I know that most people won't use the extreme methods of fuel consumption minimization that I've used to achieve a five tank moving average fuel efficiency of 21.09 m.p.g. in my Land Rover LR3 HSE, at least until it's a matter of taking extreme measures or not driving at all. People are repelled by the thought of (and if they're in my vehicle, the experience of) driving 55 m.p.h. on the freeway, coasting wherever possible, etc. But what about a minor adjustment that will save a little fuel?
I've previously detailed my policies on stoplights, including when I turn my engine off, coasting to minimize fuel waste when approaching red lights, whether or not it pays to speed up to attempt to make it through a green (or yellow) light, etc. Possibly, no one will adopt any of the measures I've outlined in those posts. But what about just shifting from drive to neutral? When sitting still with the vehicle in drive and brakes applied, more fuel is used than with the vehicle in neutral. I know this to be the case because I can see it on my Scan Gauge II. As I usually do, I'll run a few calculations to estimate my fuel savings from this policy, and then I'll add some more estimates to see what the effect might be on nationwide energy consumption, trade deficit, etc.
On my LR3 HSE, I typically use about 0.5 gallons/hour at idle in neutral. The absolute manifold pressure is about 4.8 p.s.i. Putting the car in gear (drive) and holding it still with the brakes causes the manifold pressure to increase to about 5.8 p.s.i. Since increasing manifold pressure results in a proportional increase in air mass flow through the engine, and hence a proportional increase in fuel consumption, we can assume that the 20.8% increase in manifold pressure results in a similar increase in rate of fuel consumption. However, we're looking at what could be saved by a driver who adopts the policy of shifting to neutral at stoplights so the appropriate way to look at the situation is that this driver will reduce his or her fuel consumption by 17.2% (1/5.8*100%).
Using estimates detailed previously (slightly modified) for stoplights hit per day, time spent per light, idling fuel consumption, etc. for the average car and driver, it looks like my "average driver" could save about 2.56 gallons/year. At current rates in Southern California, that would amount to a savings of $8.70 at the pump. I guess that would cover a single high-end caffeine product at your local Starbucks. It's probably not enough to save a homeowner headed for foreclosure though. As readers of this blog will readily infer, I certainly do it.
What about the results of nationwide application of this policy? I estimate that somewhere on the order of 333 million gallons of fuel could be saved. This is the gasoline from about 17.5 million barrels of oil. And since the other 23 gallons of oil in a barrel are not discarded when gasoline is produced at the refinery, I'll estimate that something like 8.8 million barrels could be left for other countries to purchase. This would reduce our trade deficit by just shy of $1 billion at current oil prices (about $105/barrel). Hmmm... According to the U.S. Census Bureau the January 2008 trade deficit was $58.2 billion. And here I thought I'd solved the problem.