The job of an oxygen sensor in a vehicle is to compare the oxygen content coming out of the exhaust to the oxygen content in the exhaust stream. This helps the vehicle computer determine whether to enrich or lean the fuel mixture, allowing the catalytic converter to operate more efficiently and reduce emissions into the environment. Exhaust byproducts can often block the sensor’s element over time causing poor fuel economy and increased emissions. Continue reading

Counties in the San Francisco Bay area are considering getting rid of gas taxes and switching to a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) system instead. The National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission (NSTIFC) recommends the switch because revenue from gas taxes have declined over the years as hybrid, electric, and more fuel efficient vehicles become prevalent on roads. They say that it will “balance the costs and benefits of the surface transportation system to those who are using it”, and could also reduce traffic congestion on the roads. The proposal is one idea in long range planning, updated by the agency every four years. If the idea is accepted, it would likely not be fully imposed until 2020.

Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the regional commission, admits that the idea could be difficult to introduce. Radical changes like this will always be opposed by certain groups, and privacy issues will be questioned as a GPS based systems would be used to log information on when and where drivers are traveling. Transit advocacy groups are encouraging the transition to a VMT system to be tested first in the Bay area where the idea will be more easily accepted and the revenue could be used to support alternative public transportation options.

Breakthroughs in fuel cell programs and affordable natural gas prices are prompting the U.S. Department of Energy to take another look at hydrogen powered vehicles. In 2009, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, suggested cutting back funding to the Energy Department budge for hydrogen fuel cell research because the technology did not have an efficient way of storing and distributing the product. A closed door subcommittee meeting of the department’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee, (HTAC) is changing his mind. According to Bill Gibbons, a spokesman for the department, the cost of hydrogen production alone can be cut in half. The only challenge is getting enough stations to meet the needs of the consumer.

Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have the potential to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lower harmful emissions that cause climate change. FCVs run on hydrogen gas and emit no harmful tailpipe emissions. Automakers like Daimler, Hyundai, Toyota and Honda plan to start commercial production of fuel-cell cars in 2015, but say that lack of a widespread refueling network is the biggest obstacle to public adoption of these vehicles.

A Los Angeles County judge has reversed a court decision to award a former attorney almost $10,000 over fuel economy claims for her 2006 Honda Civic. The case received national attention last year, when Heather Peters opted out of a class action settlement that would have paid Civic hybrid owners up to $200 or $1000 off the purchase of a new car. Honda appealed the court decision, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dudley W. Gray reversed the small-claims judgment last Thursday.

According to Gray, the automaker was within its rights to advertise the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy ratings for the vehicle and rejects the idea that it was misleading. He added that Federal regulations control the fuel economy ratings posted on vehicles, but they are only there for comparison among vehicles and don’t take into account conditions that could affect fuel economy such as how people drive and the condition of their vehicle.

Peters lawsuit has prompted almost 40 other Civic owners to seek similar recourse. Honda has already won 18 of the suits and has lost one case, in Santa Barbara, involving a 2003 Civic hybrid. Peters said that although she is disappointed with the final ruling, she is glad she raised awareness that Honda is no longer the great brand it used to be.

With fuel prices on the rise, more Americans are turning to electric and hybrid vehicles for the promise of saving money. Today’s consumer is offered a wider selection of vehicles, advertising better fuel economy with super fuel saving technologies. Even the government has jumped on the bandwagon with significant changes to fuel economy window stickers that estimate what a drivers annual fuel costs and savings will be. But, once the consumer starts looking into buying one of these vehicles, the promise of saving money is not always apparent.

According to recent studies, even if gas prices would climb to $5 a gallon, it would take the average hybrid or electric vehicle, six years before the consumer would start to see any savings. Analysts say that the price of these new technologies is a road block that limits the appeal of fuel efficient cars and trucks. The proof in in the numbers, with hybrid and electric car sales accounting for less than three percent of the total market.

So why do consumers pay more for these advanced technologies that promise to save them money? Many are blinded by advertising, but never actually sit down to do the math, or they overestimate the miles per gallon savings compared to actual savings. Some see the better fuel economy as better for resale, and hope to make up the difference when they sell their vehicle. Others just want to do something for the environment. Regardless of what the reason is, every day that gas prices increase, electric or hybrid automobile owners can feel better about the purchase they made.

The car pool lane is a roadway reserved for vehicles with at a specified number of occupants. These high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV) may have the appearance of being lightly traveled, but statistics show that they carry more people per lane with fewer vehicles and usually at higher speeds. Some places allow hybrid and electric vehicles to access these lanes to encourage the use of a more environmentally friendly means of transportation.

Other states are looking at the concept of putting a price on the convenience of using HOV roadways. They say that tolls would not only raise money to maintain the roads but could manage traffic congestion as well. Motorist would be allowed to “buy their way” into the express lanes using an electronic transponder that logs how long and at what time of day the driver accesses them.

While the goal of the program is to keep traffic in the restricted lane moving at a reliable pace, a coalition of local groups say allowing people to by their way into the lane is having the opposite effect, and they have petitioning to have the program suspended. The state of California has recently restricted some older hybrids from HOV lanes because they were becoming too congested.

The 2006 documentary film, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, deals with the history of the electric car, specifically the General Motors EV1, and its development in the mid 1990’s. The film explores the roles of automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, the US government, the Californian government, batteries, hydrogen vehicles, and consumers in limiting the development and adoption of this technology. Today’s environmental concerns, volatile gas prices, and advancements in electric car technology, have lead to auto manufacturers and the government into taking a second look at the electric vehicle.

Everyone is familiar with the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf because they were one of the first electric hybrid and electric vehicles sold to the general public, but today, almost every car manufacturer is developing an electric vehicle. Tesla is a car company devoted to building only electric cars, and BMW has recently started it’s own brand of electric vehicles, the i brand, to name a couple.

If you are thinking of making the move to an electric vehicle, here are a few things to consider before making the purchase:

  • Even though electric vehicles are advertised as “saving you money at the pumps”, the original purchase price will be more expensive than a conventional vehicle. There are government tax credits for purchasing an electric vehicle, but you will still end up paying a bit more.
  • Drivers are limited to the distance they can commute. Battery technology has improved, allowing drivers to travel further distances than ever before, and hybrids add the extra security of an engine back up, but driving an electric vehicle long distances relies on finding charging stations along the way.
  • Unless your neighborhood or work place is adequately supplied with charging stations, you will probably want a charging station at your home. This is an added expense to install, and will result in electrical bills being a bit higher.
  • Finally, as with all advanced technology products, the longer you wait to buy, the better and cheaper the technology gets. As more auto manufacturers release their versions of the electric car, more data will be available to the consumer to help make the decision of what electric vehicle to buy.

Some other electric vehicles you can expect to see on car lots and roads soon, includes: the Fisker Karma, Ford C-Max Energi, Honda Fit EV, Mitsubishi I, Tesla Model S, Rav 4 EV, and the Fiat 500 electric.