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96 Geo Prizm overlooking Lake Tahoe CA

96 Geo Prizm overlooking Lake Tahoe CA 38.8172 -120.0279

My 1996 Toyota Corolla (Geo Prizm) consistently gets over 50 miles per gallon on long trips and about 35 around town. The TIME magazine Dec 22, 2008 has a Top 10 listing of the most fuel-efficient current vehicles which gives the #1 rating to the Toyota Prius, with 46.65 mpg and doesn’t give any non-hybrid a rating of over 33 mpg. Its gasoline driven # 6 Toyota Yaris is 32.15 and the Toyota Corolla is 32.05. It is reported that the hybrids actually do more poorly on long highway trips than their equivalently weighted and powered straight gasoline driven counterparts.

Why can I get such great mileage on a car with 90,000 miles on it when the  brand new fuel efficient hybrid ones can’t come close? The mileage I report is actual mileage measured very carefully, on Google Maps and MapQuest, to the 1/10th of a mile from Berkeley up to an exact location at Lake Tahoe and back on three different occasions over three years. The car fuel tank is filled and the car rocked to get the air out of the tank, three times, before the trip and at the exact same pump after returning. The aim speed is 68 mph which may be a bit faster than is actually driven because those electronic highway speed monitors usually indicate 66 mph when I pass them. This is real driving which includes going over a 7,200 foot (2250 meters) mountain pass and several miles of stop and go congestion when going through Sacramento during rush hour.

This car barely passes California SMOG checks because its NOX is near the top but its other ratings are excellent. This seems to mean there has been a thinner head gasket or something done to up the compression or some automatic timing adjustment to raise the burning temperature and account for the increased mileage. This car is driven very delicately and it rarely gives out a ping even though it is driven on 87 octane gas, the cheapest gas at the pump. I used to go by the old driver’s rule, “one ping per tankful” for deciding on fuel octane but even the cheapest gas doesn’t give out a ping with this car, at least the way I drive it.

Okay so I drive like an old lady, actually a very careful old lady, and have never hit anything or been hit by anything, at least while in the car. Actually, I have had several cars badly damaged while parked on the street. Once rather dramatically in San Francisco when someone’s parking brakes failed on a steep street one night and wiped the sides of about ten cars on the way down Montgomery Street to Broadway. Another was in Berkeley when I came back to my car to find a fix it ticket on it for being damaged by a traffic collision—apparently everyone else just drove away. Another time I was parked and a fork lift at a lumber yard backed into me. That was quite entertaining because I was sitting in the parked car when it was hit and when I saw him coming at me I hit the brakes really hard. That doesn’t do much good when the engine isn’t even on. Yet another time someone backed out of a driveway all the way across the street into the side of my car and made a big dent. There were several witnesses to that event and they got the license number but as no one actually saw the driver I received no insurance compensation. This leads me to conclude that I drive better than most people and that I shouldn’t expect them to consistently miss my car, especially when I am not in it so I can dodge.

In reading reviews of cars in the auto magazines the authors always seem to be locked into horsepower, acceleration, cornering, cool looks and other stuff that has very little to do with 99% of most people’s actual driving. Those car reviewers seem to give short attention to the purpose most people put their cars to: getting to work, getting to the grocery store, getting to some favorite spot and maybe 10% of the time taking someone along with them. That isn’t very exciting stuff to write about and so they don’t and a 13 year old economy car just doesn’t get much respect. On the other hand it does virtually everything better that the ones they rave about and costs a lot less to maintain and to repair when it gets battered about when parked on the street.