Have you heard about SOL for cars?
It’s like the Standards of Learning for kids – the tests administered by the schools as a way to gauge whether (cue The Chimp) the children is learning. SOLs are widely considered a scam because the kids aren’t learning – just being taught to pass the test.
It’s a game.
Likewise, the government’s miles-per-gallon testing. The car companies build their cars to perform as well as possible on the EPA’s test loop, so they can tout the best-possible city/highway numbers – and not just to entice buyers. These numbers are also used to calculate the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) numbers which the car companies have to deal with. When their “fleet average” – the combined mileage of all the vehicles they sell – dips below whatever Uncle says the mandatory minimum is (it’s currently 35.5 MPG) they get fined and these fines, of course, are passed on to us.
So it’s very important to do well on the tests.
This is why almost all new cars come only with automatic transmissions.
These transmissions can be programmed – optimized to perform best – on the EPA’s tests. They are set up to shift as soon as possible into overdrive (many new automatics have more than one overdrive gear) which is what you want if you’re trying to do as well as possible on the test.
But out in the real world, your mileage may and probably will vary.
An automatic that’s programmed to upshift as soon as possible for the sake of maximizing the MPGs does so at the expense of acceleration. The car feels sluggish, flat. This tends to encourage the driver to push harder on the accelerator pedal, in order to force a downshift – in order to get the car to accelerate.
This tends to use more gas.
You might do better with the manual – assuming you know how to drive one. And assuming one’s available.
Because of the need to do well on the tests, it’s probably not.
Manuals are too variable.
Driver A – who knows his business – might squeeze higher MPGs out of his manual-equipped car than Driver B (who doesn’t) in the same car with an automatic transmission. And Driver B – who rides the clutch, lugs the engine, shifts too soon/too late, etc. – might get much worse mileage out of a given car with a manual vs. the same car with an automatic.
The problem is that the number of drivers who do know how to properly drive a car with a manual transmission is dwindling – and this dwindling (plus CAFE compliance pressures) creates its own synergistic effect:
Manual transmissions are fading away.
Even in the kinds of vehicles that – formerly – were most likely to offer them or even come standard with them.
Trucks, for instance.
The big ones (1500 series) are all automatic-only. Eight and ten-speed automatics, most of them. The medium-sized ones are almost automatic-only. Toyota still offers a manual in the Tacoma pick-up, but only in one (expensive) trim to discourage volume sales (for CAFE calculation reasons). The Chevy Colorado (and its GMC twin, the Canyon) can be ordered with a manual, but only in the base trim – and with the base (four cylinder) engine and only with 2WD. Again, for reasons of CAFE calculation. The optional V6 (and turbo-diesel) and 4WD versions of this truck come only with automatic transmissions.
Even economy cars are rapidly transitioning to automatic only. A few still offer them, but the nudge is toward the automatic. In this case, it’s often a continuously variable (CVT) automatic or “dual clutch” automated manual transmission – the latter a kind of backhanded acknowledgment that manuals are or at least, can be, more efficient than automatics . . . provided the human variable is taken out of the equation.
In the case of the dual-clutch automated manual, a computer control the engaging and disengaging of the clutch, the timing of the shifts and so on. Without the efficiency losses through the hydraulic circuit that are the automatic’s weak point, fuel economy-wise.
Of course, if people knew how to properly clutch and shift for themselves – and if the government spent its energies protecting our rights (including our right to buy whatever vehicle type best suits our needs and wants, as we see them) instead of violating them by issuing fuel economy fatwas that are properly none of its business – then none of this would be necessary.
. . .
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