HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Petrol prices: How to gamify driving to save fuel

It used to cost me about R600 to fill my tank and because my car has a kilometre gauge, as soon as I filled up, the mileage balance would go up on the clock and tell me that with that one full tank of petrol, I could clock 700 kilometres on my car. Not bad. Let me put that into perspective, 700km is halfway to Jo’burg from Cape Town. For R600 you can get to the quiet, cosy, charming town of Hanover, the halfway point between the two cities, a town that writer Olive Schreiner once referred to as, “the pretties village I have ever seen”.

I couldn’t get to that village now even if I tried because my little kilometre clock never runs a balance of 700 because my wallet doesn’t allow me to fill the tank all the way up. Such are the times we all live in. Luckily I enjoy walking more than I do driving and at this point in my life, a road trip seems like a very unnecessary stress but I do need to drive. I have a toddler. Do you know how many groceries a toddler needs a month, and all the places you have to drive to get it? And how many pick-ups and drop-offs and parties you have to go to? So I need petrol, and the 400km difference on my dial is starting to hit the breaks on my life real hard.

When I took that knock, like every other South African in this country, I did the only thing I know how to do when faced with a challenge that I did not ask for, I turned driving, or saving petrol rather, into a game. The KM clock is now a point scoring system and every decision I make on the road has one aim, to gauge if that number will rise or fall. Because it can rise. You can leave your house with 110km on that dial, hit the highway, pace yourself, be conscious of your movements and see that digit increase by 10km to 20km and it is satisfying. So satisfying to me in fact, that as soon as something clocks up, I feel like I have beat the system and tricked my brain into thinking that petrol is just the same price as always, I just didn’t know how to use it, (hey, we say whatever we have to say to ourselves to survive).

Here’s are a few top tips from your local “gamify life to make it better” expert.

Keep it moving
I know this sounds counterproductive, because you’re immediately going to come to the quite rational assumption that the more you move those wheels the more petrol you’re using. It is in fact the opposite. The more you stop and start and stop again, the more you waste. Challenge yourself to expect what’s coming next. Timing is everything. If the robot you’re approaching has a red light, don’t speed up to stop, slow down to keep going. If the light way, way up the road is red, logically, by the time you get to it, it will be red, avoid this stop by going slower but still, keep it moving. If you stop, the gauge drops. And you lose a point and a little bit of your soul.

Make happy feet gentle feet.
Now I don’t mean that you should carry the depression of inflation all the way down to your foot and meditate your way out of a massive economic fallout. You can’t pray your way to pay. But don’t get excited and this too has to do with pacing. If you aren’t paying attention to the timing things and keeping track of the ebb and flow of traffic, road signs, robots, and circle thingies then you are more likely to step down real hard and start accelerating or opposingly, step down real hard to dead stop. This is all energy wasted. Every time your foot gets too happy, your petrol tank gets sad my friends. Keep it smooth.

Keep your gear high and your speed low
A lot of people rush or speed because they want to cut down on their journey time. This is not accurate science. If you’re not consistent and you speed, you are more likely to stop when you don’t need to or slow down and speed up again, or get stuck in places you don’t want to be stuck in. You are not wasting your time by going slow, but you are wasting petrol by going fast. This works in relation to everything mentioned above. Your pocket will thank you and slowing down will make no difference to your travel time, in fact, it might even speed it up. If all you’re thinking about is how fast you can go instead of how many times that pace is going to make you hit a red light, you will probably arrive later than on time, or even earlier. Keep your gear high, don’t over-egg your engine, but keep your speed down. The higher the gear, the less the fuel consumption, the more you’re able to maintain that gear by going as slow as your car will allow, the longer it will take until you need to go fill up again. I’ve tested this. It’s one of my favourite parts of the game.

Cars don’t need body positivity, they need weight loss!
The fact that we don’t consider what we’re lugging around with us in the car every time we drive is a chronic illness, honestly. We just don’t think about that thing we keep in the boot, or clean out the junk and trash regularly, from books to bathroom basins… if you have it in your car, get it out. Place your motor vehicle on a strict diet and it will eat less fuel. Every time your car is heavy, and you won’t notice it, it will drag. The easiest way to explain drag is to think about an elephant trying to be a cheetah. It’s expending a lot of energy and using a lot of fuel, the tank size is the same, but the weight is not. Give your car a banging bod and lose the boody in the booty and swiftly move from drag to flow wherever you go.

The game is simple. And I promise, it can be a lot of fun. As you’ve read, it involves everything most of you know about cars and fuel, but while playing, you actually have to care about that stuff instead of going – “Oh, I know if I stop and start and speed and slow down I am burning my child’s school fees and turning money into fumes but that’s okay, I’ll just fill up”. You won’t because you can’t. So just play along. You have no choice, and it’s the only way getting into your car and starting the engine will not fill you with dread and a great longing for Armageddon.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa. Follow her on Twitter.