Hypermiling is a popular—though sometimes controversial—topic, with MPG marathon events and online hypermiler communities hell-bent on beating their car manufacturers’ stated ‘miles per gallon’ figures by as much as possible.
Popularised in the United States in the early 2000s when petrol prices soared, many drivers bought more efficient hybrid cars and tried to make them even more efficient by using driving techniques to use less fuel.
Hypermiling is a range of different techniques designed to increase the number of miles you get per litre of fuel and isn’t just for fuel-economy fanatics—with high UK petrol prices, all drivers can enjoy learning about how to maximise their vehicle’s fuel economy and reduce pollution.
Fast and furious
While hypermiling aficionados are keen to stress that safety is at the heart of their strategies, this fuel-saving practise can involve more dubious methods.
‘Drafting’ is the main one — which involves driving close to the car in front. This originated from NASCAR racing and because cars use a large amount of energy pushing the air in front out of the way, if another car does this for you, you need a lot less petrol to keep to the same speed. At least that’s the idea.
Some sources claim drafting can save as much as 40% in consumption, but conflicting information exists about this and, even if this were true, the reduction in visibility and reaction time—if the car in front slams on the brakes—could cost motorists more than petrol.
Coasting is another questionable hypermiling method and extreme hypermilers put their cars into neutral to save fuel, by letting the engine idle while driving downhill.
There are reports of other fanatics turning the car off while driving to save fuel (a technique known as Forced Auto Stop, or FAS). FAS can be dangerous because you could also lose your power steering and risk engaging the steering lock.
Responsible hypermilers don’t suggest FAS or drafting and say motorists can save just as much fuel by keeping a safe distance from other vehicles and anticipating events by looking as far up the road as possible.
Optimise your speed
The common belief is that speeding up fast is bad for fuel-efficiency, which is what we thought until we read how Dutch and Swedish research has found this not to be true.
Dr Mark S. Dougherty, a computer science professor at Dalarna University in Borlange, Sweden, said:
“It’s not commonly understood by people who drive.
”They think that the way to get best fuel economy is to accelerate very gently, but that proves not to be the case. The best thing is to accelerate briskly and shift.
“Don’t give it everything the car has, but push down when you’re going to shift, using maybe two-thirds of the available power, and change through the gears relatively quickly.”
Dr Dougherty added: “The main thing is to anticipate better when you are going to need to stop. Then you should take your foot off the accelerator and use air resistance and friction to help slow the car.”
In a hypermiling feat, British racing driver and expert car tester, Rebecca Jackson—together with motoring journalist Andrew Frankel — took on a challenge to drive south from the Netherlands through as many countries as possible before they ran out of fuel.
Ms Jackson said: “We tried not to use the brakes as much by easing off the throttle to reduce speed. If you can keep moving slowly rather than stopping in traffic that’s good, but you do have to be conscious of not being a pain to other drivers by leaving too much of a gap behind the car in front.”
Learn from the enthusiasts
A hypermiler will start by deciding whether they even need to drive—if they can walk, drive, or use the bus instead of making a five-minute drive, they will. If they need to drive, they will plan for the most direct route that also needs the least amount of acceleration and braking. They will also try to drive when traffic is less busy. Hypermiling is all about maintaining momentum, and the more you brake and speed up at hills or in heavy traffic, the less efficient your driving is. When heading to a city centre, using the local park and ride helps to save fuel. Many people even carry a folding bike in their car so they can park out of town and cycle the rest of the way.
When making several stops, hypermiling fans try to plan things to make their furthest destination their first stop, and then make the rest of the stops on their way back. Engines don’t run at their best until they are warm, so making the longest drive first increases fuel efficiency.
‘Pulse and glide’ is a new driving technique used in modern fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles like the Prius, which shut off the engine when you’re freewheeling to save petrol. Hypermilers use it to save fuel and increase mileage in a big way. The technique is best for when fewer vehicles are on the road.
The strategies for hypermiling are vast and vary depending on whether you’re driving a petrol or diesel powered car versus a hybrid versus a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric powered vehicle, but for more ways to get the most mpg, look at The Ecomodder.com forum for tips on hypermiling.
What’s your opinion on hypermiling? Are you already using any of these techniques? Do you think the more extreme techniques are dangerous or savvy? Tell us in the comments.