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Use your cruise control to cut your fuel bill

Engines are complicated devices that work on a simple concept: capturing the energy created from a sustained sequence of highly-controlled explosions and using that energy to give your car or truck the miracle of forward motion.

Fuel prices continue to climb and saving fuel is all the rage. Just look to your favourite automaker and you’ll see plenty of new engineering advancements and technologies on offer, all intending to save you money by letting you go further on every tank of fuel.

You might not need a modern car, or even a particularly complicated one, to cut your fuel bills considerably. In fact, there’s a decent chance that you can easily save $5 per hour on fuel, or more, by simply making sure you’re using a feature that your car or truck probably has on board.

It’s a feature that’s been virtually standard on virtually all vehicles sold for many years, but many motorists still don’t use it.

That feature? Cruise control.

By your writer’s estimation, partially formed during no less than 900 kilometres of highway driving every single week, many Canadian motorists simply aren’t using this powerful fuel-saving tool.

Turns out, we can actually calculate how this costs.

But let’s start by understanding another simple concept: engines tend to get the best fuel economy (that is, the most miles driven per dollar of fuel used), when they’re operating at a steady speed, or RPM. This becomes even more apparent in larger, heavier, and less-aerodynamic vehicles, like pickup trucks and great-big SUVs.

If you’re a non-user of cruise control, you’ll try (but fail) to maintain a steady and non-fluctuating speed on the highway. In reality, you’ll actually wind up speeding up and slowing down, typically in a sort of ongoing cycle, which will see your vehicle’s velocity oscillate around a certain speed, perhaps 90 km/h. One moment, you’ll be going 84 km/h, the next, you’ll be doing 93. Then maybe 87, then maybe 91. And on, and on, and on.

We can categorize the cruise control non-user in three ways. The expert non-user, whose speed will fluctuate slowly and slightly, the average non-user, whose speed will fluctuate more often, and the worst-case scenario non-user, whose speed will fluctuate massively, and probably, even more often.

According to information from Natural Resources Canada, the ‘expert’ cruise control non-user (my term, not theirs) targeting an 80 km/h cruising speed manually will tend to cycle plus or minus five km/h from that speed, about three times a minute.

This uses 20 per cent more fuel than setting the cruise control to lock the vehicle in at 80 km/h (with a simple button press). In the average family crossover, this costs you an extra $2 per hour, or more, for every single hour of highway driving you do. If you’re cruising at 100 or 110 km/h, the dollar figures rapidly grow.

The average cruise-control non-user in the same situation will tend to fluctuate more rapidly around the 80 km/h mark — with a plus-or-minus five km/h cycle occurring five or six times per minute.

This uses up to 48 per cent more fuel than setting the cruise control to lock vehicle speeds to 80 km/h. This can amount to tossing four to five bucks out the window, per hour, in many common family vehicles.

Last is the worst-case-scenario cruise control non-user — who may experience larger and more frequent fluctuations in speed, perhaps by 15 km/h or more at a time, and in almost continual fashion.

This driver could be using more than 60 per cent more fuel than they need to, possibly wasting upwards of $10 per hour in the process.

Over a year, this could result in thousands of dollars worth of wasted fuel, not to mention additional wear and tear on the vehicle’s engine, and the compounded effects of poor fuel economy faced by other motorists who also need to slow down and speed up to compensate.

Put simply, not using your cruise control also costs your fellow motorists money.

So, why not give that little button a try?

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