What is the Most Fuel Efficient Convertible in America?

What is the Most Fuel Efficient Convertible in America?Legend has it that when spring rolls around, many a young man’s fancy turns to love. Of convertibles. There’s nothing quite like motoring about on a beautiful day in the countryside with the top down. Of course, this strange affliction hits a wide range of women as well. Unfortunately, this spring looks like it might test our patience with skyrocketing fuel prices once again, and the higher the price of gasoline rises, the less we’re apt to go out for a ride, just for the sheer joy of it. What we really need, what we really, really need — thank you, Posh — is a highly fuel efficient convertible.

Thankfully, Volkswagen has listened to our prayers and has brought a remarkably fun, unique, and economical droptop to our shores. A convertible unlike any seen before in America. A convertible that doesn’t use any gasoline at all.

Before you get excited about the possibility of an electric convertible, you’ll have to cool your Jetsons jets. This little critter doesn’t use gasoline, because it uses diesel fuel.

“What’s that,” you say, “a diesel convertible? Surely you jest!”

Say hello to my little friend, the fabulously fuel-efficient 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI convertible.

The 2013 VW Beetle TDI’s 2.0-liter turbo-charged inline four-cylinder “clean diesel” engine pumps out lots of torque and uses just a wee bit of fuel. That’s 236 foot pounds and 28 city / 41 highway miles per gallon (MPG) if you’re into numbers. (While the 140 horsepower rating may seem modest, it’s torque that really matters.)

Although the Beetle TDI is not blindingly fast, it will push you back in your seat. With your choice of a six-speed manual or dual-clutch DSG automatic, this little critter bangs out the shifts at a rapid pace.

Oh sure, the little Bug’s MPG ratings might not appear to be high at first glance, but VW TDI drivers are legendary for their ability to exceed the “official” government estimates through their use of proper driving techniques. The TDI loves to drive past service stations by virtue of its generous driving range, which is further enabled by a 14.5 gallon fuel tank.

So now you’re asking, “what’s clean about diesel?”

Today’s modern diesel engines aren’t sooty. They don’t smell. And as VW puts it, “Clean diesel vehicles meet some of the strictest standards in the world.” Walk past an idling TDI and you wouldn’t know it’s a diesel, other than the distinctive engine clatter. Truth be told, TDIs do sound different from their gasoline-powered brothers, but they’re not obnoxiously loud, by any means.

Volkswagen offers the Beetle TDI convertible in three retro trims — ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s — to suit your whims, along with a the standard style. A Fender-branded sound system with all of today’s modern amenities (hands-free Bluetooth, USB input, SiriusXM satellite, and a sub-woofer) is available, along with goodies like three-level heated bucket seats. (Which are fantastic for those days when you should have your head examined for driving around with the top down.)

The Beetle is surely not for everyone, but other convertibles can’t touch it for fuel efficiency. The MINI Cooper and Fiat 500 Cabrio are among the closest.

Perhaps one day we’ll see a fully electric Fiat 500e Cabrio, but until then, the Beetle TDI is the most economical of the lot. For those who would prefer a hybrid convertible, you’re out of luck. There isn’t one available. You’ll just have to take a Sawzall to the roof of your Aunt Edna’s Prius. Never mind the loss of aerodynamics or her ire.

If you want to celebrate the season in style, a ragtop can’t be beat. Pay no attention to what the thermometer says. Ignore today’s wind chill factor. Punxsutawney Phil has spoken (well, sorta). We’re two weeks into a six-week sentence, and spring is just around the corner.

Source: MPG-o-Matic’s 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI Review

Image: 2013 Beetle Convertible by Volkswagen

Winter’s Effect on Hybrid Fuel Efficiency

Winter's Effect on the Fuel Efficiency of the Toyota Prius, Ford C-MAX, and Other HybridsIf you live in a part of the country (or world) where it gets cold in the winter, you’re likely to have experienced a drop in your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. The colder it gets, the harder your car or truck works to get up to an optimal operating temperature, and the more gasoline it consumes in the process. This effect is even more pronounced in hybrid vehicles due to the nature of their drive trains. The drop in cold weather mileage can be substantial.

There are a number of reasons why cars get poor gas mileage in colder temperatures:

  • Engines are significantly less efficient when cold. Oil thickens at lower temperatures, increasing friction.
  • Increased idle time, whether at morning warm-up or while sitting in parking lots (in order to keep the cabin heat flowing), wastes gasoline.
  • Gasoline is a cocktail that changes depending on the season. Winter gasoline formulas differ from summer formulas, in that they may contain butane and other chemicals that can effect fuel efficiency.

Popular Mechanics has an excellent article on the differences between summer and winter gasoline. Blame it on the RVP…

The different grades of gas are measured on a system of RVP, or Reid Vapor Pressure, which is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). The higher the RVP number of a particular gas blend, the easier it is to vaporize and the worse it is for the environment. All gasoline blends have to be below 14.7 PSI, which is normal average atmospheric pressure. Any number higher than that and gasoline would become a gas.

The summer-to-winter MPG difference is even more pronounced with the hybrids.

I recently spent two weeks testing a 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid and witnessed the climate-driven drop in fuel economy, first hand. I documented individual commuting segments, taking note of the effects of outside temperatures on mileage. The colder it got, and the shorter the commute distance, the tougher it was to get close to the official specs. (While I have not personally had the opportunity to test the Toyota Prius for winter fuel economy, you’ll find a good number of discussions in the forums about the winter MPG drop.)

So what’s the cause of the drop?

Hybrid vehicles need to fully warm up in order for their electric drive trains to function optimally. Blame it on safety. With advanced hybrid systems, the gasoline engine needs to start up instantly. If the engine is cold, that could present an issue, so the software prevents the system from going into full hybrid mode until the engine is properly warmed up. Better safe than sorry.

The cold weather’s effect is most pronounced in hybrid vehicles that are used for relatively short commuting distances. With a short commute, the engine may not reach operating temperature (and the hybrid system may not be fully functional) until later in the abbreviated driving cycle. With a longer commute, the engine warms up earlier in the cycle. If a warm up takes five minutes and your drive to work is 10 minutes, your hybrid drive train will only be operating at peak efficiency for 50 percent of that time. If your drive to work is 25 minutes, your drive train will be fully functional for 80 percent of that time. I’m not advocating taking the long way to work, but it’s a numbers game.

There are two basic ways to speed up the warmup. If you can keep your hybrid in a garage overnight — tucked away from the cold — it will take less time to warm up to operating temperature. If you have access to an electrical outlet and can have an optional engine block heater installed, you’ll be in even better shape.

I’m not an advocate of either long warm ups or simply slamming the car into drive seconds after the key’s been turned (or the start button’s been pushed, as the case may be). I prefer to let the vehicle have a short warmup to get the juices flowing, so to speak, before taking off. Start the car, put on your seatbelt, adjust the mirror, turn on your tunes, and you’re good to go in half a minute or so. If it’s so cold that you need to deice the windows, that’s a whole ‘nother issue (and all the more reason to keep the car in a garage, if possible). Needless to say, it’s a blessing to have heated seats in the wintertime.

A number of Toyota Prius owners have taken to using grille blockers in colder weather as a way to reduce the amount of freezing air that enters the engine compartment. This practice has been going on for years with cutting-edge Prius owners and it appears that it may be catching on with some new C-MAX owners, as well.

Image: Frozen Car shared by dmvyanks (via Flickr)

The 35 MPG SUV? There’s a Catch

The 35 MPG SUV? There's a CatchDespite the rise in gasoline prices, many Americans are reluctant to give up their sport utility vehicles (SUV). The comfort and convenience of these vehicles are treasured traits among families with cargo-hauling needs. The automakers have been transitioning their offerings from traditional body-on-frame truck-based SUVs to unibody car-based crossovers, but regardless of the under-body architecture, many folks still refer to the entire class of vehicles as SUVs.

When it comes to fuel efficiency, sport-utes face the triple-whammy of transportation physics: weight, aerodynamics, and drive train. Quite simply, they’re heavier and less aerodynamic than most passenger cars. Just as important, all-wheel-drive (AWD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) drivetrains are a drain on efficiency, when compared to two-wheel-drive (2WD) setup.

The irony is that while most folks need the cargo capacity of a (gasp) station wagon, they do not need the ground clearance of a 4×4, nor the off-road capabilities. Yet that tall stance and gas-sucking drive train are de rigueur with most current crossovers, even as the class becomes more sleek and rounded than their SUV predecessors.

The manufacturers have responded to the demand for better gas mileage by downsizing conventional engines and with a smattering of hybrid drive trains. The downside to hybrid technology is the added cost and the fact that hybrids are most fuel-efficient in city driving and at lower speeds. Electric motor assist isn’t a big help at highway speeds. If you have a lot of ground to cover on the freeway, your dollars may be better spent elsewhere.

Enter the 2013 Mazda CX-5. With the entry-level Sport version rated at 35 miles per gallon (MPG) highway, the SKYACTIV-MT 6-speed overdrive manual transmission-equipped 2013 CX-5 is the most fuel-efficient crossover sold in America today for open road cruising. While the MPGs are high, there are a handful of things you’ll have to do without, like AWD and a fancy leather interior. But you won’t have to shell out a lot of cash.

Although the CX-5 Sport version is available with either FWD or AWD, only the FWD model is available with a six-speed manual. And that’s the rub. The manual FWD CX-5 is rated at 26 city / 35 highway miles per gallon, the FWD six-speed automatic is rated at 26 / 32, and the AWD automatic is rated at 25 / 31.

Mazda’s suite of SKYACTIV technology encompasses the engine, transmission, and aerodynamics and is designed to wring more miles from every gallon, without sacrificing driveability. If you enjoy changing the gears with a stick shift, the CX-5 is bound to bring a smile to your face. With 155 horsepower (HP) and 150 foot-pounds of torque on tap, the CX-5’s 2.0-liter SKYACTIVE-G engine delivers. It’s not fast, but it’s fun to drive.

On the interior tech side, the CX-5 provides standard USB and audio input ports, along with three 12-volt outlets (see video). Although there are standard steering wheel-mounted audio controls, hands free Bluetooth (for phone and audio) are optional at this trim level. A nine-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound audio system is only available in the Touring and Grand Touring models. If you’re a true tech/audio geek, this shouldn’t be an issue as you’ll likely be looking at aftermarket head units, anyway.

The CX-5 Sport starts at a very reasonable $20,995 when equipped with the six-speed manual. Opting for the six-speed automatic raises the price to $22,395. The base 2013 FWD Ford Escape S, by comparison, starts at $23,295 and is rated at 22 city / 31 highway. The more fuel-efficient Escape SE and SEL are outfitted with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine, rated at 23 city / 33 highway, with a starting price of $25,895. The Escape is only offered with a six-speed automatic.

The bottom line? If you want the highest highway mileage you can get in a crossover, enjoy driving a stick shift and price is a significant factor, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport delivers a compelling package.

Do You Know How to Drive a Manual Transmission?

Do You Know How to Drive a Manual Transmission?I learned how to drive a manual transmission before I learned to drive a car. It was a natural back then, as a much higher percentage of cars sold in America were equipped with manuals. I started out with the lawn tractor and a few motorbikes before tackling the family car. Over the decades, out of a dozen or so vehicles, I’ve only owned two with automatic transmissions. I’ll keep driving manuals until I need to get my hips and knee joints replaced. And I’ll go right back to ’em after I heal up.

The first automatic was an old Pontiac, and it was my first car. It was equipped with a two-speed Powerglide transmission. You read it right. Two speeds: high and low. Old paint would take first gear all the way up to 80 miles an hour if you were on it good. (At least that’s how I remember it.) With the advent of seven- and eight-speed automatic transmissions today, it seems amazing that we got by with just first and second.

I sold the automatic Pontiac to buy the same exact car — same year, same model — with a four-speed manual complete with a Hurst shifter. I got more hoots out of that car than any kid should for $350. In all the manual cars I’ve owned, it was the only one that needed to have the clutch replaced. I freely admit to burning rubber from time-to-time, but burning up clutches is no fun.

The second automatic was a Dodge pickup truck that I bought brand new, about 10 years later. I wanted a manual transmission, but the dealer didn’t have any on the lot and he refused to order one for me. “Why would you want a manual transmission?” he asked. Why, indeed — this guy just didn’t get it. I should’ve walked right out of that dealership, but I was young (and foolish) and ended up with the slushbox. From the time I drove off the lot, I was never happy with the truck, but I learned an important lesson. If you’re the one stuck with making the payments, get what you really want or you’ll regret it.

So, since that time, I’ve always bought manuals.

Manual transmissions connect you with the soul of the car. You’re not just the pilot; you’re part of the machine. Automatics disconnect you from decision-making. Manuals give you full control. Yes, manuals are a lot more work in city driving, in heavy traffic, and on hills. Man up.

Casey Neistat shot my favorite “learn to drive stick” video of all time.

Never tell a first-timer to release the clutch and apply the gas simultaneously. That’s bad teaching; it’s too complicated. Simply apply a small amount of acceleration, then slowly let up the clutch. Just like that, you’ll take off. So easy a 13-year-old can do it.

And that’s just it. The best place to learn how to drive a vehicle with a stick shift is a big, empty parking lot. Face it. You’re going to make mistakes. You didn’t fall out of the womb with the ability to hoon like Ken Block.

Modern automatic transmissions are quite good, but they’re not quite the same as a stick shift. Even with faster shifting mechanisms and slap-stick or paddle shifters that allow you to override the pre-programmed controls, almost all automatics lack the visceral connection of a manual.

The wicked fast dual-clutch automatics found in some BMWs, VWs, and the Mitsubishi Evo and Ralliart are notable exceptions. Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs), on the other hand, are widely railed against by purists as being completely soulless. I’ve grown accustomed to driving them, but hey, rail away if you want.

I don’t have any hard statistics to point towards, but it seems like the manual transmission is inching back in both relevance and purchase consideration. As an example, the percentage of manuals to automatics in the tiny Fiat 500 has been higher than expected. While this is common sense with a car of its ilk (small and sporty), it’s been widely reported that Chrysler hadn’t planned on the manual’s popularity.

Rest assured, it’s not just sports cars. You can buy a good number of SUVs with manual transmissions these days, but you have to know where to look. Driving an SUV or Crossover doesn’t mean that you have to give up the clutch pedal. As with the Unicorn Dodge Pickup I bought years ago, your local dealer may still be hesitant to stock models with manuals. The Internet is your friend. If your local dealer doesn’t want to get it for you, the next guy will.

Europeans might make fun of Americas for referring to the manual transmission as a stick shift, but that’s life. They can thank us for all the blue jeans, as long as they don’t expect to buy a pair made in America.

Interested in learning more about SUVs and crossovers with manual transmissions? Here’s a list!

The Toyota Prius C Delivers Bang for the Buck

It’s a common misconception that hybrid cars are too expensive. Many folks believe that the initial added cost of a hybrid drivetrain cannot be recouped over time. While that may be true in some cases, in others it is not. Case in point: the Toyota Prius C. In other countries around the world, the Prius C is marketed as the Yaris Hybrid. Here in America, Toyota chose to play off the greenish glow of the Prius nameplate. But never mind the name. When you get down to it, the Prius C is simply the best Yaris that Toyota has ever sold.

The conventional Yaris is both inexpensive and fuel-efficient. In extensive road testing with two different Yaris (a 2008 Yaris S Sedan and a 2009 Five-Door Liftback), I’ve found that its official fuel economy ratings are conservative. If you drive this little critter with a light foot (and under the right conditions), you’ll be rewarded with gas mileage that will substantially exceed the EPA numbers. When I tested the 2009 model, I was left asking the question, “Is there a conspiracy to hide the fact that the 2009 Toyota Yaris five-door hatch delivers remarkable fuel economy?”

With the Prius C hatchback, the reward is amplified. The true beauty of the most efficient full-hybrid systems (like those used by Toyota and Ford), is that light-footed drivers can exploit their potential to great effect. A little bit of gliding goes a long way.

The 2009 Toyota Yaris Five-Door Liftback is rated at 29 city / 35 highway miles per gallon (MPG), while the 2012 Toyota Prius C is rated at 53 city / 46 highway (with an overall average of 50 MPG). I was able to achieve an average of 43 MPG highway and 38.1 MPG combined in the conventionally powered Yaris, while the Prius C delivered an average of 52.7 MPG on the Interstate highway and 57.8 MPG combined. I flew past the estimates with both vehicles, simply by driving conscientiously. (Note: the 2012 Yaris is rated at 30 city / 38 highway, a bit better than the 2009.)

The hybrid’s advantage in the city is positively huge, but it only begins to tell the whole story. Inspired by Chris Pirillo’s mobile vlogging, I decided to take the Prius C test car out for a small town and back country cruise, while covered with cameras. I wanted to see how high I could push the car’s overall fuel economy numbers without resorting to any dodgy driving techniques.

Can You Really Get 65 MPG from a Prius C?

The resulting split screen video (shown above) clocks in at nearly 27 minutes. If you’ve wondered how hybrid cars work and how to get great gas mileage from them, take the time to sit back and watch (from multiple angles) as I demonstrate a bunch of techniques that can be used to wring more miles out of every gallon — without infuriating other drivers on the road. Once you learn how to back off on the pedal and get your glide on, your fuel economy numbers will climb.

Some things happen automatically — like the stop/start system at traffic lights — but others can take a bit of finesse to fully optimize their potential. Rest assured, it doesn’t take a long time (or much effort) to adopt a fuel-conscious driving style. You don’t have to drive like Grandma or hold up traffic. The Prius C’s LCD dashboard provides you with all the clues you need to thwart those thieves at the gas pump.

The 2012 Toyota Yaris starts at a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $14,115, while the Prius C starts at $18,950. (By contrast, the 3rd Gen Prius’ starting MSRP is $24,000.) The added cost of the C buys more than just the Hybrid Synergy Drive System.

The Toyota Prius C Delivers Bang for the Buck

There’s plenty of tech content in the C. All four 2012 Prius C models offer include keyless entry, hands-free Bluetooth, and USB and audio input jacks. Prius C Levels Three and Four feature a six-speaker, 6.1-in. touch-screen Display Audio System with Navigation and Entune and Bing. Entune apps include iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, and OpenTable.

Getting great gas mileage is all about when, where, and how you drive, no matter what you drive. The Prius C gives you all the tools you need for optimum fuel efficiency.

As I say in my full review of the Toyota Prius C at MPG-o-Matic: “Whatever you call this pint-size five-door, it’s the most fuel stingy four-passenger vehicle sold in America, when measured dollar-for-dollar. If you have plenty of road to cover, with much of it at lower speeds and in traffic, the Prius C will slash your fuel bill by a considerable amount … even more so if you make the effort to drive it properly.”

Dog Food Delivery?

While there are lots of things that make you run out of the house at the last minute, for a dog owner, dog food has to be at the top of the list.

Think about the number of times you’ve had to make a last minute trip to the market, just to keep Fido fed. How many times has that happened over the last year? How much time did you waste on that trip? How much gasoline did you burn? How many extra impulse items did you throw into the proverbial cart on your way to the checkout line?

Perhaps it only happens two or three times per year. Perhaps it’s not a big deal.

Although our dogs seem to enjoy the occasional bowl of Crunch Berries, I’ve never dared to try Raisin Bran for fear of the potentially disastrous results.

A well-stocked dog food cupboard ensures that Spot will never go hungry. Buying dog food in larger quantities ensures a lower cost per meal. Taking a pragmatic approach saves time and money.

Of course, few folks want to keep fifty pounds of dog food on hand at all times. This is why a systematic dog food delivery system makes sense.

If ten pounds of dog food show up on your front stoop on a pre-determined schedule, you’ll never run out.

If you negotiate a competitive price up-front, you won’t have to spend time clipping coupons. The pooches will be provided for and your budget will be that much easier to keep.

Chevy Cruze ECO: Is America Ready to Shift (Again)?

It’s been said that approximately ten percent of the new cars sold in America today are equipped with manual transmissions, with the numbers slipping dramatically over the years. Have Americans become too lazy to shift gears for themselves?

Enter the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze ECO.

The Cruze ECO uses a tiny turbocharged 1.4-liter four cylinder engine and advanced aerodynamics to achieve superb fuel-efficiency. The difference in mileage ratings between the manual transmission-equipped Cruze ECO and the automatic are dramatic.

When equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, the new Chevy Cruze ECO is rated at 28 miles per gallon (MPG) in the city and 42 MPG on the highway. The MPG numbers drop dramatically to 26 city / 37 highway in the automatic-equipped Cruze ECO.

Gearing makes all the difference.

Tensions in the Middle East are only likely to push gas prices higher. With gasoline prices flirting with the $4 per gallon mark in some parts of the country, will the huge boost in the manual Cruze ECO’s fuel-efficiency convince folks to put aside their lazy automatic ways? Or have we simply become too complacent?

Resource: 2011 Chevy Cruze ECO Review

Do Fuzzy Slippers Impact Productivity?

I’ve been working from home for longer than I want to remember. Things tend to blur from one day to the next, from one week to the other, from month-to-month, and dare I say it, between years. When you have a home office, the daily ritual of getting dressed for work can slip by the wayside.

Never mind those fancy shoes and tie, just slip on the fuzzy slippers.

While a commute from the kitchen to the spare room may seem like an impossible dream for most folks, it’s a reality for millions of home workers around the world.

I can’t remember the last time I had to go to the dry cleaners, but I have gone through a few pairs of fuzzy slippers over the years.

This, as it turns out, is not a good thing.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to get out of the fuzzy slippers and into a pair of real shoes.

The gut test of time has proven the point: I’m far more productive while wearing real shoes. With socks.

I have a theory, based on years of (highly) informal research …

The ritual of finding a pair of socks (even if they’re not matching), putting them on, and slipping on those shoes (rarely with laces, thank you), is a trigger that tells the mind a work day has begun.

Sitting at your desk while wearing a pair of fuzzy slippers sends an internal message that you’re not really at work and encourages a wandering mind.

I may avoid wearing a tie at every opportunity, but I’m happy to save the fuzzy slippers for those times when I’m truly not at work …

Honda CR-Z: the Hybrid with a Stickshift

Hybrid cars aren’t all things to all people. Until now, folks that enjoy shifting gears for themselves have been left out of the party … there were no hybrid cars available with a manual transmission. Enter the Honda CR-Z Hybrid : the only hybrid available with a stickshift.

Can a stickshift sell a sporty car? Honda is hoping so.

(For those that are clutch-adverse, a paddle-shifter equipped continuously variable transmission is available.)

While the CR-Z Hybrid doesn’t get whopping great gas mileage, it is amusing to drive. There are three driving modes: Normal, Sport, and Econ. The Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system uses an electric motor to give the little gasoline engine a bit of extra oomph under acceleration. (Although it won’t roll your eyes back in your head.) Punch up the Sport mode for faster throttle response and the Econ mode when you’re stuck in traffic.

Resource: 2011 Honda CR-Z Hybrid Review

Is School Open Today?

Is it a snow day?

Remember the list? In times past, we huddled around the AM radio on those snowy mornings, waiting to hear if our school district was called. These days, we often have to check the school web sites for the happy word (or not) before the sleds and toboggans are pulled out of the garage.

Some districts have weather hot lines and automated robo-callers to help get the word out. It’s always nice to know early, but no one likes a call too early in the morning. A text message alert is a great way to keep families informed… if they’re willing to give up their mobile numbers.

What does your school district do to keep folks in the know (about the snow)?

Ford Focus Electric Slashes Charge Time

The drumbeat for the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf has been inescapable. As the first two mainstream electric cars to hit the market, the Volt and Leaf are leading the way and creating awareness. As folks become accustomed to the reality of mainstream electric vehicles (EVs), the shortcomings challenges of electrification come to light.

Charge time is one of the sticky issues with electric cars. While overnight home charging has been the accepted norm (with 240V), folks in need of a faster charge haven’t had any alternatives in their own garages. With the debut of the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, the game has changed.

The new Focus Electric offers a home charging time of 3-4 hours while using the optional 240V Leviton home charging station — roughly half that of the Nissan Leaf. And unlike many other charging stations, the Leviton is simply plugged into a high-voltage outlet, rather than hard-wired.

Microsoft technology allows the Focus Electric to charge at the lowest utility rates. Park the car in the garage, plug it in, and it will automatically charge at the optimal time of day.

You not have heard about the Focus Electric, yet. Ford’s marketing efforts have been quite low-key leading up to the car’s debut last week. Get ready for the amplification of the automotive electrification message…

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ZSgVLR_yDjk" width="350" height="288" wmode="transparent" /]

How Much Will You Spend on Gas This Month?

The pain at the pump is increasing, with the national average price of gasoline cranking up to over $3.00 per gallon this month. The Energy Information Administration reports that the national average price of all grades of gasoline hit $3.013 per gallon back on 12/6, rising to $3.037 on 12/20.

The primary cause is the rise of the cost of crude oil, which crested the $90 per barrel mark yesterday. America imports a whopping amount of oil, with over half of our trade deficit due to oil imports.

We are at the mercy of the markets … and the markets are merciless.

The cost of gasoline eats up a considerable amount of the family budget. If you sit down and tally up the amount you’re spending on gasoline each month, you might be amazed … and disgusted.

The good news is that you can take control of the situation. It’s not impossible to cut your gasoline costs once you become accustomed to driving less while driving with a light foot. And when the time comes to replace your current ride with something new, you’ll want to compare gas mileage by car to find the most efficient vehicle.

Swapping out of a gas guzzler into a more fuel-efficient vehicle can slash your gasoline costs in half. The good news is that the auto manufacturers are releasing new models that are both good on gas and enjoyable to drive. The Ford Fiesta, Chevy Cruze, and Volkswagen TDIs prove that you don’t have to buy a hybrid car to get 40 miles per gallon on the highway.

How Many Sump Pumps Are Enough?

A flooded basement is never fun. After years of procrastination, a second sump is being installed here at Rancho Indebto. The peace of mind should be worth an amount exponential to the cost of installation.

While we get by just fine with one sump under most conditions, when the torrential rains head our way, it’s always brings on a case of the jitters. I’ve become far too adept at cleaning up after the Nor’easters, tropical storms, and hurricanes. Dealing with basement flooding isn’t fun.

When my Mom passed away, most of her stuff ended up in my basement, along with the means to finally end the problem we encounter a few times each year. With a second sump installed, we’re hoping to never need to bail out the basement again. The new sump will be fitted with a pair of pumps and (eventually) a backup power system. We might add a second pump to the first pit.

With a little luck, the family archives (a.k.a. all those boxes of junk) will never end up underwater.

Ideally, I’d like to have a backup system with a small bank of batteries fed by solar panels and a turbine. What once seemed like science fiction is now well within the realm of possibility, with a big stack of twenty dollar bills being the only hurdle.

Buying a RAID

I finally bought a new RAID last month … after putting off the purchase for eons …

Working with video demands a massive amount of storage space. While most high-end folks are completely digital these days, I still cling to my MiniDV tapes. My ultimate offline storage device is a big rolling cabinet filled with tape. (I shoot on tape, then convert to digital … saving the original MiniDVs as archival material.)

Most of my stuff is extremely short form, to date … with the finished segments in the four-minute range. Moving those files around hasn’t been all that difficult. I started a large project this fall with much larger storage requirements. After doing a bunch of research on RAID units online, I was nothing if not confused.

I understood the basics of RAID, but I wasn’t sure which manufacturer to choose. RAID prices, like all hard drive prices, have dropped dramatically over the years. But this wasn’t like running out to Staples to pick up an inexpensive external drive … I’ve had a number of those units fail over the years and that couldn’t be tolerated with this project.

As luck would have it, I was in Manhattan a few weeks back and stopped into a very cool Mac-focused store that services the creative community. I walked in with a relatively good idea of the small RAID units that would fit the bill. I walked out with a completely different brand.

The salesperson wasn’t extremely helpful. It was the customers that steered me in the right direction.

I stopped into the store twice. On each occasion, I had the good fortune to speak with two professional video editors. They both recommended a Glyph Professional RAID, based on my requirements. While the Glyph RAID was more expensive than the unit I had been leaning towards, those personal (F2F) recommendations sold me.

Faster Than a Tesla?

Want a screaming fast, wickedly exclusive electric sportscar, but can’t fit into a Tesla Roadster? The Li-Ion Inizio is built to accommodate professional basketball players. You might need a professional basketball player’s salary, though… as all that E-performance doesn’t come cheap.

Once you can fit into a supercar, it’s all about what it can do. And the best place to do that is on the race track. The Li-Ion Inizio is designed to blow the doors off a Tesla when it’s opened up, with a top speed of 170 MPH (compared to a paltry 125 MPH for the Tesla).

The Inizio starts at $139,000 and is touted to achieve a 0-60 MPH time of just 3.4 seconds, with a driving range of up to 200 miles when properly configured.