Quiz: What You Don't Know About Cars and Fuel


Photograph from Alaska Stock/National Geographic

You know how to put the pedal to the metal, but how much do you really know about cars and the energy that fuels them?

How was the first self-propelled road vehicle powered?

  • Peanut oil
  • Electricity
  • Steam
  • Alcohol

French engineer and mechanic Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769 designed the first "horseless" carriage, used by the French Army artillery, which ran on a steam engine. It was so heavy that it could move no faster than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) per hour.

In what decade did the first electric vehicles hit the road?

  • 1830s
  • 1970s
  • 1990s
  • 2000s

In the 1830s, Robert Anderson of Scotland, Vermont blacksmith Thomas Davenport, and Dutch inventor Sibrandus Stratingh built carriages, carts, and motors that are seen as forerunners to the electric car.

How much of the fuel in your gas tank actually is used to move your car down the road?

  • About 4-6 percent
  • About 14-26 percent
  • About 36-46 percent
  • About 46-56 percent

Only about 14–26 percent of the energy from the fuel you put in your tank gets used to move your car down the road, depending on the drive cycle. The rest of the energy is lost to engine inefficiencies, or is used to power accessories.

In 1975, the year the U.S. auto efficiency program called CAFE was enacted, what was the "corporate average fuel economy" of passenger vehicles in the United States?

  • 10.9 miles per gallon (4.63 kilometers per liter)
  • 13.9 mpg (5.9 km/l)
  • 15.9 mpg (6.8 km/l)
  • 17.9 mpg (7.6 km/l)

When the U.S. Congress passed legislation requiring automakers to achieve increasingly stringent goals for fuel economy figured by the average of each manufacturer's sales-weighted fleet, the U.S. average for total passenger vehicles was 15.9 miles per gallon.

How does running a car air conditioner on "max" affect fuel economy?

  • It has no effect.
  • It can reduce fuel economy 5 to 25 percent.
  • It can reduce fuel economy 50 to 90 percent.
  • It can improve fuel economy 1 to 5 percent.

Running any electrical accessory reduces fuel economy; having the air conditioner on the maximum setting can cut efficiency 5 to 25 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

On what fuel did the first diesel car run?

  • Peanut oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Kerosene
  • Grain alcohol

At the 1900 World's Fair in Paris, pioneering engineer Rudolph Diesel demonstrated his engine by fueling it with peanut oil. Diesel later wrote that vegetable oils might one day become as important for motor power as "mineral oils."

Which of the following auto maintenance steps will NOT improve fuel economy, according to the latest scientific studies?

  • Replacing a clogged air filter
  • Ensuring tires are properly inflated
  • Keeping an engine properly tuned
  • Using the proper grade of motor oil

Research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009 showed that a clogged air filter has no significant effect on the fuel economy of newer vehicles, and very little effect for older vehicles. But acceleration performance on all vehicles was improved with a clean air filter.

Which type of fuel would generally offer the greatest mileage, if you were testing them in cars of similar size?

  • Gasoline
  • Diesel
  • Ethanol
  • Methanol

Diesel engines, which use compression to ignite the fuel rather than an electric spark, are more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines. Both ethanol and methanol have less energy content than petroleum fuels, so mileage is reduced.

Which is NOT a technology being tested for increasing the auto fuel economy?

  • Lightweight material
  • Engine cylinder deactivation
  • Turbochargers
  • Digital carburetor

Auto manufacturers no longer use carburetors, which have been replaced with fuel injection. But they are researching and developing use of lightweight materials, engine cylinder deactivation, turbochargers, and other technologies to boost fuel economy.

Which of the following has proposed the most ambitious fuel economy goals for 2020?

  • The United States
  • The European Union
  • China
  • Japan

The EU's 2020 goal, the equivalent of 64.8 mpg (27.6 km/l), is the most ambitious proposal tracked by the International Council of Clean Transportation as of 2011. Japan is next, at 55.1 mpg (23.4 km/l), followed by China, at 50.1 mpg (21.3 km/l), and the United States, at 49.6 mpg (21 km/l.)





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