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There’s a method of driving, called hypermiling, which came to the forefront last year when the price of fuel got so high that even Saudi Arabian sheiks started buying economy cars.

Hypermiling involves adjusting a vehicle, and driver, in such a way that they start getting incredible gas mileage. The man who coined the phrase, Wayne Gerdes, was able to get 59 mpg out of a standard, off the shelf Honda Accord. Not that you could put an Accord on a shelf, but you get the idea.

Adjusting the vehicle isn’t hard; the big things are to keep the tires properly inflated and reduce weight by removing unnecessary objects, such as kids and mothers-in-law. Do you really need your kids every time you take a trip? I think not. Leave them with your mother-in-law.

The other part has to do with driving techniques, and that’s where you can get in trouble. At its most extreme, hypermiling can be just a little illegal, and a lot insane. It can involve embracing every driving habit that ever made you crazy when another driver did it.. Still, in a contest in Elkhart, Indiana, a driver achieved 213 mpg in a Honda Insight.

Unfortunately, I don’t have Insight. The car, I mean. I own an eleven year old Nissan Sentra with 177,000 miles on it. The disadvantage: Cars become less efficient with age, and my car is 85 in car years. The advantage: The loss of various pieces and parts over the years has reduced its weight considerably. Plus, rust weighs less than paint.

One thing hypermilers do is drive without air conditioning and without opening windows, since both drag down mileage, so I was happy to experiment in cold weather.

First I tackled my car, emptying it of various junk including water bottles, empty fast food wrappers, forty-three ink pens (what’s up with that?), and three hunks of metal that I retrieved from the roadway. After they fell off I remained alive and the car still moved, so they were apparently the equivalent of a car appendix, some unneeded appendage left over from when it was made.

Because one never knows when an emergency will strike, I left the fire extinguisher, first aid kid, jumper cables, and box of granola bars. If I get stuck, I throw the granola bars under my tires for traction. Surely you don’t think I ate them?

Then I started out … very, very slowly. The key to hypermiling is to keep your foot off any pedals as much as possible, and to go very easy on the gas. By the time I made it three blocks to the stop light, I was going 10 mph and had a line of two dozen annoyed drivers behind me. It was the shape of things to come.

Stops are to be avoided if humanly possible. As I approached the stop light it turned yellow, something that to me has always meant slowing down. An on the ball hypermiler will anticipate the light, and slow far in advance if he knows it will soon be turning. I was not on the ball.

Coasting through a yellow light left the drivers behind me stunned. Some guy drives like their collective grannies, then takes a chance on crossing semis? Since I’d reduced drag by leaving the “hypermiler driving” sign off my car, they had no way of knowing anything except that the bozo who got them stuck at a stop light made it through himself.

When a hypermiler accelerates or drives in a straight line, they seem like the aforementioned nervous grandmother. “My speed’s in the double digits! We’re all going to die!” When you hit a curve, it’s the exact opposite. You can’t brake – it robs the car of kinetic energy, using more fuel.

You take your foot off the gas well in advance, then not at all in the curve, and end up feeling like you’re in the Grand Prix while the guy behind you thinks you should be in the loony bin.

I approached a stop sign and took my foot off the brake, oh, about two miles back. By the time I reached the sign I was going 5 mph, and tapped the brake pedal just long enough to know it was still there before proceeding. A few minutes later a passing driver gave me a long stare, a cell phone in his hand while he contemplated my level of intoxication. Can’t blame him for passing me – how many people these days treat the speed limit as anything but a laughable suggestion?

Other hypermiling techniques:

Turning off your car’s engine and coasting for blocks. Unfortunately, this can leave the driver without power steering or brakes, and can even lock up the steering wheel. Wish somebody had told me that. Sorry about the mailboxes, by the way.

Inflating tire pressure far beyond manufacturer’s recommendations. I passed on this, after having visions of a ruptured tire flying through the air, high over town, with me hanging on to it. I’m thinking about asking my brother to fill the tires, though, while I stand way, way back.

Then there’s drafting, in which you follow close behind a larger vehicle and get into the vacuum it creates. There’s another word for that – tailgating. Drivers should be legally allowed to release a trunk load of spikes into any tailgater’s tires.

Backing up sucks down a lot of fuel, so hypermilers park in a way that allows them to pull straight forward. I thought this was worth trying and it seemed to help, but I doubt if the property owners appreciated what it did to their lawns.

There are other ideas, like mounting sails on your car or hooking up the draft horses. But, like an economy car being packed for a road trip, I’m out of space. The trick is to concentrate, slow down, and stay off the brakes. Another term for that is defensive driving. The main thing is safety; a single fender bender will wipe out all that money saved on fuel.

So how did I do, embracing hypermiling only halfheartedly? Well, I improved my Nissan’s gas mileage from 30 to 35 mpg, and that’s not too shabby. Next time the price of gas rises, I’m going for the sails.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 14th, 2009 08:22 am (UTC)
Well, the concept's pretty simple, isn't it?
Mar. 13th, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC)
Another advantage, (?) ... When we were in high school and admittedly STUPID, my brother used to turn off his key and coast in neutral down steep hills. Then, upon turning the key back ON, it shot flames out the tailpipe of the 65 Plymouth.
We were cool, doncha know.
Mar. 14th, 2009 08:24 am (UTC)
Cool! Um, I mean, how childish.
Mar. 14th, 2009 08:22 pm (UTC)
If kids were expected to be smart, they never would have been issued parents to protect them.
Mar. 15th, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)
Yes, too bad some people become parents before growing up, themselves.
Mar. 15th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
If you wait until you "know better" you will not have any kids.
Mar. 16th, 2009 05:20 am (UTC)
Truer words never spoken!
Mar. 13th, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC)
Great column, had tears in my eyes reading some of it, loved the tailgating reference. Of course hypermiling is probably easier since everyone knows you don't have bends.:-)

They actually had a Top Gear on this recently:

Mar. 14th, 2009 08:26 am (UTC)
Well, of course Top Gear would have already covered it!

Everybody keeps saying we don't have bends ... I think bends must mean something other than what I thought it means ...
Mar. 13th, 2009 01:51 pm (UTC)
So, the idiot who stayed 2 inches from my bumper for a couple of blocks this morning must have been hypermiling. (Of course, he went around me and sped up when I slowed down just to piss him off, so...)
Mar. 14th, 2009 08:27 am (UTC)
Sounds to me like just a jerk; from what I've read, hypermilers are pretty much the slowest ones on the road at all times. (I'd have slowed down, too.)
Mar. 13th, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
But we have roundabouts and corners and stuff in the UK!!

My answer to economy is my Smart car. I get over 200 miles to one very small tank of gas which lasts me around 6 weeks. If I drive on the motorways (nice smooth even speed driving) I get nearly 300 miles :)

I ♥ my Smart.
Mar. 14th, 2009 08:29 am (UTC)
I've heard they're great cars, but Americans are always slow coming around to technology like that. Those roundabouts -- there's one in a small city not far from here, and I'd rather go ten miles out of my way then face it!
Mar. 13th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
This is great. I love it.

Thank you for sharing your experience.
Mar. 14th, 2009 08:29 am (UTC)
Glad you liked it! At least in this one nothing horrible happened to me ....
Mar. 13th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, Mark. You know you're just going to get yourself killed (by angry grannies, among others) if you continue to hypermile. :)
Mar. 14th, 2009 08:30 am (UTC)
I was kind of hoping firefighting would kill me first, because the funeral would be better. :-) I'm being careful with my driving, but I'm never going to become a diehard hypermiler -- for one thing, they play a bit too fast and loose with the traffic laws.
Mar. 15th, 2009 09:53 am (UTC)
Loved this column - but I don't think hypermiling is for me. Though I do try and keep the air con off as much as possible.
Mar. 15th, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)
I hate using air conditioning -- I spend enough time without fresh air in the wintertime.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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