When we talk about fuel efficient driving it’s usually about tips and tricks on how to save fuel on long stretches of highway. What is rarely talked about is city driving and the role a driver can play in managing erratic urban traffic. I think this is a missed opportunity because by optimizing speed, anticipating and planning ahead, a driver can cut fuel costs by nearly half without reducing average speed. Here is how.
We all know that one of the biggest challenges of fuel efficient driving in cities is the need to brake every so often. This is tiring and not very fuel efficient but unavoidable. So the best thing you can do is to create a good braking strategy. What follows is my top five tips that will help you do so using examples from the most common situations a driver will encounter when driving in a city. The tips are supported by video examples showing both the optimal (marked by green) and un-optimal (marked by yellow) way of driving.
The best way to get through are red light is of course to pass through it without braking at all. But that’s not always possible. So when there is the temptation to speed up and catch a green think again if saving fuel is your goal. Why? Well, if you accelerate and the light turns red, you have just injected more fuel to increase speed but then lost it all by braking hard. Instead what you should do is keep a steady speed and check to see if there are more lights ahead or if there is anything else that might slow you down like pedestrians or oncoming traffic. If you think you need to brake do so as early as possible and stretch it over a long distance. The best way to adjust your braking is by using the brake pedal and having brake blending active.
Optimizing your braking also means that you will join a moving queue faster. Driving like this might feel a bit slow but it’s not really; traffic will always flow at a pace determined by the traffic lights and braking early will not result any difference in average speed.
The roundabout is the perfect place to save fuel. Once again it is about anticipation and having enough time to observe and react. During my training sessions I always recommend drivers keep a walking pace for at least 20 meters when approaching a roundabout. This will give you extra time to observe what’s happening and when it will be your turn to enter. Go in too fast and you lose precious time to observe and react which might bring you to a standstill.
I also recommend braking before a roundabout—not in it. This will let you adjust speed while cornering with the accelerator pedal and not the brake pedal. It will also help the I-Shift hold higher gears and you will get out of the roundabout faster without too many gear shifts.
Executing a left turn is pretty straightforward but with a few simple hacks you can both save fuel and time. What’s important is to focus fully on the road and minimize distractions like mobile phones. This is obviously important in any driving situation but particularly when turning left or right since you really need to pay attention to both the vehicles in front and the oncoming traffic. The other thing is speed management; slowing down as you approach the junction and letting others (especially other trucks) pass clears the way and gives you a better view of what’s happening. Once everyone is out of the junction you can just focus on the oncoming traffic and execute the turn without stopping. By slowing down you also get a better feel for the speed of the oncoming traffic and the ideal time to cross into the next lane.
As with the left turn, executing a good right-hand turn is about focus and slowing down. This is especially important in cities where you run the risk of not noticing pedestrians and cyclists in the blind spot of the truck. If you are texting or on the phone, chances are you are not paying attention to your mirrors. When you are approaching a right turn, start adjusting your speed so that it matches the speed of the cyclists. Keep the cyclists in front of you and pay attention to the mirrors so that no one ends up in the blind spot without you knowing about it. Let the cyclists pass and when it is your time to turn you can do so without any abrupt stops.
In heavy traffic going with the flow is the most important thing. Why? Because if you keep braking you are wasting fuel that’s just been injected by turning it into heat. So the question is how do you avoid braking? First remember that engine braking also counts as braking. In order to minimize it put the auxiliary brake stalk position in A and adjust your speed using only the accelerator pedal. If you do need to use the brake pedal, try spreading it over a long distance. Adaptive Cruise Control is a great tool but remember that if the vehicle in front of you is very close, the ACC will brake constantly. So leave enough space for the system to adjust the speed and only brake in critical situations. I see many drivers not keeping distance because they think someone else will cut in front of them and slow them down. But the fact is that when driving in congestion, you are pretty much going with the flow and people changing lanes doesn’t really impact the speed of that flow. If you close the gap, you will brake more as the vehicle before you reacts to the people changing lanes in front of them.
Planning, slowing down and stretching your braking distance—that’s the name of the game when it comes driving fuel efficiently in cities. By paying attention and anticipating, you have full control over braking power. This is so important since hard braking—whether it is using service brakes, engine brake or retarder—is a great way to waste energy and fuel. So do avoid it at all costs.
Ever find yourself behind the wheel but not fully focused on the traffic around you? Or notice someone else on the road …