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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Smooth driving has benefits

A smooth driving style can reward you greatly.  For sure, people and pets riding along will appreciate drivers who avoid abrupt, jerky driving.  Passengers will not have to hang on during turns and your dog won’t end up squeezed under the dash due to a panic stop.  Passengers, including animals, have no steering wheel to grip for stability and are unprepared for unpredictable and sudden changes in speed or direction.

So smooth driving improves passengers’ comfort and contentment.  But besides those perks, fluid driving movements pay off in other ways.  Operating your vehicle smoothly will improve safety, increase fuel mileage and reduce component wear.


At rest, your vehicle’s mass is divided among four contact points — the tires.  It is relatively stable in this position, with weight securely and somewhat evenly distributed.  Vehicle movement, coupled with your driving actions, upsets this balance.  Starts shift weight to the rear, stops shift weight to the front and turns move balance from side-to-side.  Sudden, severe changes in balance lead to loss of tire-adhesion to the road surface and loss of control.

A smooth driver, using anticipation and gentle input, will make these changes in balance less jerky, making their transitions more gradual and avoiding traction loss.

Vehicle balance varies with drive-train arrangement (front, rear, or all-wheel drive) and with vehicle size and style.  But by driving under control and striving to maintain smooth balance shifts, any vehicle type can be driven safely.  Remember to make allowances when switching vehicles, noting, for example, that 4500-5000 pound SUVs take longer to stop and are not as nimble in turns as 2500-3000 pound sports cars.


It’s important to keep your car maintained (engine tune, oil, filters, tire pressure) for efficiency, but it is driving style that has the greatest effect on fuel mileage.  While fastidious mechanical basics will earn a 10-15 percent fuel economy increase over sloppy maintenance, smooth driving will yield up to 25 percent better miles-per-gallon over the alternative.

Drag-strip takeoffs and hard braking both lower fuel mileage.  With current “relaxed” fuel prices, some of us may have returned to our lead-foot ways.  Prices will be heading up again though, so practice a gentle touch to the “gas” pedal along with gradual deceleration and acceleration.  Anticipate traffic situations so you can start, turn and stop in a calm fashion.

Vehicle wear

Besides compromising occupant safety and wasting fuel, brash driving techniques subject vehicle components to premature wear.  Even in auto racing, the best drivers are the smoothest ones.  Smooth racecar driver input not only improves lap times, but helps assure that the equipment will last until the end of the race.

On the street, jack-rabbit starts strain engine components, transmission, bearings and drive gears, aside from grinding down tires.  Repeated hard stops wear tires too and substantially rubs friction surface off brakes.  Brake friction material might last 40,000 miles for an average driver — a smooth driver could stretch life to 60,000 miles and a rough driver can wear brakes out at 25,000 miles.

Harsh turns affect many steering and suspension components, and again, tires.  Here, anticipation is crucial — slow before the turn, not while within it.

If saving on repair bills isn’t enough, remember that practicing smooth driving habits will lower your fuel bill. And the biggest plus is that it will help keep your vehicle under better control, hence improving safety for you, your riders and fellow drivers.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at