Squeezing the most out of a gallon
As gas prices rise, clever drivers adopt new rules of the road.
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Another sign is the growing attention to mileage achievement these past three years at the annual Hybridfest in Madison, Wis. At the festival’s “MPG Challenge,” on a 30-mile course, William Kinney of Kennewick, Wash., drove his Honda Insight at 168 miles per gallon – 223 percent over the EPA estimate of 52 m.p.g. for his vehicle to win the top division last year.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, it’s hard to say just how widely the hypermiling idea is catching on. Hits on Gerdes website cleanmpg.com have soared with increasing attention by the news media. And as gas prices have grown, so have discussion board tips on how to save gallons.
“I’m just taking advantage of the hills and the back roads and all the great hypermile advice,” says Laurie With, a business manager in St. Cloud, Minn. “People zoom up behind and flash their lights. But if I’m doing the speed limit, I have the right to do that without having someone say ‘go faster, go faster.’ ”
Following Gerdes’s rules, she’s coaxed her 2005 Honda Civic far higher than its 41 miles per gallon rating to get more than 65 m.p.g. on her daily commute. She lightly accelerates down one hill, gliding up to the crest of the next. Driving “without brakes” and no more than the speed limit as well as inflating her tires to the maximum have all helped, she says.
So does having a gas-mileage gauge, which tracks miles per gallon in real time. While more vehicles today have them, one of the auto industry’s little secrets is that all cars sold since 1997 have the capability to use them. Gerdes recommends buying a “scan gauge” for about $150 as the fastest way to improve mileage through “accountability.”
Tricked out dashboards
Al Walker, a Boston computer-security expert, has adopted the hypermiling way of life for his Prius hybrid. In addition to the car’s built-in fuel-economy indicator, Mr. Walker has bolted onto the dash a voltage meter, vacuum gauge, tachometer, and temperature readouts to help him tease more mileage out of his motor.
Like a few other hypermilers, Walker comprehends sophisticated techniques like “pulse and glide” that can utilize the engine’s torque curve to minimize engine thirst.
On a recent trip to New Jersey, Walker and his Prius achieved 72.5 miles per gallon – and almost 60 miles per gallon on a short test trip with this reporter to display his hypermiling methods.
“This is the essence of good pulse and glide driving – using the engine to accelerate, gently,” he says, smiling and nodding at the gauges, “but not so gently that you’re running it inefficiently.”
He follows the Gerdes hypermiler basics, too, which means highway travel mostly in the right lane at the low-end of the speed limit. For this he has another more low-tech approach – a sign on his rear window advising bumper riders to “Go Around.”
“Okay, that truck back there is getting a little impatient because I didn’t burn out [of that stop light] back there,” he says, glancing at his vacuum gauge as a large SUV bears down. “I guess he’ll just have to deal with it.”
For more fuel-efficiency pointers, check out the Monitor's Horizon blog.