My new car is not so new now, but I am still very pleased with the fuel economy compared with its predecessor. Like a lot of modern, “intelligent” cars, it has a display on the dashboard of how many miles it estimates you have left in the tank.
Now I know how this works – a sensor detects how much fuel is left, and a computer program works out your current rate of consumption based on the fuel metering, one number is divided by the other and there’s your answer.
It’s a funny thing. I know how meaningless is the instantaneous read-out, but it can have a most positive psychological effect. This morning I drove into the village, cruised fairly gently down to the station carpark, did my messages and drove gently back – Glenn Gould playing Bach's Goldberg Variations on the stereo and everything very mellow.
The mellowest bit of all was that the “miles before refuel” reading was 130 miles when I started off, but was up to 150 miles when I got back. What a brilliant feeling that gives you! – somehow, I’ve gained something for nothing. It’s almost as though someone has sneaked some additional fuel (free of charge!) into the tank while I was out.
I’m all in favour of this – however stupid it might be, it really feels like an achievement to have gained those extra miles, to have cheated the oil companies. I like it.
When I was a kid we had a standing joke about finding a circular bicycle route which was downhill all the way round. We knew it wasn’t possible, but it was a fun idea. This is somehow related – we could try to imagine driving gently enough so that we never needed to fill the tank again.
I’m working on it.