Monday, July 7, 2008

Hypermiling: Like a Prius in Every Pot

By Steve Goerger

[Ed here: In his ever-increasing concern for the state of our crumbling world, Kevin "Kurd" Peters decided a few weeks ago that it would be a good idea for all of us bloggers to each contribute our ideas on a singular topic: Gas. Kurd said we could do with that one word whatever we liked, as long as we addressed it somehow; below is my contribution to this roundtable of sorts. You can read Kurd's offering here, and I'll try to link others as they appear.]

By nature, I have always been a Do-It-Yourself kind of guy. When something around the house needs doing, I actually get quite happy—it’s a chance to wield my tools, use my muscles, and flex my mind. When a door needs to be hung, I break out the screwdriver and butter knife (that’s right) and get to work. If a furnace blows up, I put it back together at thirty below. If an old truck needs to pass an IM Test, I break out the ratchet set and…fail miserably at fixing the thing. But the point remains: Steve Likes to Try.

Being the DIYer and problem-solver that I am, then, I was quite happy when my boss introduced me to the idea I want to introduce in this blog: Hypermiling. “Hypermiling” is, essentially, any and all behaviors that help drivers save fuel and increase their fuel economy when driving. It’s kind of a do-it-yourself approach to the one of the biggest problems around: our addiction to that very limited resource known as petrol.

Why wait for Toyota or the Government or somebody to make more fuel-efficient cars when you can just modify your own behaviors and increase (even double or triple, in some outlandish cases) your MPGs yourself? Hypermiling is the solution to all your problems! (It’s so good you’d swear Ron Popeil had invented it.)

I myself have been hypermiling in my 1992 Subaru Legacy lately, and I’ve definitely seen my mileage increase, from perhaps 20mpgs to about 27mpg the last two tanks. That may not sound like much…until you realize that works out to a free tank of gas every fourth trip to the pump! And my car’s not even optimal for such things. Some of the more disciplined and, um, invested hypermilers on the Internet have taken their hybrid vehicles up around the 150 mpg mark during extended trips. Hypermiling may sound like a crazy idea, but it is a crazy idea we should all embrace. It’s something that needs to happen, for both Earth and our wallets.

I’ve read up on hypermiling and its behaviors a bit, and I wanted to share some of the easier things you can do to ease your own burden at the gas pump. Now understand that some of these behaviors can get a bit crazy—for example, those invested hypermilers I spoke about earlier achieve their top efficiencies by drafting very close behind tractor trailers on the highway, something I would never recommend. But then again, there are some very easy things you can do that will go a long way. So here are some ideas, ranked from “easiest to implement” to “slightly scaring your passengers.”

1. Try to brake as little as possible. Put another way: since braking is the loss of acceleration, and acceleration is a loss of gas (gas is burned to create acceleration), braking is the loss of gas. Try to “time” lights so you aren’t flying up to them and then screeching to a halt; play the space between your car and the car in front of you in an accordion-like fashion, so that you always have room to coast, rather than come to a complete stop.

2. Accelerate slowly. In fact, there’s even a magic number for this one: 2000, as in RPMs, as in keep your car under 2000 RPMs as much as possible. When you rev your engine, when you accelerate very fast, obviously your engine is working a little harder. Keeping yourself under 2000 RPMs keeps your engine working at a nice, easy level. As with a bike, your car will do its best work when it’s in a high gear, gently chugging along. This is why 55 mph is so nice: Your car is in a high gear, but not doing too-too many RPMs. If you can accelerate slowly toward 55 all the time, you will be doing your car, your pocketbook, and the air a great good. Now and again you'll get a strange look from another driver, but so what? You've got the moral highground on this one, friend.

3. Put the car in neutral at stoplights. It kind of follows from #1: braking wastes gas. And what do you do at a stoplight?—you brake, because otherwise the car would start creeping forward. Putting the car in neutral disengages the engine from working against those brakes. Sure, your friend stares at you a bit here, as if you’ve just blasted off toward outer space. But truly, this is one of the more common—and effective—hypermiling tips out there.

4. Shut the car off at stoplights. If you’re going to be sitting at a light for any more than 30 seconds, it makes sense to shut the car off. With fuel injection in every car today, it is a complete myth that starting up the engine is the big waster of gas. And there are plenty of lights out there that last more than 30 seconds.

5. Coast in neutral. Now, this is recommended mostly for manual transmissions—honestly, I don’t know enough about transmissions to comment, but I have read that this is just fine for manuals, but can be damaging for automatic transmissions. Personally, I still do it now and again, even though my Suburu is an automatic. If I’m coming up to a stoplight, sometimes I will throw it into neutral as I coast up. My feeling is that at low speeds it couldn’t be that bad for an automatic. And besides, if I’m traveling at higher speeds and wanting to coast, what I usually do is…

6. Coast with the car turned completely off. That’s right, I do this, all the time now. I get up to a sufficient speed (say, 50 mph), put it in neutral, and turn the key, shutting the engine off completely! And then, importantly, I turn the key all the way back over into the “on” position so that the steering wheel won’t lock up. If I need to turn the car back on…I just do it, from neutral obviously. You would be surprised how far you can coast like this. Just the other night I used this “pulse and glide” maneuver to go at least half a mile, coasting into my parking spot at Freddie’s at the end. It was sweet. I told everyone I did this, and everyone thought I was nuts.

And maybe I am nuts—I guess that is for you to decide. Maybe I should just bike to work. Maybe I should pressure my government to get electric cars back on the market. Maybe I should do a lot of things, but you know what?—I’m just too lazy. I’m a stinking lazy American, and like so many Americans, I just don’t have the time. So I’m going to do what I can to reduce my dependence on oil, at home, as the stupid American that I am with the crappy tools I have. My Subaru may not be a Prius, but it’s sure trying.

If every Subaru/Ford/Chevy/Pontiac/Hummer on the road were trying, too, we might just be able to get somewhere.


sarah said...

so, i thought braking in neutral was dangerous for some reason, though i don't know what it was -- one of those driver safety disembodied messages coming back to haunt me. untrue? (my dad has done that for years, and it's always annoyed the snot out of me for some reason.)

Steve said...

I don't see how braking in neutral would be are the brakes and the transmission even connected? Certainly this happens with manual transmissions all the time. Now, if you brake with the engine shut all the way off, after a few pumps of the brake pedal you will lose your power-assisted braking, so that is a bit dangerous, but that has never happened to me in my hypermiling, anyways...I haven't braked enough to make it go out yet.

Steve said...

Can't believe I spelled Suburu wrong in my post, lol.

Kurd said...

I think what I like about this piece is the every-little-bit-helps, do-it-yourself aesthetic. You mention several times the weird looks people might give you, but if enough people start following suit, the looks will stop. It makes me think of Dick Fosbury. He found a way to more efficiently and effectively jump over a raised bar, a way no one else had tried. And it worked and everyone started doing it. Now if someone tried to do it the way it used to be done, he or she would be considered crazy, or at least naive. We just need to train ourselves so our beneficial behaviors become habit, or at least somewhat normalized. Lastly, and this has nothing to do with anything, but Popeil once marketed a product that he claimed could "slice a tomato so thin it only has one side."

Shayna said...

I walk because I'm poor.
Problem solved.
Hooray for poverty.

Suzanne said...

OMG! i just figured out that i have been doing the exact opposite- hypomiling! no wonder......well now i know. thanks for the knowledge steven.