“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tire pressure and the last 1%

Regular followers of my blog (mythical creatures though they might be) will have noted that I have compulsive tendencies. This character trait has expressed itself in various ways through my life, some destructive and others not. I consider my pursuit of maximum mileage from gasoline in my vehicle to be in the latter category. For that reason, I'm glad to continue my activities and analysis in this area.

I've had my Land Rover LR3 HSE for just shy of a year (324 days to be precise). I haven't spent a lot of time checking tire pressure, how important might this be? Various sites (see no. 4 here for example) give percentages of 2% to 4% as the excess consumption caused by under-inflation. Edmunds conducted some testing of various "tips" to save fuel, reported in a column entitled "We Test the Tips." Tire pressure is number 5 in their list of tested tips. They were unable to find consistent savings, though they did find what they termed "modest savings" in two vehicles.

What about the physics? Well, it's quite a complex topic to solve analytically, but I utilized a tool called "Dimensional Analysis" to make an approach to the problem. I concluded that rolling resistance is inversely proportional to the square root of tire pressure. This would mean that there might be approximately a 5% difference between overfilling by 2 p.s.i. versus being under-inflated by 4 p.s.i. Keep in mind that rolling resistance is only one of the external forces acting on the vehicle and that it decreases in relative importance as speed increases, since aerodynamic drag increases with the square of speed. Interestingly, tire rolling resistance is independent of vehicle speed, at least insofar as the depth of the analysis I performed.

So at highway speeds, it's likely that an increase in rolling resistance of 5% might contribute about a 2% increase to overall resistive forces, exactly in line with what many of the fuel saving sites indicate. I'd better get that gauge out of the glove box.

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