"This is something that anyone can do," said Tim Porter after learning that his family had reduced their gas consumption by 65 gallons for the month to win Good Morning America's "Frugal Family Challenge."
It was a simple, yet profound statement. If everyone in America followed the example of the Porters, of Salem, Massachusetts, and the Rhodes, of Camas, Washington, our country would save billions of gallons of gas, reduce greenhouse gases and take a big step toward energy independence.
The Porters and the Rhodes were part of a project with Good Morning America and USA Today to see which family could cut their gas consumption the most. As the senior consumer advice editor, I was called in to recommend gas-saving techniques based on the testing Edmunds.com has done for articles like "We Test the Tips" and "We Test the Tips Part II." A month ago I visited each family and gave them a set of recommendations in Part 1 of this story.
Now it was time to revisit each family, check the results and name the winner.
Rhodes Results The Rhodes family had four cars and six drivers, three of whom are teenagers. During the summer, with gas prices near $4 a gallon, they were spending $790 a month, driving 3,930 miles and burning 218 gallons of gas. I made a number of recommendations to them for combining trips, and offered specific tips for each family member to drive more efficiently.
During the month, the Rhodes were e-mailing their results to me and checking in with their progress. The first thing I heard was that 20-year-old Ryan Rhodes had totaled his car. Now the family was down to three cars — even more of a challenge, and Ryan had to share a car with his mother.
Checking the results I found that the Rhodes family drove nearly 338 miles less over the 30-day period. This was only an 8.6 percent reduction, yet they used their cars much more efficiently, reducing their gas consumption by 27.4 percent and saving some 60 gallons. Since gas prices had fallen dramatically, to a national average of $2.43, the family saved $145. At $3.50 a gallon, the saving would have been $209 for the month.
Rhodes Reflections on Gas Savings Mary Rhodes said she saved gas by waiting until she had three errands to run and doing them all at once rather than "running back and forth." She also drove to the farthest point and then worked her way back home. In that way, the car warmed up completely and operated more efficiently for a greater time.
Randy Rhodes, who works in the computer industry in nearby Portland, Oregon, was dropped off at the bus station, which he took to the light rail. It made for a long day and was particularly difficult later in the day when he was tired and just wanted to get home. However, he cut the amount driven in their least-efficient vehicle, a 4WD 1999 Ford Expedition XLT, by 245 miles (from 702 to 457).
Ryan, 20, said that after his accident he realized, "I don't have the freedom to go where I want anymore. I miss that."
Hilary Rhodes, 17, who often floored her 1991 Toyota Camry to climb the steep hills around their house, put a note in her car to remind her not to force the car to downshift. "I usually had three cars behind me," she said. "My record was eight." Still, she said she was proud that her family "worked together as a team to accomplish our goal."
Porter Results Tim and Kelly Porter are the only drivers in their family of four, so their task was a bit more manageable than that of their West Coast counterparts. Still, they typically drove 3,368 miles and spent as much as $610 a month on gas during the summer. Their living situation was different from the Rhodes because Salem is a very walkable city. And walk they did. But when they did use their cars, they used them more efficiently, kept their tires inflated and changed a dirty air filter.
The key to the Porters' victory was that they reduced the amount they drove dramatically, slashing 1,123 miles over the course of the month. A lot of this was replaced with walks to and from the store and schools with their two kids, Alex and Emma, or carpooling while running errands rather than taking two cars. This saved 65 gallons of gas and about $158 at current gas prices of $2.43.
Porter Ponderings on Gas Savings Tim Porter, who often works nights, had begun the month with only mild interest in this project. But when I returned a month later he was energized both by what he had learned and by the fuel economy he had achieved driving his 1993 Toyota Camry XLE with 270,000 miles on it.
"I cut out unnecessary trips and just walked," he said. "When I drove to work I always used cruise control. I'd never used it before. And I checked my tire pressure once a week." On one tank of gas, Porter got 26 mpg, up from just 20 mpg before the test.
His wife, Kelly, also did a lot of walking. But her big change was abandoning her former tendency to be an aggressive driver in her 2002 Toyota 4Runner. "I thought I never would have the patience to slow down," She said. "But one day the light bulb went on — I realized I wasn't going to get there that much faster."
Kelly also said she sometimes "thought of Phil [Reed] talking to me when I was driving" and that encouraged her to slow down and use cruise control.
An Example for Other Families When I had suggested a 25 percent reduction in fuel consumption, the families were doubtful that they could make such a drastic change. However, both families surpassed the goal, the Rhodes at a 27 percent reduction and the Porters at 36 percent. While the hard work and careful planning of both families saved them money, it also reduced emissions and preserved a natural resource — a combined 125 gallons of gasoline.
I couldn't help thinking how wonderful it would be if every family in the United States used the Porters and the Rhodes as an example. Even with a 10 percent reduction nationwide, billions of gallons of gasoline would be saved — not to mention the tons of pollutants that would not be released into the atmosphere. All it takes is knowledge, planning and a little shoe leather.
And if you don't believe me, remember what Tim Porter said: "This is something anyone can do."