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November 19, 2010

Car Talk

Removing car seats to increase gas mileage takes frugality too far

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray:

My husband insists that taking the center seats out of our Toyota Sienna will increase our gas mileage and save us a lot of money over time. I don't mind them being out sometimes, but he doesn't want to put the seats in for friends, who then have to ride in the third seat, which is uncomfortable and hard for older adults to get into. He will not put the seats in when our grandchildren visit, so that when we all go somewhere, someone has to take an extra car. I say, Why have a passenger van if you are not going to use the seats? I can see not having the seats if we go on a long trip and it is just the two of us riding. Does it really save that much gas mileage to remove the center seats of the Sienna? Please, help our marriage! Thank you.
-- Naomi

Tom: We have nothing against trying to save a few bucks, Naomi. But at some point, the obsession with saving money can override normal human behavior.

Ray: And I'm afraid your husband is pushing right up against that line. What's next? Is he going to insist that you stay home with the seats so he can save a little more weight? Where does it end?

Tom: He is correct in theory about the seats. I don't know what year Sienna you have, but the newest, heaviest captain's chairs that are optional as middle seats in the new Sienna weigh about 75 pounds each. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt and use the heaviest possible middle seats to do the calculation.

Ray: So he's shaving 150 pounds from a vehicle that weighs about 4,500 pounds with the two of you in it.

Tom: Cutting down on weight does increase mileage. I don't know if the two things are directly proportional -- they're probably not, but let's assume they are, to estimate.

Ray: So he's shaving about 3 percent off the vehicle's weight. If we increase the mileage by a similar percentage, that means that instead of getting an average of about 20 miles per gallon, with the seats out he's getting 20.6 mpg.

Tom: And for that, he's ticking off his wife, alienating his friends and telling his grandkids that his gas mileage is more important than they are. Makes perfect sense to me!

Ray: Yeah. That's why my brother has no friends, and his family won't speak to him.

Tom: Actually, we're on your side, Naomi. It's crazy to buy a seven-
passenger minivan and then use it as if it's a four-passenger sedan.

Ray: Why not just buy a sedan in the first place? For the same money you spent on a minivan, you can get a more luxurious and lighter sedan, which gets better mileage all the time, with all of its seats in!

Tom: So you have to try to reason with this guy. I know that seems like a lost cause, but give it a shot, Naomi. Perhaps it'll help to ask him what he wants on his tombstone: "Loving Husband, Father and Grandfather"? Or "Stubborn Chiseller Who Got an Extra Six-Tenths of a Mile Per Gallon"?

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)

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