Hypermiling: Hybrid Mileage In a Regular Car

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ScanGauge on a Velcro Strip.

Grandpa told us stories of how they increased fuel economy during World War II rationing years. The technology has advanced over the years, but the goal is the same: increase the miles traveled on a gallon of gas. Today we call this behavior: hypermiling. Rationing is no longer the motivation. Saving money and reducing our personal impact on the planet are the two main drivers (pun intended) behind hypermiling today. I will share the best methods I use to achieve 46 miles per gallon in a 2007 Toyota Camry. If you are willing to work the technology harder your results will probably be even better.

The Toyota Camry is estimated to get 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Moving the fuel efficiency from 24/34 to 46 mpg blended requires a few modifications to your driving and proper maintenance of your vehicle. Remember, hypermiling is a lot of fun, especially if you are competitive. Beating your best performance is addictive. Incremental progress is normal. Colder weather hurts performance as does winter gasoline blends in the northern U.S. Hot summer days without a breeze can really send your fuel efficiency through the roof. Awesome!


Maintenance

There are few things you need to do before you get behind the wheel.

  • Make sure your tires are inflated to manufacturer’s specifications. Over inflating tires can improve your mileage rate by a very small amount. I tried it and found no difference in my tests.
  • Change oil per manufacturer’s service guide. My Camry needs an oil change every 5000 miles. I change my own oil and use the lightest recommended oil, 0W-20 in my case.
  • Older cars may need a tune up or spark plugs.
  • Check the air filter for replacement.
  • Next time you replace tires get a tire with the lowest rolling resistance. I made a mistake once and bought a cheaper tire. I lost the money several times over in added fuel costs. A small investment in a quality tire pays for itself. In my case I lost over 4 miles per gallon in performance with a cheaper, higher rolling resistance tire.
  • Check tire alignment. Tires out of alignment create drag, harming fuel efficiency. Think of it as plowing versus coasting.
  • Remove all unnecessary weight. Get rid of the junk for a free boost in fuel economy.
Increase fuel economy with instant feedback from a ScanGauge.

Increase fuel economy with instant feedback from a ScanGauge.

Measuring Performance

There are two ways to measure performance. The first method is simple and free, but limited on real-time feedback. Under this method you fill your fuel tank and record your odometer. The next time you fill the tank be sure to fill all the way. Divide the number of miles travelled by the number of gallons consumed.

Example: You drove 487 miles since the last fill-up and needed 10.45 gallons to fill the tank. Your miles per gallon are calculated by dividing 487 miles by 10.45 gallons. Our last tank of gas was 46.6 mpg. Not bad.

The problem with the first method is you don’t get instant feedback on performance. Colder or windier weather can affect numbers. Relatively inexpensive devices offer real-time vehicle performance. I use a ScanGauge in my car. The ScanGauge and similar devices are simple plug and play. You plug the ScanGauge into the diagnostic port located under the steering column in most cars and trucks. When the vehicle is running ScanGauge will provide real-time fuel economy. All the testing I mention here was done with a ScanGauge.

ScanGauge mount.

ScanGauge mount.

Driving for Maximum Fuel Economy

  • Drive the speed limit. Speed kills fuel economy.
  • Accelerate to your desired speed moderately. Accelerating too slow is as bad as too fast. Avoid the jack-rabbit starts, but don’t take all day to get up to speed. The ScanGauge can help you determine your vehicles best acceleration pace. It might help to imagine accelerating with an egg on the gas pedal. Push hard enough, but not so hard as to break the egg.
  • Coast into stops whenever possible.
  • Time traffic lights so you don’t have to come to a complete stop.
  • Coast in neutral, especially with older vehicles to prevent engine drag. Avoid this strategy in hybrid cars.
  • Driving without brakes. Braking is throwing gas away. Whenever safe, avoid using the brake. Watch traffic so you do not require braking or at least reduce the amount needed.
  • Coast/decelerate up hills as much as possible; accelerate down hills.
  • Keep a steady speed, if possible.
  • Avoid idling. Idling gets zero miles to the gallon.
  • Pulse and glide is an awesome technique in a hybrid car, but also can improve fuel economy in non-hybrid vehicles, too. I spend over half my driving time coasting. Pulse and glide is done by accelerating up to speed and coasting until your speed declines to a level where you accelerate again.
  • Drive like you bike. Notice where you increase speed and coast when you bike. Use the same method when you drive since you bike more efficiently due to feeling your energy use.
  • Turn off the AC. I know what other sites say about air conditioning compared to an open window. I’ve tested this extensively and I cannot find a way to run the AC over an open window and win. I am lucky living in Wisconsin where it never gets very hot. You may need to pass on this one if you live in the bowels of hell in the summer.
  • Don’t drive. Miles never driven take no gas at all. Go figure! Bike all trips under 5 miles. Plan the shortest route to reduce miles driven.





Crazy Ideas

There are several additional ideas to improve fuel economy floating around. Here are a few ideas I refuse to use or even try.

  • Ridge riding is where you hug the side of the road so your tires are outside the normal grove of road traffic. During rain it might be an okay idea. Outside weather situations, ridge riding is a waste of time.
  • Drafting is where you follow larger vehicles close so they reduce your air drag. This is just plain stupid. I want to save a few dollars, not get killed.
  • Some have suggested turning off the vehicle while you are moving. By coasting with the car off you have no idling waste. I tried this for a short while and determined it is not worth the effort. Sure it saves some gas, but it is a stupid idea and risky due to loss of many vehicle functions.

Safety

The goal is to reduce gasoline consumption. I find hypermiling fun. That said safety is the primary concern. Driving too slow for traffic can cause an accident. Don’t be a dick in the name of thirty cents in gas savings. Coasting is not always possible, so only do it when it is. Watch your ScanGauge; also keep your eyes on the road. Focus on your driving and you will have fun and better fuel economy.




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Keith Schroeder

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