To coast or not to coast

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Sir,

I wonder if you can identify the source of and shoot down the popular canard that coasting is illegal and/or unsafe. In these hard times of fuel shortage (real or manmade), it is a crime against all intelligent motorists for (to take but one example) the motoring correspondent of a leading Sunday newspaper to write “Never coast with the gears in neutral,” and most drivers I have spoken to on the subject seem convinced that coasting is illegal.

It is, of course, absurd to coast out-of-gear in certain situations, just as it is absurd to put the steering wheel over to full-lock when doing 70 or whatever on the M1. It is equally absurd to forbid or discourage coasting at all times as it would be to forbid or discourage using full-lock when maneuvering into a tight parking spot. I have coasted whenever road and traffic conditions and my personal sense of urgency have allowed for the past 45 years to the substantial benefit of my pocket and the marginal benefit of the world’s petroleum reserves, to say nothing of the country’s balance of payments. What’s more, I have had fun out of judging just when to start coasting so that I arrive at whatever obstruction may be impending, without having either to stretch my coast with an extra touch of power or to waste valuable kinetic energy in heating up the brakes—and without inconveniencing other road users. Driving this way I regularly obtained 40 m.p.g. from my PB Midget, of the thirties, and get 23 m.p.g. from my current 2.8-litre manual-and-overdrive XJ6 on reasonable runs and 20+ m.p.g. on shopping trips of no more than 3 miles. Not once have I been in any way embarrassed by coasting, though I have vivid memories of a long descent on one of the Clee Hills in an SWB Jowett two-seater, with the foot brake operating only on a contracting band just behind the gearbox from which oil leaked liberally onto the linings. The smell and smoke that rose through the floorboards linger in the memory . . .

Stoke Poges F. Solari