Realistic Hypermiling

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Hypermiling is the act of trying to get every last possible ounce of mileage from your tank of gas and it’s been getting a ton of attention lately because of $4+ gasoline prices. The problem with hypermiling isn’t that it’s dangerous, it’s that mainstream media is sensationalizing the more extreme, dangerous and aggressive aspects of it in order to garner attention. They focus on people pushing cars to get momentum before starting the car, they talk about drafting close to large trucks, and they talk about shutting off the engine at seemingly awkward or dangerous times.

But that’s not hypermiling is about.

In fact, calling those tactics as essential or typical does a disservice to the concept. If you visit, you’ll see it’s not actually about those fringe tactics. It’s about being aware of your gas consumption, driving skills, and your surroundings so that you don’t waste gas.

Here are a few tips that I try to follow when I’m out driving (these are all in the hypermiling playbook):

  • Give yourself 2 seconds between your car and the car ahead of you. If they brake, this means you can coast without hitting the brake. The brake is the enemy when you’re hypermiling because it essentially converts gasoline into heat, not motion.
  • If you see a red light or a “stale green,” a long green light that might go yellow, release the gas and coast. I’m a fan of coasting up to red lights hoping they’ll turn green. You can watch other cars for cues as to how long you have to wait (if the oncoming traffic’s turn lane’s are moving, you’re almost there).
  • Accelerate slowly from stop. I try to let gravity get me going before I hit the gas, then I press it gently. I’m in no hurry!
  • This article on traffic waves is great, I wish everyone read it.

There’s more to the site but I wanted to get back to the more extreme tactics. Those are the tactics that will get you that extra 2-5 MPG. Do you really need a $160 ScanGauge II 3-in-1 Compact Multifunction Vehicle Computer with Customizable Display? Probably not. Drafting behind a semi? Dangerous. The advanced hypermiling tricks are great to get you that extra mile per gallon but are hardly necessary or a staple of the mainstream hypermiling techniques. If you can understand the basics, you will save yourself a lot of gas and be just fine. 🙂

Do you have any useful hypermiling ideas not mentioned here or on the site?

{ 14 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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14 Responses to “Realistic Hypermiling”

  1. David says:

    Also, when approaching a light, check out the WALK sign – if it is red or blinking red for the other direction, your light will be changing to red soon, so you can start coasting.

  2. Posco says:

    Pedestrian crossing signs in Los Angeles now have countdown timers! They basically tell you how stale is your green light is.

  3. I’ve been experimenting with my driving and its effect on mileage. I’m in the midst of a tank right now, and will be posting the results after my next fillup.

    Most of my changes are what you describe… Slow starts, coasting where possible/necessary, etc. We’ll see…

  4. I also have been experimenting with some of the more conservative techniques (tailgating a semi not being among them), with the result that I’ve managed to squeeze 25.8 mpg out of an EPA-rated 19 mpg minivan.

    A few other strategies: change your air filter; use the lowest weight oil recommended for your vehicle; turn off your engine if idling more than 20 or 30 seconds; park heading out,so as to avoid backing and filling to get out of a parking space. When driving on level highways and level steadily moving surface streets, engage your cruise control and use its accelerate & coast functions to control speed (within reason, of course). Don’t use cruise control on a grade. Approaching an uphill grade, speed up a little to gain momentum and then let you car slow as it climbs; use the downhill grade to coast back your desired speed before re-engaging the cruise control. Don’t exceed 55 or 60 mph on urban freeways; accelerate gently and drive slowly.

    I have yet to change the oil and air filter, or to fill my tires to their maximum inflation. And I had no practice with these driving techniques–by temperament I’m an aggressive driver. So I was surprised and pleased to extract almost 26 mpg from a car that in the past has managed about 18 mph for me. It’ll be interesting to see if this improves with practice and a couple of additional strategies.

  5. Khyron says:

    Hey Jim! Long time!

    Wow, I must really be weird. Although I have a heavy foot, and the income to support it, I’ve lived by the hypermiling playbook for at least ten years if not longer. It was always a matter of conserving money for me, even when gas was cheap. I started doing a lot of this stuff as soon as I received my driver’s license.

    The commenters have left some good tips. Cruise control is your friend on level surfaces. I tend to use car lengths of judge the distance but braking is the enemy. I don’t even get why that has to be explained to anyone! I’ve been known to let my car coast a quarter mile or more; I know I’ve managed to coast a half mile on more than 1 occasion.

    Basically, stopping is the enemy. It doesn’t mean you have to be moving FAST, but the car should always be moving if the engine is running. It really becomes a big Newtonian mechanics problem, if you think about it. I liked Physics I, so maybe that had something to do with it. I am known for learning backstreets and taking any way out of traffic possible; sometimes I win and beat the other guys in getting to a certain point. Sometimes I don’t. Rarely will I just let the car burn fuel without making some forward progress.

    (We can talk about how macroeconomics and basic Newtonian physics should be high school graduation requirements in all 50 states, but considering how critical I’ve found their application to saving money, that’s my firm belief.)

    Anyway, just thought I’d chime in. Later!

  6. I’ve been coasting for years. The problem is that there’s often a guy behind who wants to run right through me. I guess he can’t wait to get to that red light.

  7. Nick says:

    I read those tips a few weeks ago, and since then have seen almost a 4mpg increase in mileage on my 06 Civic manual. But, that will probably all go away now that I have to use my A/C :-/
    The main thing is coasting more, and slowing down one or two mph on the free way to create that cushion. I still get there just as fast, but don’t have to brake as much.

  8. The one tip I have an issue with is keep 2 seconds distance between you and the car in front of you. Please do not follow this advice. You need to keep at least 4 seconds between you and the car in front of you. Please take it from a physicist. If the car in front of you stops dead in its tracks (which can happen at any time, especially if that car runs into the one in front of it) you need at least 4 seconds to avoid getting into a wreck.

  9. Lulugal11 says:

    I also wrote a little post on my version of hypermiling because I know of some people who think it is all about tailgating big rigs on the highway.
    I coast to red lights and like Money Millionaire, I have seen people behind me speed up on the orange light that is clearly going to turn red before we get to the intersection. 🙂

    My hypermiling consists of coasting (I don’t have cruise control on my car) and turning off my engine when there is a long stop. I do not turn off my engine for red lights, but I do shift to neutral.
    I turn off my engine when I get blocked by the train (small town and our trains run at crazy hours).

  10. MrMiser says:

    I seem to be getting really great milage in my Honda Accord but I am really dedicated, almost obsessive about increasing my cars gas milage. First off and most importantly, I only drive downhill. Second I never use such frills as air-conditioning and so on. So as not to be tempted I removed all nonessential items from the vehicle; the seats, carpet, radio, ash tray, glove compartment door and airconditioning unit all to lighten the load. I sit on a plastic milk crate and sing to myself. Also I only drive during the day time because I removed the headlights and all the associated wiring. Generally I try to watch the weather and plan my trips so I usually have the wind at my back as well.

  11. JimmyDaGeek says:

    I look through the windshield of the car in front of me to see what the next car is doing. If I see the brake lights go on, I immediately take my foot off the gas, knowing the the car in front of me will probably have to slow down.

    When driving in stop&go traffic, I try to maintain constant speed rather than a constant separation between me and the car in front of me. When traffic speeds up, I speed up more slowly allowing a gap in front of me so when traffic slows down, I can coast towards the car in front of me, closing the gap. This always doesn’t work if cars keep cutting in front of me. If the car in front of me is creating this gap, I will try to stay close behind it, instead.

    When driving on the highway, I drive a little bit slower than traffic, staying in the right lane, so I can try to maintain a steady speed.

  12. Emily says:

    Unfortunately, in my area, leaving space between you and the car in front of you just encourages other cars to cut you off.

    My only complaint is when the person in front of me coasts to a red light where I’m planning to turn right!

  13. bill beaty says:

    Federal Highway Admin. recommendations for driving in congested traffic: Don’t push ahead, instead “go slow to go fast.” Keep the widest possible gaps between vehicles. Merge like a zipper: merging at last possible moment during heavy traffic, or merge early in light traffic.

    Separate topic: at the cash register in the Mini-mart, your place in line is important, and each person ahead of you represents many minutes of delay. But while commuting, your place in line is meaningless, since in order to save a few minutes, you’d have to pass several hundred other cars. Yet traffic is dominated by drivers who fight fiercely to gain one extra position. Clearly this involves “winning a race” mentality, where if you come in second, you’re a loser. In a car race your position is critical. But commuting is very different …you can only make worthwhile gains if you can drive a few MPH faster than everyone else. Since cars are spaced 1sec apart, you have to pass sixty other drivers to only shave one minute off your commute. In a congested half-hour commute, in order to drive 5MPH faster than average, you’d have to pass 300 other cars. (I can’t pass that many on my commute, not even close. I bet you can’t either.) Passing other cars in dense highway traffic …that’s fairly silly like running to the front of the bus, and insisting that your behavior “gets you there faster.” The big down-side: aggressive weaving drivers trigger slowdowns, mess up merge zones, and cause long backups which slow down traffic by enormous amounts. It’s as if they’re throwing away wads of ten-dollar bills during their mad scramble to steal single pennies from their neighbors.

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