How much oil can be found in Americans’ cars — through more efficient driving and better vehicle maintenance? Using current numbers from the Bush DOE and EPA, the answer appears to be some 2.5 to 3 million barrels a day — 20 times what could be found if we ended the congressional moratorium on offshore drilling (see "The cruel offshore-drilling hoax") and three times the oil we are likely to find in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (see "Opening ANWR cuts gas prices two cents in 2025").

These savings would quickly lower Americans’ annual fuel bills perhaps $700 a year, whereas drilling might save them about $12 a year in 20 years.

But let me begin at the beginning. Obama, as everyone knows, has presented detailed national strategies to reduce oil consumption as part of his climate plan months ago. Now the right wing is all agog at some remarks Obama made yesterday about what individuals can do:

We could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could save just as much.

Limbaugh said:

This is unbelievable! My friends, this is laughable of course, but it’s stupid! It is stupid! … Avoid jackrabbit starts, keep your tires properly inflated, there’s a list of about ten or twelve these things. I said if I follow each one of these things I’ll have to stop the car every five miles, siphon some fuel out, for all the fuel I’m going to be saving. This is ridiculous…. Who has filled his head with this stuff?

Actually, it is probably the Bush administration’s own Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency that has filled him with that stuff. Let’s do the math.

First, America consumes about 22 million barrels of oil a day. According to a recent EPA report, "light-duty vehicles account for approximately 40 percent of all U.S. oil consumption," or about 9 million barrels of oil a day.

Strange as it may seem, the Bush/Cheney DOE and EPA jointly run a website, fueleconomy.gov, that provides recommendations to consumers for saving fuel. And it quantifies the savings. First, we have the recommendations for:

Keeping your car in shape

  • Keep Your Engine Properly Tuned: Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, though results vary based on the kind of repair and how well it is done. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent.
  • Check & Replace Air Filters Regularly: Replacing a clogged air filter can improve your car’s gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. Your car’s air filter keeps impurities from damaging the inside of your engine. Not only will replacing a dirty air filter save gas, it will protect your engine.
  • Keep Tires Properly Inflated: You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.
  • Use the Recommended Grade of Motor Oil: You can improve your gas mileage by 1-2 percent by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil. For example, using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed to use 5W-30 can lower your gas mileage by 1-2 percent. Using 5W-30 in an engine designed for 5W-20 can lower your gas mileage by 1-1.5 percent. Also, look for motor oil that says "Energy Conserving" on the API performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives.

Okay, let’s say we had a real president who actually cared about ending our addiction to oil during a time we are at war in the Persian Gulf. Let’s say he made a major effort to work with the governors and the mayor is to educate the public and perhaps had an economic stimulus package that included vouchers for low income people to get their car tuned up.

How much could we save? Let’s be conservative here and just say 10%. That’s 900,000 barrels a day. That’s ANWR. That’s six times what is currently blocked by the congressional moratorium on coastal drilling.

But that’s not all. Limbaugh noted that the recommendations he has been ignoring all of these years include "avoid jackrabbits starts." Turns out the DOE has also quantified the benefits of:

Driving more efficiently

  • Drive Sensibly: Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money.
  • Observe the Speed Limit: While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.30 per gallon for gas. Observing the speed limit is also safer. Fuel economy benefit: 7-23%.
  • Remove Excess Weight: Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by up to 2%. The reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle’s weight and affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.

So let’s say we had a president who could inspire the nation to drive safer while saving money and reducing oil consumption and pollution.

How much could we save? Let’s be conservative here and just say 20% — after all, I’m sure Limbaugh’s dittoheads will keep driving dangerously and inefficiently no matter what anyone says. That’s 1,800,000 barrels a day. That’s two ANWRs. That’s twelve times what is currently blocked by the Congressional moratorium on coastal drilling.

So being conservative — or at least, being someone who cares about human life and the nation’s economic health and well-being — the nation could save some 2.5 to 3 million barrels a day through better automotive maintenance and smarter driving.

Looks like Obama is right and Limbaugh is wrong. What a shock.

If only we could find a visionary president who could inspire Americans during these troubled times.