Saturday, March 13, 2010

Price of Entry into the Geek Club

If you wanna be a geek, you have to keep track of your miles per gallon.  I can't bear having data at my fingertips and not using it.  So for every tank of gas I get, I keep the receipt and write down how many miles I've driven on that tank (before resetting the odometer back to zero for the next tank).  I've been doing this ever since I got my geek card - in high school.  But back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, they didn't have these handy electronic thingies at the pumps - I kept a booklet in all of my cars to keep track of the mpg.

Nowadays I calculate the mpg on the receipt, and then generally throw the receipt away... eventually.  Above are 3 receipts I just found crumpled up in my purse.  The two left ones are from the truck and the right one is the Scion.  I used to keep all the historical data ... forever, but now I see that's going a bit too far into geek territory.  I might not be able to get back out!

As far as I can tell, I'm not unusual.  Every single other engineer I've ever met does this too.  One of my engineer friends from South Carolina ended up driving with the tailgate of his pickup truck down, because of the positive effect it had on his mpg.  It can actually be useful on occasion.

Here's the story:  A few weeks ago, I took the Scion into a local dealership for routine work.  It was obvious to me a few minutes after I got the car back that something was wrong.  When the car got to 40 miles per hour, it started making a terrible sound that didn't go away at higher speeds, and it wasn't steering the same.  Further, when I got gas and calculated the mpg, it was 25.  Then the next tank was 26.8 (above).

Now, I've had this car for 5 years.  In all of that 5 years, the miles per gallon ranged from 28 to 38, but usually around 30-33.  It has never gotten below 28 mpg.  It was pretty obvious to me that something was wrong. 50 fewer miles on a tank of gas is a big difference.

So I took the car back to the dealer and told them that.  By the way - don't even bother trying that.  Especially if you're a woman.  They took the car for an hour and told me they couldn't find anything wrong.  I wonder if they even looked at it.

I drove it for another week, noticed a slow leak in one of the tires and took it to another shop.  Replaced the tire and -- wouldn't you know -- all of the other problems went away too.  The mpg is back up to 31, where it's supposed to be.  Problem solved.

I'm not proud of having to do this mpg calculation.  I've taken a fair share of ribbing about it from my non-engineer friends.  But I'm not stopping.  I can't!  They'll take my geek card away.


  1. That's cool, Jordan, using the info to catch the problem!

    Lawyer here, so I just do it about three times a year! Always 31 mpg in my Honda Accord. I try to do it when it seems it's a little off, just to confirm things.

    Which means I'll do it again soon. When I was out yesterday, my car was running very hard, like it was 20 below. Hmmmm. Nine years old. Hope to have it for 20 years.

    Not sure I'd save this stuff forever, but some years I save the gas receipts for taxes.

    You're a lovable geek, Jordan, so don't worry about it.

  2. Jordan,
    I have a "farmer-foodweirdo-kidwrangler" card and I ALWAYS check my mpg. My husband thinks I'm overboard. But I can tell when it's time for a tune-up by watching the MPG change on the suburban. I'm glad I'm not the only woman watching these things.

  3. Glad to hear there are other wimmens out there doing the smart thing!

  4. There's a card?!? You can send mine to: ...
    I may not be an engineer but I'm geeky like that too. I actually have ALL the gas receipts with the mileage written on the top since the purchase of my 2003 Hyundai. Just never got around to figuring the mpg. And I too used to write every gas fill, oil change, tire rotation in a little book. Man, those books became hard to find at stationery stores. Now they don't even have stationery stores anymore.

    This post made me laugh so hard! I IS A GEEK TOO. :>)