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How's Your Gas Mileage This Winter?

Winter-blend gasoline, which kicked in early this year, can lower a car's mileage. What's it doing for yours?

About a month ago, I noticed something terrible. As gas prices were going up, my mileage was plummeting.

It dropped from 25 miles a gallon to 17 (no hybrid here), enough to make me consider joining the modern age and getting rid of my 20-year-old car.

First, however, I tried everything I could to up the efficiency. I replaced the tires and spark plugs. I got it tuned up. But, no luck. The needle in the gas tank was dropping like the altimeter on a falling plane. 

So, I hit up my mechanic buddy, George Loughran, who had the answer right away.

“Five miles a gallon? That's the winter blend.”

Oh yeah, the gas we Californians put in our cars from November through March is dirtier and contains additives such as butane, which burn at a higher vapor pressure. They make the gas cheaper, but far less efficient than the summer gas, which burns at a much lower pressure and is more pure.

Butane, for example, would boil off as a gas in summer, but can help fill a tank in the winter.

The summer and winter switch isn't much thought about, but became an issue in October when Gov. Jerry Brown asked the Air Resources Board to allow the winter gas to be sold before Oct. 31, because gas prices were reaching record highs.

So, we get cheaper gas, but have to use more of it? I'm not sure how the math works here.

How is it working in your tank? Are you Prius and Volt owners feeling smug in the smog?

Should I take the plunge and get something more fuel efficient, as opposed to a car with no payments?

P.S.: California gas prices averaged just over $4 a gallon in 2012, a record, beating last year's high of $3.50 a gallon. Nationwide prices averaged $3.60 a gallon, according to this story in the Los Angeles Times.

lola January 05, 2013 at 10:10 PM
Dan Bass January 05, 2013 at 10:10 PM
My gas mileage has increased by nearly 5 mpg the last 3 months. Driving a Hyundai and very happy.
Michael January 05, 2013 at 10:56 PM
Winter-gas is yet another LIBERAL/Democrat "tax" you have to pay for NOTHING. It was a non-scientific scheme (like AB32) put together by the Dummycrat Legislature in the '90s. The feel-good idea was for Kalifornia to "lead the nation" with an unproven scheme- OF COURSE, no one else followed. Before you technical know-nothings comment, the catalytic converter cleaned up CA air starting in 1975. Winter gas HARMS the environment because it makes us burn more fuel- don't let reality get in the way of "feeling-good" Democrat voters. Prius & Volt owners should not feel smug at all, they should feel stupid because their ROI is about 10 years, or more. The Volt will fall apart long before then. A Prius Plug-in costs about $34K, a comparable car in size/no style, say a Ford Focus sedan is $20K (38 MPG). You have $14K to make up in the SAVINGS on gas, only to break even. Plus the plug-in will skyrocket your Edison bill- that just went up 10% (that's AB32 hitting your wallet). I don't feel bad for stupid Liberals who voted for this, I feel bad for the smart people that suffer from Democrat stupidity in CA.
Dr. T.P. Uller January 05, 2013 at 11:53 PM
How do you feel about fluoridation?
Michael January 06, 2013 at 01:02 AM
That's funny. No, it was not a Communist plot. Fluoridation is a huge advantage for American kids that starts the building blocks for the best dental health on the planet. The USA DID land on the moon too. I'll leave Sasquatch up for debate because I can't prove or disprove its existence.
Californicated1 January 06, 2013 at 01:40 AM
Why does it now sound like we are on a movie set somewhere in the early-1960s with Stanley Kubrick Directing, George C. Scott preparing to fight while Peter Sellers telling everybody that they can not fight here in the War Room? Next thing you know we will be shooting a scene on a B-52 with Slim Whitman waving his cowboy hat and James Earl Jones just being bewildered.
Andrew S January 06, 2013 at 01:50 AM
It's pretty easy to do the math in Excel, but assuming your paid-off vehicle is otherwise mechanically sound, it’s typically a financial loss to purchase a net-new vehicle. I recently looked at leasing a Volt (best way to get one IMO), but it really made no sense. My car is also paid for, and gas would have to go to like 8.50/gal to make it break even.
Andrew S January 06, 2013 at 01:56 AM
Sorry I forgot to include this but: http://www.edmunds.com/calculators/gas-guzzler.html I already knew this, but at current gas prices it would take 357 months to break even on a Volt!
ATC January 06, 2013 at 02:10 AM
Bad mileage on a 1012 Forte? Really? My daughter bought a 2012 Kia Optima, and is consistently getting 30+ mpg, even with her heavy right foot. Not bad for a car whose amenities and styling rival that of the Lexus E350, and overshadows the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. We'll see how it holds up long-term (100,000mi bumper to bumper warranty is standard), but so far I'm actually impressed with the car. Maintenance items are well thought out and easy to access, and it has been bulletproof so far. Hard for me to admit as a Chevy and Toyota fan for decades, but I see nothing wrong with the new Kias (Kia is owned by Hyundai, BTW).
ATC January 06, 2013 at 02:14 AM
Not to mention that the Volt is actually worse for the environment when you consider the additional electricity (most of which is generated by burning coal or natural gas) and the manufacture and disposal (after their life cycle) of the huge batteries. Even the hybrids actually have a negative NET effect on the environment because of those hi-tech batteries.
ron wood January 06, 2013 at 05:52 AM
How about an off grid solar home and a tesla s?
Capitola January 06, 2013 at 05:53 AM
How about an off grid solar home and a tesla s?
Virginia Fontaine January 06, 2013 at 02:28 PM
Always one in every crowd! Michael W. sounds like a Robert Livesley clone; blaming everything on those damn liberal Democrats! Stick to the subject instead of ranting. My car (10-yr old Infiniti) does seem to be using gas faster with the winter blend. My solution is to plan my daily trips so I get the most bang for my buck out of each trip.
Robert Livesay January 06, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Virginia I did not comment on the article. Now I will comment on you. Spell my name correctly. Yes I do blame the economic issues on the Liberal/Socialist like you. Just take a look at the S/S tax that President Obama let expire. Back to the 2010 rate of 6.2% . When payroll folks get their first check in 2013 they are going to wonder why it is short 2%. Not good Virginia. Do you not care about the middleclass that your beloved President claims to care about. Well it turns out he does not care about the middleclass. Only trying to punish the 2% that he is not very fond of. Well it just back fired on him. The last name is Livesay. Got it Ginny.
Oldprune January 06, 2013 at 04:25 PM
We, woman, don't think about politics that control our lives....I was one of them till in my 40's. Then find out EVERY thing is decided by politicians! I have to agree with Robert that blame game is Obama and Democrat's favorite game - everything was Bush's fault. Listen carefully, Virginia, to what Obama has been saying over and over- republicans are for rich peoples....but he gives tax credit to Hollywood (rich) because they give money to him. Poor and old are takers, sick and disables are takers, teachers and government workers are takers.....then, who is GIVERS?? Do you see why I get upset with people who voted for Obama because he is cute??
Scott Bally January 06, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Buy a diesel, you weisels!
Craig Haberler January 06, 2013 at 05:55 PM
I use my Prius more than our Kia Forte. My average mpg in the Prius has dropped to 42 mpg from 43mpg last several months, but with the colder weather we've been having, there's no way I'm driving around without the heater on! And it still gets way better mileage than the 28-30mpg on the Forte.
Dex January 06, 2013 at 06:24 PM
Michael....I did the math also, and don't see any way that a hybrid is a cost effective way to go, over a car that is already paid for. If you have to get a new vehicle, and want that "I'm-doing-something-good-for-the-environment-fuzzy-feeling", than go for it. But if you do a little research, you can see that there are alot of trade-offs into buying a hybrid. Felony-expensive battery replacements, higher level of toxics involved in manufacturing, and the before-mentioned higher usage of electricity to charge these things (such as the Volt). It just doesn't add up to a sound purchase.
Russell Hague January 06, 2013 at 06:25 PM
I thought this was about decreased fuel economy? Why does this have to turn into insulting each other over political views! Clean it up! I have noticed a decrease in my fuel economy, so I just had my tires rotated and had the shop check the tire pressure. I believe in honesty, so if this causing a decrease in mpg, lets get to the bottom of it, expose the truth, then fix it! Stop the blame and insults! Move forward, not back.
steve l January 06, 2013 at 11:51 PM
hey livesley, you know they lowered the rate for social security to jumpstart the economy? you know that social security funding is a major problem? you know that rate needed to go back up, and it needs to go even higher if we are to keep social security solvent? well, do you? shall we shut down social security and let the old folks starve?
mac January 07, 2013 at 12:19 AM
I drive a 12 Civic Hybrid Went from 45,5 to 45,4 Not much of a drop. I love my Hybird and passing up gas stations.
Michael January 07, 2013 at 12:29 AM
It's not blame, it's root cause analysis or connecting-the-dots. How can you not talk about why we have winter-gas??? It came from Democrat politicians you voted for. Where did you think it came from, the Easter Bunny? You liberals like to "feel good" but when the truth of YOUR ACTIONS is exposed you get all defensive.
M.Legison January 07, 2013 at 12:43 AM
I saw a .2 mpg decrease too, but as it was 12.4 mpg before it doesn't matter much. You don't buy an H2 for economy.
beaumontdave January 07, 2013 at 07:30 AM
Slim Pickins. Slim Whitman was the yodeling singer.
Andrew S January 07, 2013 at 03:45 PM
I loved my old TDI! Only compliant I had was diesel was stinky, and when I visit cold areas would have to use anti gel.
Jack January 07, 2013 at 04:56 PM
My 2007 Prius dropped down to 49.5 MPG this winter.


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