Perhaps you’ve already heard of hypermiling – and maybe like me, you’re a bit skeptical of the claims. Some of the numbers seem crazy (30-50% mpg improvement for driving less aggressively?), and certainly some of the tactics mentioned sound suicidal or silly (turn off your engine at red lights, tailgate all the time).
So, as a scientist, I did my own hypermiling experiment at home – and yes, it really works. Best of all, you can see significant increases without doing stupid things or plunking down money! In my own little 2004 Hyundai Elantra, I went from 28.7 MPG average to 39 MPG average. That’s a 36% improvement….THIRTY SIX PERCENT. My 12.1 gallon tank used to get about 350 miles a tank…right now I’m at 370 miles and have 2 gallons of gas left.
Are you amazed yet? You should be.
Let me run some more numbers by you (with a little rounding to make life easier). At my old MPG, I needed to fill my tank every 9 days. That’s about 40.5 fill-ups a year, and at an average of $4 a gallon for gas – I’m spending $1960 a year in gas. (36.5 fill-ups x 12.1 gallons per tank x $4) Now, by increasing my MPG to almost 40, I’m stretching my fill-ups to once every 12 days. That’s only 30.5 fill-ups a year – I’ve instantly saved 10 fill-ups a year, which for my car translates to $484. And that’s assuming gas is “only” $4 a gallon! I live in Oregon, where gas is currently running $4.09 a gallon – which translates to $494 a year in savings.
$500 a year less in gas. Amazing.
So here’s the quick and easy way I’m saving gas – again, you don’t need to buy anything! Give it a try – and let me know how much you save!
1. Coast a little to start. When you first release the brake (automatic transmission only), the idle of the car will pull you forward just a bit…so let the car start rolling on its own before applying the gas.
2. Accelerate gently. Keep your RPMs around 2000, and ease your way up to speed. Think of how you would accelerate if behind a truck, and match that. Word of Caution: use common sense. If you have a short acceleration lane, or a large truck is barreling up behind you…MPG is not as important!
3. Use your cruise control. Look at your cruise control buttons – see how you have ‘accelerate’ and ‘coast’ buttons? Use them! When you set your cruise control, try using those to increase or decrease speed gradually. (Still use your brake for emergencies of course) This works best when you leave a 2+ car-length buffer zone in front of you.
4. Use your cruise control (again). Let’s say the speed limit is 60mph. Accelerate yourself up to 50mph, then set the cruise. Now use the accelerate button (pressing and releasing, not holding) to get up to that 60mph. This is a slower and smoother acceleration than you can ever do, and saves gas.
5. Don’t speed. Not only does extra speed mean extra gas…by not being the faster car on the road, you can take advantage of “drafting”. This is where faster cars pull you along slightly in their wake. (Tailgating is drafting taken to the extreme – it’s illegal and crazy, don’t do it!)
6. Coast to stops. When you see a light that is likely to turn red ahead of you, turn off the cruise/take your foot off the gas. Coasting to a stop saves gas…and really, are you in a hurry to wait at that light? The idea is to stay in motion, however slowly.
7. Put ‘er in neutral. When you do get stuck at a red light, put that transmission in neutral. It takes less energy than leaving the car in drive – but is easy to switch back when the light changes. (Much easier and faster than restarting an engine too)
Edit: Let me add that one big thing is to NOT idle as much as possible...so don't turn on the car before you are already buckled in and ready to roll, shut off the car as soon as you put it in park, and yes, turn it off while in the Starbucks drive thru. It's worth it!