One of the most expensive relationships of your life is the one between you and your car. At best, your car can feel like a close friend, one that you trust to keep you safe and support your work — or at least your commute to get to there.
The worst-case scenario? Your car is a frenemy you just can’t shake. You’ve invested too much effort and money into the relationship to keep it running to let it go, even though you don’t really trust her to go the distance when you need her to. Sooner or later, you know you’ll end up stranded on the side of the road.
If your car’s been doing you wrong and costing you a lot of money in the process, there’s one way to take back control of your relationship with your car — and save a pile of cash in the process. It’s all about what you do behind the wheel.
Hypermiling: The Best Driving Technique You Never Learned
The more you drive, the more intimately familiar you are with fuel prices. They’re always a big new story, and you might even drive around town to get the cheapest gas when prices start to creep up.
At the end of the day, though, you don’t have any control over the geopolitical economic scene that’s behind your gas prices — shopping around for a discount of a penny or two is cool, but you won’t have much to show for your efforts at the end of the day. What you do have control over is how much fuel you allow your car to burn on any given trip.
Hypermiling is a driving technique perfected by Wayne Gerdes in a humble Honda Accord. Obsessed with getting the best possible miles per gallon out of his car, he began CleanMPG.com to bring together likeminded people who wanted to save gas and improve their personal fuel efficiency — and to evangelize his driving techniques.
At its core, hypermiling requires drivers to think way back to high school physics and apply Newton’s First Law: An object at rest tends to stay at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
The important thing for wannabe gas sippers to remember is that it takes fuel to change those laws. Want to overcome inertia and get your car moving? Press the gas pedal. Ready to slow down as you head downhill? Apply the brake — but you remember that you’ll need more gas to speed up again.
Instead of driving like most people — jackrabbit starts when the light turns green, anyone? — hypermilers do everything they can to harness their existing momentum to keep the car moving and only hit the gas when it’s absolutely necessary.
And you can learn to do it, too.
Hypermiling 101: The Basics
1. You Don’t Need a Hybrid — But It Helps
Most hypermilers drive a hybrid because they’re obsessed with fuel economy. Hybrids also help teach drivers hypermiling skills because of the way they work: The fuel engine cuts out when you quit pressing the gas, so it’s a good reminder to take your foot off the gas pedal. Likewise, you’re also rewarded with some extra battery charging when you drag out your braking over a distance — also good practice for making long, slow stops that maintain your momentum.
Still, the basic techniques of hypermiling work in a regular car, too. Wayne Gerdes regularly gets 59 mpg in a standard engine Accord — and that blows the official mpg rating of a Prius out of the water.
2. Start Slow
I mean this literally. Going from 0 to 60 in however many seconds burns a ton of gas. Your goal is to gradually get up to speed — the slower, the better. You’ll use less fuel to do so, and you’ll minimize the chance of wasting all your effort — and gas — by having to slam on the brakes unexpectedly.
Die-hard hypermilers don’t worry about the speed limit, and they blithely ignore the drivers behind them honking their horns when they’re slowly building up speed. Your tolerance may vary, but the more time you take to get up to speed, the more fuel you’ll save.
3. Stay Slow
Sunday drivers? You should be one. If you’re normally a speed demon, challenge yourself to obey the speed limit. If you’re a law-abiding citizen, try driving five miles below the speed limit. According to fueleconomy.gov, you can save about 16 cents per gallon for every five mph below the speed limit you go — no gas app can promise that!
4. Increase Your Following Distance
The flip side of slowly building your forward momentum is to jealously guard it for as long as you can, which is why the other major tenet of hypermiling is to avoid hitting the brakes for as long as possible. Once you do, you’re stuck pressing the gas again to get back up to speed.
Your best bet for keeping your foot off the brake is to increase your following distance — in all circumstances. A big gap between you and the car in front of you allows you to gently press the brake over a longer distance — your goal is to slow without stopping if at all possible. If you can avoid that complete stop, you’ll still have some momentum to use to get back up to speed instead of starting from zero with an all-gas start.
5. Coasting Is Key
If you’re stepping on the gas when you’re headed downhill, you’re doing it wrong. Coasting is the key to getting up to speed, so treat your car like you would ride your bike: Fly down hill and use that speed to help you get up the next hill without pedaling — or pushing the gas — as hard.
You can also practice coasting to a stop to save some gas. If you see a red light up ahead, take your foot off the gas. You’ll have to stop eventually anyway, so there’s no reason to waste the energy playing hurry-up-and-wait.
A final word of advice: I’m definitely not advising you to speed or break any laws in the name of hypermiling. Use your common sense and stay safe out there! Hypermiling takes some practice to get used to, but once you master the techniques on an empty back road, you’ll be ready to bring your skills into prime time. Even small changes to your driving habits can add up to big savings, so give it a try today!
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