Online can help improve your car's efficiency offline

Mar 23, 2010


When I moved out of New York City and needed a car for daily transportation, I decided to do the responsible thing: And so the Ford Escape Hybrid entered my life. At that time, gas hadn't hit $4.05 a gallon (the US peak, which occurred in July 2008, according to Department of Energy statistics), but I still wanted to use less of it.

But it turns out that while the mind was willing, the flesh was weak. I like to get where I'm going.

Now I drive a sporty coupe, and the gas mileage is almost as good as it was in the ol' hybrid. Because the hybrid didn't have a gas/electric combo engine in anything but theory. In reality, it was more like a detuned four cylinder. When you mash the gas at every limit line like you're racing for pinks, the electric engine is almost instantly bypassed and the tach swings up like...well, like a pretty creaky old tach — it was a detuned four-banger in a relatively heavy car. I'm pretty sure zero to sixty was in the double-digit range.

So what did I learn from my taxpayer-subsidized boondoggle? MPGs are as much about how you drive as what you drive.

40 years of — okay, pretty sporadic — innovation have yielded actually falling average miles-per-gallon in this country. According to the EPA’s most recent report, 2008’s fuel economy is down 1.2 mpg from its 1987 peak of 22. While the average mpg has been improving since 2004, some people have decided they can’t keep relying on the automakers and congress to innovate and have taken matters into their own hands.

The result is called “hypermiling,” and it’s come into its own. It was the 2008 Word of the Year in the New Oxford American Dictionary.

The term was coined in 2004 by Wayne Gerdes, who operates a leading website for hypermiling enthusiasts, Gerdes holds the world record for longest distance on a single tank of gas — 2,254.4 miles in a Honda Insight in 2006 — and is the champion hypermiler in every category in the 2008 World Fuel Economy Championships. Yes, there is a World Fuel Economy Championship.

Even the most recent issue of Automobile magazine, not a publication known for its environmental concern, featured its drivers competing to get the best mileage out of three gas guzzlers — FSPs or fuel-sucking pigs, in the lingo.

Hypermiling might be a national trend, or it might be a fad, akin to pet rocks. Only time will tell, but in the meantime you might want to jump on the fuel-efficient bandwagon. suggests you start by keeping track of your average mileage after each fill up. Then start adding in a few simple techniques as you go about your commute. For example, they suggest most drivers apply their brakes 10 to 25 percent more than they need to, largely due to driver inattention. Leave a large buffer, they say, so you can coast more before applying the brakes. Minimize the time you spend stopped — time you’re getting all of no miles per gallon — by starting to coast early when you see a red light ahead (or even a green light you suspect is ‘stale,’ that is, likely to turn red soon). Accelerate slowly.

You can also drive by cruise control, which helps you accelerate slowly and coast instead of brake.

Perhaps the coolest suggestion: Minimize the time you spend braking and accelerating in traffic congestion by driving the average overall speed of traffic, instead of keeping pace with the stop-and-go in front of you. That one also has the benefit of actually destroying the traffic jam for people behind you. (If enough people did it, jams would be reduced dramatically. Check out this post, it’ll change the way you think about traffic jams forever).

But that’s just for starters. offers a comprehensive guide. There’re things you can do with your tire pressure and the oil in your car. And then the driving: You can ‘ridge ride’ in inclement weather; that is, drive with one set of tires on the white line to minimize drag from rain on lower areas of the road.

In general, you want to keep your progress as steady as possible. State changes — speeding up and slowing down — cost you gas. But there are exceptions. You can slow down as you climb hills to keep your mileage steady.

Then there’s advanced techniques, like turning off your car as you coast to a stop. That one’s illegal in many states. And driving close behind trucks to cut wind resistance is also probably not a good idea. Before you get too excited about that last extra mile per gallon you might want to check out this story from USA Today that evaluates some hypermiling techniques. But if you want to check out just how wild ‘n’ crazy extreme thrift can get, have a gander at this article in Mother Jones.

Personally, I can’t wait to try the traffic jam technique. And I’m big on the large buffer between me and the car in front of me. Tail-gaiting — even driving within a couple seconds at speed — is a major pet peeve of mine.

But I don’t think I’ll ever be able start braking for a green light I suspect might be ‘stale.’

Helpful links


Karl Hungus-Mr....

I recently went from a 24 mpg Audi to a Chevy that is averaging 34.7 mpg.  There are so many people out there driving more car than they will ever need.