By on January 26, 2009

When the aircraft touched down in Oklahoma after a 36 hour journey from Abu Dhabi, my entire unit clapped in elation. We couldn’t stop smiling as we deplaned the plane, and my Commander shook my hand and say, “Welcome back, thanks for all you did, and don’t do anything stupid on your vacation.” So what better to do to celebrate my return to the greatest nation on the Earth, than create a race!

Ok, so maybe not a real race, lest my officer commission be revoked and my flying wings stripped from my chest. So I pondered, and thought, and decided a fuel efficiency challenge was in order. Audi did it with Autoblog. Top Gear did it with irony. And now TTAC will do it, in our own unique style. So far, only one car has been fielded, my own 2006 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, with its thundering 100bhp.

The goal of the race: determine how much fuel savings are possible in real world driving over 2000 miles of highway, backroads, and cities, without resorting to dangerous and idiotic extreme hyper-miling techniques. As in I will not be following three feet behind a semi on an icy road in Colorado.

The Jetta TDI manual, already an SCCA champion, normally gets an EPA rated 35/42mpg. I routinely get 36mpg in town, and 42 – 43mpg on the interstate. By driving conservatively, and within reason, we shall see what type of mileage is possible out of a normal diesel-powered vehicle.

The route started yesterday as I journyed west on I-40 towards Las Vegas, Nevada where I will arrive on the 27th. From Las Vegas, the journey continues on again towards Breckenridge, Colorado on the 30th. Departing Colorado on the 9th, I will finish the challenge loop on the 10th, back in Oklahoma City.

Regularly updated blogs will keep you abreast of just how much fuel I’m saving, and other adventures that will happen along the way. I welcome you to post your own fuel efficiency figures whether you are traveling just to your office, or all the way to Dubai (which by the way, is very overrated).

I know: the suspension’s killing you. Check back later for more glacial hijinks. The results so far:

929 total miles traveled

21 total gallons of Diesel used

$31.41 total cost of fuel

44mpg average

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22 Comments on “TTAC Desert-to-Burning-Desert Eco-Challenge. Day 1...”

  • avatar

    Where’d you get diesel fuel that cheap?

    It’s $2.30 a gallon at the cheapest place I know of–$48.30 total for your 21 gallons.

  • avatar

    That cannot be true. I’m showing you paid $1.49/gal for diesel.

    Regular unleaded is $1.859 here, and diesel is still $2.659.

  • avatar
    Rusty Brinkley

    Good luck man! If only Trogdor could make the trip…

    You got out at a good time. Ice is inbound to OKC as I type this.

    Here in OKC, there are places with diesel for around $1.95 or so per gallon. Most places are a little over the $2 barrier.

  • avatar

    Our company has 4 Golf GT DSG TDi in our Frankfurt office and they have averaged >37mpg plus over 12,000miles lifetime so far. Plenty of fast driving in there to.

    They’re also great fun to drive except for the Euro-racer AMG drivers who are pretty frightening…..

    (Not sure if they’re called GT actually, they have the GTi suspension and the newer hi-po 2L engine – I didn’t take that much notice when I drove one).

  • avatar

    What are the possibilities of a TTAC meetup?

    I’m nowhere near those states, but you guys might have some local readers that wanna get a drink, hang out, and shoot the shit.

    Just a thought.

  • avatar

    Should I be worried about your suspension? Why is it killing me? Is this some new Al Qaeda plot? I’m scared, please tell me what is going on!

  • avatar

    @ zenith,

    Gotta love $0.99 promotional fuel at Bass Pro!

  • avatar

    Listen, I’m not trying to harp on diesels. They must have something, because a good (though declining) amount of Europe goes moist for the things. But my parents have a 2008 Honda Civic EX automatic. On a recent 1500 mile road trip they averaged 38.4 mpg on regular unleaded, which was available as cheap as the one twenties in No. Va. The car cost substantially less than $20,000. If you enjoy getting 14% better fuel economy while paying 36% more for the fuel (based on local pump price this morning, 92 mi SSW of Pitt, PA), to each his own. And the Jetta TDI gets vastly better economy than the alternatives in the Jetta lineup (the horrid 2.5L five-cylinder or the turbo 2.0L four). But the economics don’t work out at all.

  • avatar

    @ KalapanaBlack

    Sure, the % gap increases at the lower prices, but at the previous higher prices the gap closes again.

    Useful historic price tracking site for this stuff is provided by DoE.

    A good diesel vehicle in the USA might very well retain a higher resale (my theory, yet to be proven obviously). Hybrid resale is proving to be quite good for those people that are thinking into the future.

  • avatar

    @ KalapanaBlack,

    Simple: I like the Jetta as a driver’s car way more than the Civic. Diesel was cheaper than gas at time of purchase, and has been historically so.

    And I can run it off Veggie Oil! Which by the way is a BAD idea, as for 400 miles, all you smell is French Fries, which makes you extremely hungry, so you stop at every McDonald’s along the way erasing your six-pack abs you worked so hard for… just sayin…

  • avatar

    I’ve driven the current Jetta a good bit (rental car industry), and though it’s not my cup of tea, it’s a very stable little car with huge attention to detail. Like I said, to each his own and if you like the car, excellent. I certainly would never berate someones choice of transport, as I love all cars and have more than my fair share of awkward interests (I once dreamed of owning a 1996-1999 Oldsmobile LSS Supercharged, for God’s sake). I’m just trying to work the economics out and I feel there are better choices out there if economics are your number one priority. Like I said, if not and you like the car, awesome.

    And please don’t take this as dissing your editorial. It’s an interesting subject that deserves attention, and hell, I love a good road trip!

  • avatar

    $1.86 for diesel in Houston.

  • avatar

    I also love a good road trip.I’m looking forward to your reports.
    Oh yeah, in Vegas, O’shea’s on the strip 2 bucks a beer.

    Good luck

  • avatar


    Did you convert your car to run in veggie oil or are you using a filtered biodiesel version of veggie oil?

    The uber sensible side of me loves this topic. I figure if I can’t do a burnout or take acorner at 1g, I might as well save some money.

  • avatar


    You’re definitely right about the loss of diesel advantage…there’s really no point to my 96 tdi now that regular gas is so cheap (aside from not having to fill up so often). I’ve even been looking at other used cars for the last couple of weeks now that my mile per dollar advantage is eroded (not gone). The only thing keeping me on the diesel bandwagon is the torque at this point, I’ll never get the same thrust from a gasoline engine with good mileage in the same price-range.

    PeteMoran, the diesels definitely do keep value. Interest in mine certainly went up when gas spiked, and in hindsight I should have sold it for a more desirable car (I probably could have gotten 2k over my investment in it to date). That and a little saving would have had me in a 328ci by now.

  • avatar

    Nice, it’ll be interesting to watch this!

    To answer the vegetable oil questions – Mike has an ’06 TDI, which uses the PD (pumpe duse) unit injector engine. Waste Vegetable oil is not recommended for those engines because of the high injection pressures (30000 PSI) at the individual unit injectors. Dirty fuel like WVO can do all kinds of fun things to the engine. VW only allows a maximum of B5 biodiesel to be used in these engines to keep the warranty intact. The best fuel for these things is regular pump diesel, unless you enjoy buying a new engine. If anyone wants to run WVO, an older (2003 or older) TDI is a better way to go. An even better bet would be an old IDI car like a Rabbit or old Jetta. Those were sold from the late 70s to 1992.

  • avatar

    Since you invited us to post our own MPG:

    2006 TSX auto (yeah, I know, blame it on the wife)
    regularly gets 35-38mpg in NW PA highways (meaning not dead flat like it is in the mid west) generally doing about 70-72mph. Calculated figure, the trip computer always over reports mileage by 1.5 to 2mpg.

    Speeding up down hills and letting that speed bleed off on the climbs really helps, cruise control on the hilly parts would easily cost me 3mpg.

    Oh and this is with the wife, kid and all his junk, and tire pressures in the recommended range and not over inflated.

    Also, my opinion on hypermilling stunts (lug and coast is fine, within reason, taking a 35mph corner at 40 is fine, 70 is overdoing it) is that they are not worth the gas you save with them, either due to mechanical wear when you take fast turns or constantly restarting the car at stop lights, or just the increased danger from the stupidity of it all or last but not least, the annoyance of 99% of the drivers that do not hypermile. So I’m glad you aren’t doing those.

  • avatar

    @ Kalapana,

    No worries, didn’t take offense at all! Thats why TTAC is so great, dissenting opinions expressed with passionate enthusiasm.

    @ Sanman & Brett,

    I used Straight Veggie Oil mixed with regular diesel as my engine can’t take it like you said. It still gives off a faint scent of French Fries. I have also made my own BioDiesel from Veggie Oil that would pose no problem to run in my TDI, however, since BioDiesel is a great solvent, it ruined my Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville Limited Edition Blender. You have all been warned.

    As for all TTAC’ers, keep an eye out for the ostentatiously be-stickered Jetta (sponsored by CarMax, please click on their link!), honk, wave, and if you see me, feel free to say hi, as I’m always up for car talk, no matter what you drive.

    @ Mikey,

    Me and O’Shea’s are good friends……

  • avatar

    One thing to point out about diesels is that they last longer. Well, the engine anyway. Life just begins at 200,000 for a oil burner!

    That may well reflect in their higher initial cost and then again in resale value.

  • avatar

    I clogged up an injector running a (filtered to 1micron!) WVO/D2 mix on my pre-PD TDI (2002), and have since switched to making BioDiesel. I run the Jetta on B100 in the warm months and anywhere from B0 to B20 when it is cold. It has been below freezing here (which is VERY unusual BTW) for the past 8 weeks and I can’t make BD at those temps in my unheated barn. Well, I can make it, I just can’t finish (wash & dry) it. =

    As a firm believer in personal responsibility I have to walk the talk, and be as energy independent as I can. Diesel locomotion is the sole practical alternative today. What the price is at the pump today is irrelevant over the life of the vehicle.

    Good luck on your journey Mike, and have fun! Looking forward to your reports!

    BTW: 49.5 MPG on my last tank. 50.2 on the one before.


  • avatar

    Chuck, gasoline car owners could “potentially” make their own drop-in substitute motor fuels from crops, too. It’s called Butanol (or, bio-butanol, if you wish). Except that the processes are – um – a lot more difficult!

    Butanol is a 4-carbon alcohol (2 more carbons than ethanol), and butanol is also deadly poison, so the gummint should have no biz hassling anyone for making it – they could not accuse you of making “moonshine” for sale (unless you plan to kill off all of the clientele – not a great business plan, I’d say). Of course, governments being what they are, I’m pretty sure it’d be against the law to produce your own Butanol.

    Perhaps bio-diesel is at least sustainable for some folks if the whole economy does a 1932.

    Major fly in the ointment in that newer diesels can’t be run on the stuff, of course…

    Nice work on your MPG’s chuck.

  • avatar
    Usta Bee

    From what I’ve read on another site about biodiesel and various oil use in diesel engines, is that sunflower oil gives the best MPG results overall.

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