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Correcting a skid


Whether or not you wince at current petrol prices, spending less money on gas means more money for other things. There’s a few simple tips that the most out of each litre you put in the car – if you follow them rigidly, tests have proved you can make a tank of gas go as much as 40–50% further. This could mean making it to Taupo from Wellington on a tank, rather than just Palmerston North, or stretch a weeks’ gas another 3-4 days.

To help, these tips run approximately in order of effect on mileage

1. Drive smoothly

How big’s your right foot? Pushing the Nike to the nylon at every set of lights, or on the open road, is a costly exercise. Drive ahead of yourself to keep progress smooth, and leave from a standing start gently, but without going so slow as to embarrass yourself. Momentum is your friend and perhaps slow earlier and wait for a light to go green rather than stopping, or gently lift momentum before a hill rather than accelerating up it.

2. Avoid high speeds

The motor uses fuel to work against the cars weight, and to push it through the air. Obviously if you go faster it’s working harder to push it through the air, and uses more fuel. Going 100km/h instead of 120km/h can mean savings around 10%, and possibly more real savings in speeding fines.

3. Use cruise control

But only on the flat. On the hills the cars brain will boot it too hard to maintain the set speed. This rule will be hard to apply in much of New Zealands hilly terrain, but when you get the chance, set, forget and save around 10%. If you don’t have cruise control, remember to drive in higher gears, but without lugging the engine.

4. Turn it off

It doesn’t use gas if yuou turn it off. Forget the myth that it takes more petrol to start a car than leave it idling – that’s nonsense. If it looks like you’ll be sitting still for more the than a minute at a time, shut her down. Especially you big smoky diesel trucks. In a jam or rush hour town cycle you can save a significant amount of fuel

5. Aircon and Windows

If you’re going for distance records, wind the windows up (better aerodynamics) and turn off the air conditioning (extra load on the engine). Otherwise passenger comfort and driver concentration on a hot day is probably more important than gas saving. There is an impact on mileage of either cooling option, but overall modern aircon systems now require far less engine output to drive them. Perhaps leave the windows down in town, then go for aircon on the open road as aerodynamics become a more significant impact on mileage.

6. Remove unused roofracks

Sticky-outy bits can cause your car to use up to 10% more fuel, so if you’re not going kayaking, take the roofrack off. Boot spoilers also fall into this category, but it’s fairly pointless explaining to a boy-racer that the main practical effect of his aerodynamic package is worse economy.

7. Look after your car

Service it at the recommended manufacturer intervals, keep the recommended oil in the engine, spark plugs and air filter fresh, and even if you don’t know what it is, ask them to check the oxygen sensor is working properly. Ensure tyre pressures at around 28-30psi (check your manual for the correct pressure for your car). Clean it regularly. Remove any unused items to keep weight down.

8. Think

Do I need to make that trip? Can it be combined with another?

9. Buy a smaller one

Admit it. You don’t really need an SUV do you?

Correcting a skid

There’s not too many occasions when you’ll skid if you were going the right speed for the conditions, and many drivers will never experience one. However between ice and gravel, people, cars and even trees jumping out, and going a little too fast, there’s always chance.

A great example occurred recently when the chap in the car in front of me didn’t notice there was a knocked-down 50km/h roadworks sign, and went over the brow of a hill at 100km/h into freshly laid gravel. Luckily, there was nothing coming when his over-correction sent him and his girlfriend down a bank into a ditch, but he made all the classic errors.

Ultimately, the first skid you ever find yourself in, is a panic situation pure and simple. The only way you won’t panic is if you’ve done a training course, or experienced slides around your uncles farm. We recommend either of these, but if you haven’t had the chance hopefully you’ll remember the following when the inevitable occurs.

1. What are the conditions that might cause my car to skid?

Look out for ice, gravel dust and dirt and slow accordingly. If it’s been cold the night before obey the ice warnign signs and slow down. Look after your car and make sure the tyres are in good condition, have plenty of tread and are equally inflated.

2. Look where you want to go

When your car slides, be calm. Let’s face it, you probably won’t be, but let’s just pretend. The single biggest key is to look where you WANT to go. The eyes lead and the body follows - racing drivers to snowboard instructors to gymnasts all look ahead at where they WANT to be. If you fixate on the tree you are sliding towards, you WILL hit it. If you fixate on the road around the tree, it’s pretty likely you’ll stay on it. It helps to shout at yourself “LOOK at the road you idiot”.

3. Steer in the direction you want to go

If you have managed to look at where you WANT to go (and not at the tree), this will be easy. Your hands will generally turn the wheel to where you are looking. The front wheels need to be pointing in the direction the road travels, or, if it’s too late for that, at the least dense looking piece of bush beside the tree.

4. Lightly apply throttle

Unless experienced, this probably won’t happen, but don’t worry, it’s not essential. What happens is it will stabilise the car, make it move more positively toward where you are trying to steer it, and make the slide easier to steer out of.

5. Steer out of the slide

In step 3, you steered into the slide, trying to point the car where you wanted to go, keeping the wheels trained on where you were LOOKING. Nothing has changed except the car will stop sliding out, and begin swinging back into line. The wheels STILL have tyo be trained on where you are looking and want to go, it’s just you have to be winding the wheel back the other way to keep them there.

6. Coming out of the slide

Well done. Laugh nervously and change underwear.

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