You Can’t Drive 55
A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle decided to see if he could get better gas mileage out of a 2001 Chevy Malibu at 55 mph than at the normal rate of speed on the highway:
Traffic was a bit light when The Chronicle decided to take a 2001 Chevrolet Malibu for a 200-mile spin from Emeryville to the dusty Interstate 5 stopover of Kettleman City — sticking to 55 mph on the way down and going with the flow of traffic on the way back.
The idea was to test just how much better the six-cylinder Malibu (EPA-estimated highway mileage: 29 miles per gallon) could do at a speed imposed on the nation’s freeway drivers as a fuel-saving measure during the Arab oil embargo of the mid-1970s.
It made a difference:
[A]s a gas-saving device, 55 mph still works. The Malibu got 35 mpg on the way down to Kettleman City; coming back from the Kings County settlement of fast-food restaurants and gas stations at the flow of traffic, a bit over 70 mph, the mileage dropped sharply — to 25 mpg.
But there are reasons why nobody does this:
There are costs the slower you go, however. It took 49 minutes longer to make the trip at 55 mph — three hours and 36 minutes total — but it seemed like forever. Sitting in the slow lane, tapping the gas pedal to maintain a steady speed, the car felt like it was traveling at 25. Everything from Porsches and BMWs to big-rigs, the AC Transit bus and pickups towing boats — and they’re supposed to keep their speeds under 55 — cruised past in the left lane.
A lot of drivers cast curious glances at The Chronicle’s Malibu, and a woman in a black Volvo station wagon with three kids in the back seat glared. One person — a preteen boy in the passenger seat of a Dodge Stratus — made an obscene gesture, raising both middle fingers somewhere in Merced County.
A handful of drivers came within a few inches of the rear bumper before jerking their cars into the fast lane and flying by, but most simply passed. Actually, everybody passed sooner or later. The 830 cars and trucks that went by the Malibu as it poked along at 55 mph was nearly 10 times the number that passed on the speedier trip home.
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