Driver has big impact on mileage

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TOPSHAM (AP) – A state energy conservationist and a race car driver drove the same 30-mile loop in southern Maine to prove that how you drive can result in dramatic changes in gasoline mileage.

It’s no surprise that switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle can bring big savings, but motorists looking to make fewer stops at the pump may also benefit by changing their driving techniques.

To put that idea to the test, the Maine Sunday Telegram put Beth Nagusky, director of Maine’s Office and Energy Independence and Security, and Ted Hunter, owner of TNT Drag Racing in Brunswick, behind the wheel of the same 2006 Chevy Malibu on a loop between Brunswick and Richmond.

Nagusky, who tried to coax the best mileage she could from the state-owned vehicle, recorded 33 miles per gallon. The lead-footed Hunter, whose tires squealed as he accelerated sharply and came to sudden stops, came in at a dismal 18.5.

The federal government rates the four-cylinder Malibu at 24 mpg in the city, 32 on the highway.

“It’s hard to drive this bad,” said Hunter, who donned fire-resistant racing shoes as he sought to get the worst mileage he could while staying within the posted speed limit.

For footwear, Nagusky had a fleece bedroom slipper on her right foot to help her take on a Zen-like mindset while she slowly eased the car to highway speed.

“I’m feeling the pedal,” she said. “I am one with the pedal.”

Hunter knows better than to drive the way he did during the test. When he’s not at the track, he uses his driving expertise to get top gas mileage from his 2000 Pontiac Bonneville. His wife sells hybrid cars for a living, so fuel economy is nothing new for him.

Hunter’s average speed during the contest was 43 mph, Nagusky’s 39 mph.

Hunter said the Malibu’s computer management system seemed to control shift points and engine revving for optimum fuel economy.

“I was surprised I couldn’t do worse with the gas mileage,” he said.

Nagusky, however, expressed surprise that Hunter’s heavy foot cut fuel economy by nearly half. She said the demonstration underscored for her how much gas Mainers can save by paying a bit more attention to their driving technique.

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