Hypermiling How-To

Posted by Judy Orr on Tuesday, April 1st, 2008 at 3:47am.

What is hypermiling?

There are many definitions of hypermiling and even distinctions on who can actually claim they are a hypermiler.  In easy terms, it is learning to drive in a new way real estate agents can save dollars in their gas tank by hypermilingto save as much gas usage as you can, or to increase your MPG above the EPA as much as possible.  Fuel economy (FE) is the key.

I have read that some hypermilers get better gas mileage in their gas guzzling SUV's than the guy down the street driving a Prius normally.  Hypermilers seem to be a new sub-culture with contests and hypermiler "rock stars."

With gas headed to $4.00/gallon this summer, the term hypermiling might become a househould word.

You Have to Relearn How to Drive

The following are very simple hypermiling techniques:

  • Drive slooooooow - drive at the minimum allowed speed limit
  • Never accelerate from a stop - always allow your car to start rolling on it's own and accelerate as slowly as possible
  • Avoid traffic if at all possible
  • Learn to read stoplights so you can try to make it through all green lights
  • Learn to use your cruise control as much as possible - not just for highway driving
  • Learn to use the cruise control instead of your foot
  • Keep your foot off the gas
  • Keep your foot off the brake
  • Learn how to make turns without braking
  • No sleeping at the wheel - this will take conscious effort and you need to stay alert
  • Ridding your trunk of junk
  • Keep constant track of your mpg with every fill-up

The above are just some of the basics.  There is more but some of the techniques are only for the most advanced hypermilers.

Clean out your car

I'm guilty of driving around with extra non-perishable groceries when I bought them on sale in bulk.  I've kept heavy boxes of computer paper in my trunk, once again, to keep it out of the garage or house.  But doing this cuts down on your fuel economy.  So keep your car and trunk clean.  Don't cart around anything that is not needed.

Constantly calculate your mpg

Like beginning a diet, you'll need to weigh-in on what mpg you're currently getting.  Here is a way to calculate your mpg - click here.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you're interested in becoming a hypermiler or just believe in trying to get the best gas mileage possible out of your vehicle, you should search and read everything you can on how to do it.  This article is one gal's interpretation.  And I'm a hypermiling newbie - but it fascinates me.

Once you learn the basics that you think you can handle you need to practice them in your car.  The easiest to begin is driving slower.  I always drove the speed limit as getting stopped by cops always scared me.

Slow Down!

As I've aged, I've become a bit more reckless.  It's happened slowly.  Always drove at the speed limit, then started going 4 over, thinking it was safe enough to not get stopped by.  Then it went to 9 over and lately I'll see a cop ahead & see I'm going 15 or more over and slam on the brakes hoping I'm far enough away from the radar.  So far, so good.  Only a few speeding tickets in my lifetime.

So my start of hypermiling is going the speed limit.  For me this is very easy and I'm pretty good at maintaining speed without using cruise control.  And it feels weird going the speed limit!  But here's what I read:  trying to get somewhere faster by speeding and weaving in & out of traffic probably only saves you a few minutes of your trip.  This is especially true with city driving with lights and stop signs.  You might make a little better time on highways by speeding but you risk getting a ticket which will set your time back more than if you followed the speed limit.

But we're not worried about getting someplace faster here, we're worried about getting the most gas mileage possible.  With looming gas price increases (they're already too high) hypermilers don't care about getting someplace quicker or not, but they want to save as much money as possible.

How many times were you behind a slowpoke and pass him up only to see he caught up at the next stop light.?  You finally beat him through the next light and feel jubilant about it.  But now who's the fool?  You just ate up a lot more gas than he did.  And going the same distance you probably only gained a couple minutes.  A good hypermiler will have to fill their gas tank less than the rest of us.

In fact, many hypermilers don't drive hybrids but prefer more comfortable cars.  Yet they get better gas mileage than most hybrid owners.  They also drive the minimum speed limits - many times driving way under surrounding traffic flow.

Be light on the gas pedal

Never accelerate from a stop.  Allow your car to start rolling on it's own.  This is a tough one for me.  I used to take off like a jack rabbit.  But it only took one full trip to get me to learn how to do this.  I'm now very conscious of it and am just waiting to create this new habit.

Stop accelerating while driving.  Unless you're really falling under the speed limit there isn't any reason to accelerate unless you're avoiding an accident.

As soon as you start going downhill (a little before) take your foot off the gas and allow the car to roll on it's own.  Only accelerate if you start falling below the speed limit when you hit level terrain again and remember to accelerate slooooowly.

Keep your foot off the brake unless absolutely necessary

This is where hypermiling becomes more challenging and almost like a game in the beginning.  It can also be the most dangerous for beginners who are trying to learn how to do this properly.

Why do you have to brake?

  • Following too close - tailgating the car in front of you or being in heavy traffic
  • Stoplight or stop sign (also trains, avoiding a collision, bad weather conditions, etc.)
  • Turning corners
  • Entering a busy street from a side street
  • Entering your garage or parking spot
  • Ending your trip

Those are the most used reasons to brake.  The first one is something many hypermilers will simply have to stop doing.  I try to never tailgate, but now I make an even better effort to keep my distance from the car ahead.  It's amazing how if you stay behind you rarely have to brake when the guy ahead does.  In most cases you just remove your foot from the gas pedal and roll and in many circumstances never have to use the brake at all.  Once traffic ahead starts moving you can catch up to the speed limit again - sloooowly.

hypermiling at stoplightsStoplights:  This is the most difficult thing for me.  Trying to read and time stoplights to me is the same as counting cards in Blackjack.  I'm just not good at it.  But I am now more conscious.  I look ahead to see how long the light has been red or green.  If it's red I take my foot off the gas and roll towards the light.  I have been lucky not having to brake in many cases.  It's almost like magic!

If it's been green for a long time you will probably not make it through.  Instead of speeding up (eating gas for no good reason), take your foot off the gas pedal and glide as far as you can before having to brake.  If you are able to do this far enough back you might get a green light by the time your car arrives and never have to brake.

If you're good at reading stop lights you could really become an experienced hypermiler and save a lot of gas.  For most of us, we just try to do the best we can with the stop lights.

Stop signs can be an evil temptation for hypermilers.  It's always a thought in trying to save gas by not braking to roll through a stop sign as long as there is no traffic (or police cars).  I was tempted myself and I would never have thought of running a stop sign before learning about hypermiling.  You need to follow the rules of the road so don't be tempted at saving a few bucks by going against the law.  Not worth it.

Trains or avoiding accidents are a little different.  You will probably have little control over a train unless you can see from a distance that the train is ending.  Take your foot off the gas and glide as far as you can without stopping.  But if the train is just beginning you'll have to stop (and turn off the ignition).  You'll need to brake to avoid hitting someone or avoid a collision (hoping you're not the cause).  Forget about gas savings in certain situations.

Inclement weather is something you should slow down for but I've been suddenly caught in blinding rain.  Pull over if possible and just do the best you can.  If you're on a patch of ice and going out of control you need to do whatever you can to help yourself.  Use common sense.

Turning corners - this was something that surprised me.  I don't like scary driving.  I didn't think I'd be able to turn corners without braking, at least a little bit.  But guess what, I'm doing it!  Remember, I'm driving slower than before and am learning how to take my foot off the gas before I get to the corner.  So instead of turning at 30 mph or more, it's more like 10 or 20 mph or possibly less.

The first time I tried it my heart was beating wildly but it wasn't bad.  The more I practiced the easier it became.  You do have to be careful when turning without brakes if there is oncoming traffic at the corner.  For me personally, I take a wider turn without brakes and maybe I'll be better over time.  So every time there is another car on the road I end up braking a bit.  Once I can narrow down my turns I'm hoping I can do better.

I can even turn into my garage without braking.  We have an alley and once I roll around the corner into the alley I don't put my foot on the gas at all.  I roll down the alley, open my automatic garage door so it's opened by the time I arrive and I roll the car in.  I brake when I'm done.  If I can do this, almost anyone can!

Avoiding Traffic

True hypermilers do not allow traffic as an excuse for having to brake and accelerate.  They claim you should beable to avoid traffic.  I live near the downtown area hypermiling and trafficof a Chicago suburb and am surrounded by busy streets.  It's the only way to get to or from my home.

I always try to avoid driving in rush hour traffic but as a REALTOR I can't always stay out of it.  I try to use side streets as much as possible but depending where I'm going it won't always work.  I just make a conscious effort to drive slowly or roll as much as possible to avoid stopping and starting.

Advanced Hypermiling

Don't use the a/c - that's right.  A rigid hypermiler will not use the a/c no matter what (I guess as long as they can breathe).  They keep the windows up, too, even though I read that driving with your windows down doesn't cause as much gas consumption as was thought.  In my opinion, this in itself could be dangerous because if you're suffering from heat stroke it might sneak up on you and you pass out at the wheel.  I suppose the pro's know when the line is being crossed and give up when necessary.

Do not try the following techniques unless you've practiced - a lot!  Many will forgo these and still save money using the tips mentioned above.  Remember, saving your life is worth more than saving money.

Using your cruise control most of the time

I plan on giving this a try.  I think I used cruise control once in my life on a highway and did not like it at all.  I felt a loss of control that freaked me out.  But that's just me, I know others use cruise control with no problem.  True hypermilers use cruise control in lieu of the gas and brake pedals.  They use their fingers to do the driving.  And not just on the highway!

To me, this is a big step from being a hypermiler wannabe to becoming a hypermiler pro.  I'll never make it to a pro but I'm going to try the cruise control.  I just have to read the manual and have my husband teach me.  I'm not sure I'll ever feel comfortable with it but I'm going to give it a try.  If not done properly this could be dangerous so many will need much practice with this.

Hypermiling on highways

Stay in the slow lane (right lane) - OK, that's not dangerous nor does it take a pro.  In fact, you'll almost have to drive in the right hand lane if you're traveling at the minimum speed limit.  But here's the real highway driving tricks:

Drive only the minimum allowable speed limit.  That's usually different on highways than city streets.  It's usually 10 mph less than the posted speed limit.  So if the speed limit is 65 mph the minimum is usually 55 mph.  Rarely do we find drivers going this much under the speed limit, even though it's legal and even in the right-hand lane.  Some consider this as dangerous as reckless speeding.  But this is how a pro hypermiler drives on highways.

Ridge riding - This is driving with your tire on the right white line of the right hand lane.  This is your way of alerting other drivers that you are driving slow.  Supposedly, it also saves gas mileage on rainy days when you're riding on pieces of road that remain drier because they haven't been ridden on by multiple cars, therefore rain doesn't collect in puddles which takes extra gas for your car to drive through and dissipate the water.  Whew!  They think of everything!

Drafting or surfing 

This is the most scary technique and I can't imagine even attempting this.  I'm almost afraid of mentioning it and I do not recommend anyone try this.  It is basically riding behind a truck to reduce wind resistance.  Some go further by turning off their engine allowing the truck to suck them along.  SCARY!

Turning your engine off

Upon first reading this it might not seem as bad as drafting/surfing.  But different makes of cars react differently when the engine is off, shutting down the automatic steering or power brakes.  Cruising with the engine off may sound like a good idea but if you can't regain control if needed it could be fatal.  Again, something most consider is not worth the savings.

What You'll Notice When Using Hypermiling Techniques

  • You'll be more conscious and aware of your driving - no talking on cell phones or jamming with music while trying to get maximum fuel economy.
  • You will notice your need to fill-up the gas tank decreasing and might be amazed at the savings.
  • Although it takes effort to follow the tips and techniques, you might feel a calmness from driving more slowly and not rushing and constantly stopping and starting.  Road rage might be a thing of the past - at least on your end.
  • A smoother ride in most cases
  • Having passengers scream when they witness firsthand turning corners without brakes, depending on your entering speed.
  • Seeing angry motorists trying to pass you up, especially on one-lane roads.
  • You might be seeing more "birds" than ever - no, not the flying kind.
  • People might be more vocal to you - and the words won't be so friendly (Screw them and let them waste their money)!
  • If you cease using your a/c, you'll need more showers and lose a degree of comfort - water vs. gas, I guess you'll still save.

Some dissenters feel hypermiling doesn't save enough money to be worth the effort unless you're a true hypermiling pro.  Many feel the pro's are just as dangerous as hot rodding teenagers and are a threat to safe driving.  Some feel the hypermilers to be cult-like, living in a different world.

I find it interesting because with ever rising gas prices something has to be done.  Are hybrid cars our only choice?  Hypermilers say "No!"

My Favorite Hypermiling Resources

One of the most esteemed hypermilers resides right here in Illinois.  His name is Wayne Gerdes and you can read an interesting story on him by clicking his name.  This article is worth the read and shows how far you can go with hypermiling.

The truth about traffic flow is a long article but all you need to read to see the light is the first part of it (read the whole thing if you have the time).  Click here.  In fact, I don't know if hypermiling is even mentioned but the traffic portion makes a lot of sense and is part of the hypermiling technique.

If you want to really get into hypermiling and follow the tutorial and join hypermiling forums and even purchase t-shirts with the word hypermiling on them, click here.

Happy hypermiling!

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