How easy is it to achieve better-than-estimated fuel economy?
Rising gas prices are back, and most of us are doing everything possible to keep gas bills at a minimum. “Everything possible” takes on any entirely different meaning for a group of people that calls themselves “hypermilers”. These dedicated, fuel economy-conscious drivers alter their driving habits to achieve gas mileage far beyond the EPA’s estimates for their cars.
The practice involves well-known methods like coasting down hills or slowly accelerating from a stop, but hypermilers go to far more radical ends to decrease their fuel consumption. True hypermilers may use over 100 different driving techniques to improve their mpgs.
“The first thing you should do is to slow down,” says Gary Thaller from Pueblo, Colorado. “Smooth out your driving in all respects by slowly accelerating, timing the lights so you reduce the times you come to a stop and ridge running, where you drive along the painted lines in order to avoid the bumps in the road. You can also shut the engine off at lights and coast on hills, maintaining greater and safer distances between cars.”
Hypermiling in America dates back to gas rationing times during World War II, when you were required to drive at a maximum speed of 35 mph and were given just enough fuel to get to and from work, thus encouraging drivers to save on gas in order to take that extra car trip on the weekend. The new breed of hypermilers is motivated by the cost of fuel, increasing awareness of environmental issues and political reasons, including worry over America’s dependence on foreign oil supplies, an issue embraced by both the left and the right.
Thaller decided to start hypermiling “initially to improve my mileage on my scooter and then I switched to the car.” But he keeps at it “because it’s fun!”
Dedication can border on obsession, with hypermilers competing with themselves or others to get the best mileage possible and using aftermarket scanners to measure their real-time mpg.
Says Kirk MacTavish from Ontario, Canada, “That’s the beauty of hypermiling, not only is it fun to compete with yourself and others, but you save money in the process. It is definitely addicting once you start trying out new techniques and tracking your mileage.”
In Wisconsin, a yearly event called Hybridfest hosts an mpg challenge, where hybrid owners, with cars usually modified to hypermiling extremes, navigate a 26-mile course and attempt to achieve the largest mileage increase over the EPA estimates. To put this incredible practice into perspective, 2007’s winner managed 168 mpg from a car that the EPA estimated would get 52 mpg.
While many hardcore hypermilers swear by diesels or hybrids, for the casual hypermiler the vehicle ends up being far less important than the driver.
Most hypermilers shun others who bend the law to get better fuel economy, but some do use dangerous or illegal tactics to achieve that extra mpg. Drafting is one of the more controversial techniques and not one we’d ever recommend. Drafting behind semis does reduce fuel consumption, but it means riding in the blind spots of vehicles whose mass will crumple the too-close-for-comfort hypermiler in the event of emergency braking or quick lane changes.
Shifting to neutral or even turning your car off while coasting to a stop is another way to create a dangerous situation. With the engine in neutral you have no control over your driving and emergency maneuvers, such as swerving to avoid a car or getting out of a fire truck’s way, will be impossible.
Ultimately, using common sense is a good rule of thumb when trying out any new driving techniques.
Whatever your reasons for trying out hypermiling – maybe you’re just really bored during your commute – we say, give it a shot, even if your car isn’t a car at all, but a full-size truck instead. It may feel strange at first since you’ll be dramatically changing the way you’ve been driving since you were 16, but you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint and having a little fun in the process.
6 Hypermiling Techniques
Here are both moderate tactics and ones that are more extreme, and we again warn you that we don’t recommend any tricks that can be uncomfortable for occupants or potentially hazardous to your safety.
What hypermilers are doing: Many hypermilers overinflate their tires a couple psi, something that can be dangerous, especially on older tires.
What you can do instead: Inflate your tires to the maximum psi recommended. This reduces rolling resistance, improving gas mileage. If you’re in the market for new tires, look for ones with lower rolling resistance (LRR). Don’t forget to get them rotated and balanced when you take your car in to the shop to make sure the tires are wearing evenly.
What hypermilers are doing: Passengers? They can walk. Take out all seats except for the driver’s. Don’t forget to lose the spare tire and jack. That’s what AAA is for.
What you can do instead: Loose some weight, in your car. Take out everything you really don’t need, like that extra umbrella for when in rains in July and the roof rack that you haven’t used in months.
What hypermilers are doing: Park downward facing hills in parking lots or on the street to get a rolling start in neutral instead of needing to use the gas.
What you can do instead: Remember when you were learning to drive? The instructor (hopefully) taught you to slowly accelerate from a stop with a steady, fluid movement. Pick up those teachings again and forgo jerky starts. If you pay attention to how you currently drive, you may realize you’re using more gas than you need. Use cruise control, a system that keeps your acceleration as steady as a surgeon’s hand, as much as possible.
What hypermilers are doing: Turn off your air conditioning and roll up the windows. Air conditioning uses engine power and the windows up minimizes wind resistance.
What you can do instead: Use your air conditioning sparingly.
Coasting and Braking
What hypermilers are doing: Never brake at all by coasting to complete stops. Keep (sometimes high) speed around corners in order to maintain coasting out of the turn.
What you can do instead: Coast to a stop with as little braking as possible and go slow enough around corners that you don’t need to brake. Coast down hills by laying off the brakes and gas, and push in the clutch if you’re driving a manual.
Pulse and Glide
What hypermilers are doing: While gliding, put the car into neutral and wait until you hit a low speed of about 15 mph under the speed limit. Shifting into neutral increases fuel efficiency, but means you don’t have complete control of your vehicle, which is dangerous and illegal in some states.
What you can do instead: Accelerate slowly up to the maximum speed limit, then let the car glide until it slows about 10 mph. When you put it in drive again, “pulse” the accelerator back up to the speed limit. Be prepared for some very annoyed looking drivers in your rearview mirror.