles affected by Ford’s latest recall:

1995-2003 Windstars, 2000-2003 Excursion diesels, 1993-1997 and 1999-2003 F-Super Duty diesels, 1992-2003 Econolines, 1995-2002 Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers, 1995-1997 and 2001-2003 Rangers and 1994 F35 motorhomes

If you’ll notice, many of the vehicles affected by the recall are Ford Explorers. Remember back to the cash for clunkers program, and you’ll recollect that that same Ford Explorer was one of the most traded in to be destroyed. I consider myself to be extremely lucky, having once owned a 2000 Explorer XLT from which I thankfully escaped unscathed.

Okay, so why might this not be the largest recall in Ford’s history? Well, it still is, but not by the margins you’d think at first. Why? Cash for clunkers, of course. The Ford Explorer saw the most action at the trade in lot during the cash for clunkers program, with some 68,500 of them going to the crusher. Ford’s Windstar van, another vehicle listed in the recall notice, was also strongly represented in the cash for clunkers trade in department, with roughly 20,000 of them biting the dust. So, counting the predestroyed vehicles, this round only affects about 3.8 million vehicles, not 3.9 million.

Bottom line – If yours is one of the vehicles listed, don’t wait, get it in to be fixed ASAP! Happy motoring!

Bypass the EGR for Better Gas Mileage? And Other Gas Mileage Tips

Back in the day when this bad Boss 429 was roaming the streets, some of the gas saving tips held true, but not anymore.

Back in the day when this bad Boss 429 was roaming the streets, some of the gas saving tips held true, but not anymore.

Your EGR is an integral part of your emission control system. EGR stands for Exhaust Gas Recirculation and it does exactly as the name suggests; recirculates some of your exhaust gas back into the intake manifold, where it mixes with incoming air. This helps lower combustion temperatures and as a result, decreases oxides of nitrogen (NOX) emissions.

Many people believe that plugging the EGR or bypassing it will in some way increase their gas mileage and give them a few more precious horsepower. Can simply bypassing the EGR give you better gas mileage? Can it be that simple?

No, it can’t. In modern engines, you will actually stand a better chance of losing a few percent in the MPG department, rather than making any gains. You really gain nothing by bypassing it. Your car actually does it for you under acceleration, when an EGR block swings into action to prevent it from functioning. So if you have a modern gasoline engine, forget the notion of saving a little bit of precious unleaded by just bypassing your EGR. It doesn’t work.

What about some other easy ways to get better gas mileage you may have heard about? You can always drive slower,but how much fun is that? No, I’m talking about tricks, like the 100mpg carburetor or the magnetic fuel molecule aligner. More to the point I’m talking about things that have been long reported to save gas, but actually don’t.

The first thing on the list is a having a clean air filter. That mileage myth has some basis in fact, but it no longer holds true. In the past, back in the glorious days of Holley double pumpers or Rochester Q-jets, a dirty air filter could cut back on your power and gas mileage. Now however a dirty air filter will still cost you power, but it won’t really hurt your mileage. Why not? Because now days cars are so much smarter. They use electronic engine management systems connected to a host of sensors to meter the fuel, rather than a bunch of venturis, tubes, and holes in some brass. As the air filter gets dirtier and the airflow decreases, the electronics compensate by also decreasing the fuel flow so the air/fuel mixture is always correct. The problem is that you’ll lose plenty of power, so don’t let that filter get too dirty.

Here’s another one; leaving the tailgate down in a pickup will save gas. Actually according to recent tests it doesn’t. The same goes for removing the tailgate entirely and putting a net across the opening. Why dfo you actually get better fuel mileage with the gate up, instead of following conventional wisdom and dropping it? The gate contains a bubble of air called a vortex that actually helps smooth airflow over the bed, reducingdrag and increasing gas mileage.

Still more old timers myths that are supposed to increase your gas mileage, but in most cases, do little or actually have a detrimental effect on it include the “put it in neutral when going down hills” piece of advice. Although this actually works in older cars, it doesn’t in newer vehicles. That’s because in newer vehicles the electronic engine management systems actually shut off the fuel flow entirely when you are moving forward with the throttle plate in the closed position. That is only true when your rig is in gear. When you put it neutral the fuel cut off is not in effect, so you’re burning gas. Keep it in gear, just take your foot off the gas, and your cars ECU will stop feeding your engine for you.

These are just a few things that people just know are true about ways to get better gas mileage; except they really aren’t.

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Chrysler Makes the Ram a New, Independent Brand

Chrysler has decided to make its Dodge car and truck units two independent businesses. Many industry insiders have speculated that this would, in fact happen, and now they have confirmed it. Fred Diaz Jr., formerly Director of the Denver Business Center will be the new head of the RAM brand.

Here is Chrysler’s press release:

“Chrysler Group LLC today announces brand and commercial organization changes.

“The brand-focused strategy has been refined further with the unbundling of the Dodge Brand which now consists of the Dodge RAM Brand and the Dodge Car Brand organizations. This reorganization will allow us to protect and develop the unique nature of the product offerings within the Dodge Brand,” Mr. Sergio Marchionne, Chief Executive Officer, Chrysler Group LLC said.

Fred Diaz Jr. is appointed President and CEO, Dodge RAM Brand with profit and loss responsibility for the Dodge RAM product portfolio. Mr. Diaz will also be the lead executive for the Sales organization in the United States. He was previously the Director of the Denver Business Center. Mr. Diaz has been with the Company since 1989 in positions of increasing responsibility. The Company will announce Mr. Diaz’s replacement with a separate announcement.

Ralph Gilles is appointed President and CEO, Dodge Car Brand with profit and loss responsibility for the Dodge Car product portfolio. Mr. Gilles will continue to lead the Product Design organization of Chrysler Group which he joined in 1992.

Olivier Francois is appointed President and CEO, Chrysler Brand, with profit and loss responsibility for the Chrysler product portfolio. Mr. Francois joins the Company from Fiat Group Automobiles where he serves as head of the Lancia Brand, a position he retains. Mr. Francois will also be the lead executive for the Marketing organization with responsibility to coordinate worldwide marketing strategies, brand development and advertising for the Chrysler, Jeep®, Dodge Car and Dodge RAM brands. He will continue to lead these functions within Fiat Group Automobiles. Mr. Francois joined Fiat in 2005.

Michael Manley will continue as the President and CEO, Jeep Brand with profit and loss responsibility for the Jeep Brand product portfolio. Mr. Manley will also be the lead executive for the international activities of the Company outside of NAFTA and will be responsible for implementing the co-operation agreements for distribution of Chrysler Group products through Fiat’s international distribution network. Mr. Manley has been with Chrysler since 1998.

Joseph Veltri joins the Management Team as Head of Product Planning. Mr. Veltri started with the Company in 1988. His career has included positions in product planning, marketing, business strategy, and finance. He served most recently as Product Planning Lead and Head of Truck/SUV Planning.

Peter Fong, head of the Chrysler Brand has resigned for personal reasons. Michael Accavitti, head of the Dodge Brand has resigned to pursue other interests.”

The Best After Market Device for Increasing Diesel Mileage – You’ll Need it When Diesel Goes Back Up Again

Which of the many after market mods will increase your diesel fuel mileage?

Even though, on average, diesel engines get better fuel mileage than gasoline engines, there have been many after market devices introduced for increasing diesel mileage. Do any of them even work? If so, what is the best device for increasing diesel mileage? That is a question many drivers want answered, and even more will be clamoring for an answer to that question if fuel prices continue climbing.

Some of the recent proposed congressional legislation promise to push fuel prices even higher, in the name of cutting back on greenhouse gasses. The more fuel costs, the less people drive, and the less carbon comes out of the tailpipe. The strategy will doubtlessly be effective, as the high fuel prices in the summer of 2008 caused people to tun to fuel efficient vehicles in droves. Those higher fuel prices will almost force motorists and business turn toward more fuel efficient vehicles, or modify the ones they already own to get better mileage.

The other factor effecting fuel prices is that increasing the domestic supply is frowned upon for environmental reasons, leaving U.S. Citizens to depend upon an increasingly volatile region for the bulk of it’s oil supply. Business hates uncertainty, and that is reflected in higher oil prices. Rest assured, you will pay more for diesel in the not too distant future.

Many modern diesels, especially those found in trucks lie the GM Duramax, Ford Powerstroke, and the Dodge Cummins diesel produce prodigious amounts of torque right off the showroom floor. The problem for truck owners is the mileage sin’t all it could be. Much of this can be traced to steps undertaken by the manufacturers to curb emissions from the big diesels. While they produce tremendous amounts of torque, the torque peak is shifted higher in the RPM range than it should be for optimum efficiency. This is done in an effort to combat tailpipe emissions, but consequently these trucks get about 15 – 20% worse mileage than they should for many drivers.

With cars like the Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel routinely getting over 45mpg, their drivers are already well ahead of the typical motorist in terms of fuel economy, unlike the aforementioned truck pilots. You can always improve things, and owners of large diesel pickups or 18 wheelers are constantly looking for ways to improve their mileage. In many cases the drivers of such vehicles are using them to earn a living, and every dollar spent on fuel comes straight out of their bottom line. Even if you’re just using your Cummins powered Ram to tow your boat or travel trailer on weekends, saving a bit of fuel is always welcome. If the price of diesel fuel starts heading up over $4.00 a gallon again, it will become essential to find ways to get your diesel better fuel economy.

The question is, how much can the mileage be improved? The easiest and cheapest fuel saving modification you can make is to your right foot; lighten it up a bit. It won’t cost you a cent, but can definitely return a savings at the pump. Why is it so important to keep your weight off the right foot with modern diesel engines?

It all comes down to one thing; boost pressure. Modern diesels are turbocharged, which does wonders for their power and efficiency. A side effect of turbocharging however, is that when you dip into the throttle, the boost pressure goes up, causing a massive power surge. Unfortunately for the mileage minded among us, it also tells the ECU to increase the injector’s duty cycle, so the engine gets the extra fuel it needs to keep up with the air forced into the engine by the turbo. Extra fuel in means worse mileage out for your diesel.

So short of driving like GranMaMa, what after market goodies can you add to your diesel powered rig to bring out it’s parsimonious qualities? Probably the easiest and most cost effective add on is going to be a low restriction intake system. This is simply a smoother, more direct shot from filter to intake manifold, rather than the somewhat convoluted path the factory sets up for the air to travel on its way into the engine. At the entrance there will be a low restriction air filter. By freeing up the engine’s ability to pull in air, this device will increase not only mileage but also power and throttle response.

What a bonus! Low restriction intakes are made by many performance oriented after market manufacturers, such as Bully Dog, Banks Engineering, and K&N. They are fairly inexpensive, ranging from about $200 up to the $400 range. All in all an intake is a pretty cost effective mileage modification. You might see up to a 10% mileage increase with the addition of an intake, but you’ll also hear more noise from the intake tract.

Be careful if you use an oiled filter, as some people have reported problems with their MAF (Mass Airflow Sensor) units due to excessive oil leaving the filter and coating the MAF. Properly oiled, this shouldn’t be a problem, and I have used a reusable, oiled K&N filter myself for over 125,000 miles without a hint of trouble. You should just be aware the potential for problems exists.

Speaking of noise, you’ll find the other cost effective mileage mod dedicated to getting things out of the engine, and it will definitely increase the noise level a few decibels. A high performance, low restriction exhaust system will help increase your diesel mill’s efficiency. Like the intake, you’ll gain on both ends of the spectrum, picking up some power and torque, along with your gain in MPG. How much of either you’ll get depends on the exact system you install.

Another exhaust related mod that is fairly popular is the DPF elimination kit. DPF stands for Diesel Particulate Filter, and is an integral part of the emission control system on trucks made since 2007. As the name suggests, it’s job is to filter particulates out of the exhaust. That’s why most modern diesel engines don’t smoke like a factory from the Civil War era. As the DPF fills up with trapped particulate matter, the emission control system uses one of several ways to clean it out, restoring the flow.

The process of burning out the stored particulates is called regeneration, or regen for short. Your engine will monitor sensors in front of and behind the DPF to measure pressure differential between the front and rear of the filter. When the number exceeds a factory specified parameter, you get all manner of fun. The idle speed increases (keep your foot firmly on the brake when stopped in one of these vehicles, lest a sudden increase in idle speed send you nosing ahead into the car in front of you. It’s great fun at the Mikey D’s drive through.) and you’ll see some light colored smoke out of the tailpipe as the old soot burns off.

There are two problems with the DPF. Problem one is that even when the flow is restored to as-new levels, the DPF still provides a restriction in the exhaust system. Number two is that the regen process uses extra fuel when it happens, usually every 150 – 500 miles, further decreasing your fuel mileage. By eliminating these two problems, a DPF elimination kit will increase your diesel mileage, and as with a performance exhaust system, add some power as part of the bargain. Unfortunately when you eliminate the DPF, you’ll also eliminate something else in most cases, your vehicle’s warrantee, and your pristine exhaust.

In addition you’ll run afoul of the all-powerful Environmental Protection Agency, which is why these devices are only to be used off road, not to increase your mileage when towing your boat to the lake. The nice thing about eliminating your DPF is that it is a cheap and effective strategy, and who doesn’t like those? The not so nice thing is that it turns you from law abiding into a law breaker and voids your warrantee, so install one at your own risk.

All modern internal automotive and light truck engines are controlled by computers that would put those used by NASA for their 1970’s space missions to shame. They have reign over virtually every system in your vehicle, from engine and transmission operation to keeping you at a comfortable 72 degrees while you enjoy The Herd on ESPN Radio, courtesy of Sirius/XM. The computers in question are called Electronic Control Units (ECU) or Electronic Control Modules (ECM). In a diesel engine they control the injectors and the turbo boost, in addition to the transmission shift points, slippage, and torque converter lockup. You can see they have a huge potential to affect the mileage and power your truck puts on the road.

In the beginning, ECU modifications (also known as an ECU flash and an ECU remap) were mainly targeted toward increasing power and torque so drivers could improve their acceleration and comfortably tow big loads. Then the auto manufacturers started boosting power on their trucks, so that right off the showroom floor many trucks had over 600 pound feet of torque. That’ll pull your horse trailer! Right about the same time diesel prices went from less than $2.00 a gallon to over $3.00per gallon. Suddenly, increasing mileage was a much higher priority for drivers, especially as their trucks were so well endowed straight from the factory.

The upshot of this was that many of the aftermarket ECU manufacturers started developing devices that were targeted at increasing fuel mileage, rather than boosting power and torque. In most cases they actually did a bit of both, however. Some of the better known and more reputable after market performance chip tuning brands include Bully Dog, Banks Engineering, Hypertech, Superchips, Edge, and Jet. Most of them are adjustable, so you can vary your tuning according to your specific needs. That way when you are doing heavy towing through the hills, you’re not running the same ECU set up as when you’re driving in traffic in the valley.

Some will also let you check or reset your trouble codes. That’s nice because you can see what is up before you spend the time and money to visit the repair shop. Another advantage is that since they control the transmission, you can change the shift points to help increase your mileage, and firm up the shifts. Firming up the shifts will increase transmission clutch pack longevity, acceleration and fuel mileage, all at the same time.

There is actually a distinction between the types of ECU mods. You can get a new, reprogrammed ECU or install a device that simply attaches to the existing wiring harness and changes the program of the existing unit. These add on units are also known by the moniker programmers, performance programmers, or some such nonsense.

Some of names used by the mileage enhancing ECUs are MaxEnergy (Hypertech), Mileage XS (Superchips), and MileageMax (Edge).

Do they work to increase mileage? With the newer diesels many people report getting an overall 2 – 4 mpg increase, in addition to the increased power and response they enjoy. Obviously, that will depend a lot on driving conditions and how deep you depress the accelerator. Given that the after market ECUs are so easy to install (just a simple unplug the old, and plug in the new in most cases. Some of them also “piggyback” on the old ECU, which is what I was describing above) it is a pretty nice mod. In most cases the install takes all of 20 – 30 minutes, and you don’t even have to get your hands dirty!

If you’ve added other performance parts, such as air intakes or exhaust components, you’ll likely see a bit more improvement than installing an ECU upgrade alone.

On an MPG per dollar basis, and ease of installation basis, plus given the fact that it adds substantially more power on turbocharged diesel engines, while simultaneously increasing power and torque, the performance ECU has to be the best after market device for increasing diesel mileage.

Most of the reputable ECU manufacturers make a good product, but the MileageMax from Edge seems to give the best bang for the buck, since it is about $50 – $100 less expensive than the others. To find out more, and see what customers who bought the Edge and other performance ECUs have to say – click here now.

Stay tuned for some modifications to increase the mileage (and maybe power) on diesel cars, such as the VW TDI diesel.

Cash For Clunkers – What it is and How it Hurts the Poor

CARS – The Car Allowance Rebate System , or the recently revised name of Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save program, known affectionately as “Cash for Clunkers” by the majority of Americans seems like a great idea at first blush. After all, it can get people in the hard hit auto industry working again, by helping new cars find homes. It has experienced plenty of takers, despite some trepidation among some dealers who are wondering if their deals will really go through or not. Now the program has exhausted its funds, and is waiting on Congress to authorize more billions.

How can the cars for clunkers program possibly hurt poor people and the environment? Wouldn’t the government credit help the poor buy a new car? Doesn’t getting the “clunkers” off the road help the environment?

First, the poor, and in many cases the not even poor. CNW Marketing Research in Oregon estimates the average price of a used car in the U.S. was about $9,000 at the end of 2008. In this current economic climate that is simply out of reach for many people, poor and otherwise.  This is especially true if people are trying to do the responsible thing and keep from becoming hopelessly indebted., something all too easy to do when buying a car.

Thankfully, if one needs reliable transportation there are plenty of solutions far below that figure….for now. Due to the vastly increased quality and reliability of vehicles manufactured over the last 15 years, a car with 80,000, or even 120,000 miles on it may still have plenty of commutes left in it.

That’s where CARS could actually end up hurting the poor.

Here’s how the cash for clunkers program works:

・    Qualified consumers may participate in the CARS Program between July 1, 2009 and November 1, 2009 or when authorized funds are no longer available.

・    Qualified consumers will receive a credit of $3,500 or $4,500 for an eligible trade-in toward the purchase of lease of an approved vehicle under CARS Program.

・    Qualified consumers will receive the $3,500 or $4,500 credit at the time the purchase their new vehicle.

・    Dealers must provide consumers with any other advertised rebates or discounts in addition to the credit they receive through the CARS Program.

・    Consumers should expect to conduct their deals at their dealership of choice, not on the Internet.

・    Consumers should expect the dealers to provide their best estimate of the scrap value for their eligible trade-in vehicle. Dealers are allowed to deduct $50 from this value for their administrative costs.

・    Consumers should expect that all information collected through the CARS Program will be kept confidential. Social Security numbers are not required for a CARS transaction.

What vehicles are eligible under the cash for clunkers program, and how does the dealer get their money?
・    Your vehicle must be less than 25 years old on the trade-in date
・    Only purchase or lease of new vehicles qualify

・    Generally, trade-in vehicles must get 18 or less MPG (some very large pick-up trucks and cargo vans have different requirements)

・    Trade-in vehicles must be registered and insured continuously for the full year preceding the trade-in

・    You don’t need a voucher, dealers will apply a credit at purchase

・    Program runs through Nov 1, 2009 or when the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first.

・    The program requires the scrapping of your eligible trade-in vehicle, and that the dealer disclose to you an estimate of the scrap value of your trade-in. The scrap value, however minimal, will be in addition to the rebate, and not in place of the rebate.

You’ll notice that vehicles submitted under the cash for clunkers program are required to be destroyed. They must have the engine disabled. Initially congress called the number associated with the vehicle’s destruction, and I’m not making this up, the “End of Life Vehicle Solution” number. Evidently some members of Congress though that sounded a bit too Nazi Germany, and with good reason. That nomenclature has since been replace with the more benign term “NHTSA Disposal Facility ID”

The engine destruction and vehicle salvage requirement potentially causes hundreds of thousands of good, used vehicles to be removed from the used car marketplace. Those a just the cars that people who can’t spend $9,000 for a new car would be in the market for. Anyone who has taken basic economics can tell you that when you reduce the quantity of a good supplied without reducing the quantity demanded, the price of that good will increase. So in this case you have thousands of good, used vehicles that can not be sold, but you have not reduced the number of people who want to buy these vehicles. That means that the price of the vehicles must increase.

If you have an older vehicle it gets even worse. In many cases folks that own these vehicles work on them to keep them running. Used parts, such as engines are often employed to make this happen. The supply of such used parts will also be reduced, because not only will the vehicles be off the market, so will their parts. Again, lower income people get screwed by the very government that is ostensibly out to help them.

Need a good , reliable vehicle to get the kids to school or practice? How about a Toyota Previa minivan? A 1994 Toyota Previa is hardly a clunker, yet it’s just the type of vehicle that will be snagged by the program, due to it’s 17mpg EPA combined rating. That is the new rating. The EPA changed their fuel mileage ratings a few months back and most of the figures were revised either up or down a few MPG. The Toyota’s average retail sale price, according to Edmunds is $2,700. Just the ticket for reliable, family transportation and a bargain price.

Maybe you need a good, used pickup truck for work. A 1996 Ford F-150 XL 2dr Extended Cab long bed with a 6 cylinder would be a great work truck, and again, hardly a clunker. Edmunds lists the average dealer retail price for one at about $2,700 and change. It would be reliable and give plenty of service to get you and your tools to the job site and back every day. Unfortunately, such vehicles will become harder to find and more expensive as a result of the CARS program.

Let’s see, fewer yet more expensive good used vehicles, and fewer yet more expensive good used parts with which to keep them running. That doesn’t sound like a program that is out to help the poor and other folks that don’t want to buy a new car, but still need good, affordable transportation.

So, how does the Cash for Clunkers program hurt the environment? It would seem that removing a resource (in this case vehicles) and requiring it to be replaced by a new resource cannot always have a net gain. No matter the extent of the recycling or the efficiency of the operation, you are removing a functioning resource and replacing it with a new one that required manufacturing.

In many cases these are not truly clunkers, either but good cars and trucks whose only sin was that they got less than 18mpg combined. If they were replaced by vehicles that got 23mpg, would that really help the environment once you take into account the loss of having to produce an entire, new vehicle to replace them? Forgetting for a moment the whole debate about weather or not taxpayers should help their neighbors buy a new car, how much gas can you save and how much does that help the environment?

If the old cars got 17mpg, and assuming they would have been driven for 75,000 miles after the  time they were destroyed, how much gas would that save? 75,000 / 17mpg = 4,412 gallons of fuel. 75,000 miles / 23mpg = 3,260 gallons of fuel. That means the fuel savings per transaction is 1,152 gallons. If fuel costs an average of $3.50 a gallon over that 75,000 miles the average consumer saves $4,032 in fuel.
In order for the environment to realize a savings, the environmental cost of the transporting and scrapping the old vehicle and manufacturing and transporting the new one must be less than the environmental cost of burning the 1,152 gallons of fuel.  That sounds like a nebulous proposition.

The program does help the auto industry – Good
The program hurts poor and low income Americans who need transportation – Bad
The environmental impact is not as easy to calculate.

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