How to be a hypermiler

By glblguy

Gas Prices
Photo by: iChaz

Gas prices are on the rise, and people are getting extremely creative in coming up with ways to get the maximum amount of miles out of each gallon of gas. A rare group called hypermilers modify their driving habits significantly to improve mileage and reduce vehicle emissions. Hypermiling also generally involves driving a hybrid vehicles like the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius. Two years ago I would have laughed at the whole hypermiling concept, but with gas prices the way they are now, I thought I’d better do a little research and learn more about hypermiling. Here’s some information about how to be a hypermiler:

The MPG Meter

MPG MeterThe first thing you must do to begin hypermiling is to track your gas mileage. The most cost effective way to do that is to manually calculate your gas mileage. The problem with the manual method is you can’t see the real-time impact of how you are driving on your gas mileage. That’s where the MPG meter comes in. Seems most true hypermilers have an MPG Meter.

How to be a hypermiler basics

As I mentioned already, hypermiling is about adjusting the way you drive. While some of the techniques used only apply to hybrid vehicles, most apply to any vehicle, including those gas guzzling SUVs. Here are just a few of the techniques employed by hypermiling experts:

Go the speed limitSpeed vs MPG chart

While each vehicle has an optimum speed for maximum gas mileage, in general for every 5mph above 55mph you drive, you lose up to 10% of your cars fuel economy. At 10%, slowing down can save you a great deal of money. Driving the speed limit is much safer too!

Drive without brakes

Before you decide I’ve gone crazy, let me explain. Driving without brakes (or DWB in hypermiling lingo) is all about minimizing the use of your car’s brakes, but doing so with common sense. The basic principle is to avoid using the brake to take off speed that was achieved through he use of gas. The trick is to anticipate what’s coming down the road. Watch for upcoming lights, stop signs and curves. When you see them, begin to coast as early as possible to avoid using the brakes. In a hybrid, lots of coasting recharges the batteries too, which provides another added advantage.

If you can avoid stopping all together, that’s the best situation to be in as starting your car off from a dead stop consumes a great deal of energy.

Face out parking

When you park, make an effort to face out. I don’t mean backing into the parking place, but park a little further out and pull through the spaces so your car is facing out. This avoids the wasted gas of having to back out when you leave. Better yet, hypermilers will tell you park on a hill or incline so the car is facing down and you can coast out.

Be careful with this one though, as I’ve almost been hit head on a few times pulling through parking places when someone else was pulling in.

Turn off your car and coast

With a hybrid, the car automatically turns off the engine when it’s not needed. This of course isn’t the gas with a standard vehicle. You can however simulate a hybrid by placing your car in neutral, turning off the engine and coasting. Turns out the gas needed to restart the vehicle when you need to is minimal.

Now, this is one of the more risky hypermiling techniques as with the engine off and your car in neutral you have less control of your car and you can’t be as responsive without the engine.

Keep your car maintained

Two important tips here: Keep your oil changed and keep your tires properly inflated. As oil gets older it thickens putting more drain on the engine. Proper tire pressure is important too as it takes a great deal of energy to push around under inflated tires.

Some hypermilers recommend over inflating the tires. I don’t recommend this. You’ll wear your tires our faster and it could be dangerous as your tires won’t have the proper ground contact.

Pick the best route

When picking the route you’ll take, the shortest isn’t always the best. Hypermilers will tell you to pick routes with less stops and lots of downhill grades. You want to avoid stop and go traffic and routes that have large hills to climb.

Avoid idling

Some hypermilers will tell you that if you are sitting in one place for more than 10 seconds, turn your car off. This will save on mileage overtime. Again, restarting consumes very little energy.

These are just a few of the many tricks and techniques hypermilers use. You can find lots more and learn more about how to be a hypermiler by visiting a site called Green Hybrid.

What do you think about these techniques? Are you using any of them? Are you a hypermiler or maybe have an additional tip? Share your thoughts on how to be a hypermiler! Add a comment!


38 Responses (including trackbacks) to “How to be a hypermiler”

  1. Martin Says:

    A few cautions about turning the engine off and coasting:
    -you’ll lose the power assist on your brakes
    -you’ll lose your power steering
    -don’t turn the ignition off too far, else your steering lock will kick in!
    -rolling in neutral in an auto is apparently not very good for the transmission (towing an auto isn’t good either)

  2. Kristen Says:

    I wish I could use more of these techniques. I have a 35-mile commute to work each way. The gas prices are killing my budget. Unfortunately I work in a city, but live in the suburbs, and I don’t have access to good, reliable public transportation. Avoiding idling and driving without brakes would only lead to an accident because of heavy traffic.

    I do try to slow down, keep my car well-maintained, and I’ve been cutting back on non-work driving as much as possible.

    Thanks for the tips on how to be a hypermiler!

  3. No Debt Plan Says:

    Luckily I have a short commute that tops out at 55 mph, so I don’t have to worry about 70mph cutting into my mileage.

    However I do want to comment on the parking thing. Let’s be realistic here. Let’s imagine you are pulling face first into a parking space, that also has an opening on the other side of the aisle in front of you. If you park in the first spot, then back out and go from there… the distance has to be nearly identical if you pull into the space in front of it and pull forward when you leave.

    The gas savings from not reversing is negligible. However, you do save wear and tear on the transmission I would imagine (shift from P to R, then R to D versus P to D).

  4. Lulugal11 Says:

    I use some of those techniques myself. I coast to orange lights because I know the light will turn red and I won’t make it.

    I have taken all the non essential things out of my car to lighten the load and I drive the speed limit. I also leave a good amount of space between me and the vehicle in front of me so that I do not have to slam on the brakes if the person is turning or stopping.http://www.howisavemoney.net/save-money/save-money-gas-hypermiling-wealth-money-life-network-group-project/

  5. castocreations Says:

    Can someone link to the transmission / neutral issue? I’ve started coasting while in neutral to the lights/stop signs and while going down hill. I will not turn my car off because that is too dangerous and really should not be done.

    You don’t mention avoiding jack rabbit starts…I am shocked lately by how many people apparently have all the money in the world for gas and scream off the starting gate at lights/stop signs. It’s nuts.

    I commute daily 52 miles round trip and generally have to fill up at least once a week – more if lots of errands are required. I was okay at $3/gal but it’s now over $4.25 here and it’s really starting to bother me…and my budget.

  6. Martin Says:

    Plenty of places (including the owner manual of your car, if it’s an auto) will tell you that you shouldn’t tow an auto car with the drive wheels on the ground.

    I would expect coasting in neutral to be similar with the drive wheels being rotated due to the coasting, and no power being applied to the auto. I believe this is because the hydraulic pump in the auto transmission is driven by the input shaft. When coasting in neutral, the output shaft is spinning at your road speed, while the input shaft is being driven by an idling engine. As a result, the hydraulic pump won’t provide sufficient pressure to the transmission, resulting in increased wear, and burnt transmission fluid.

    Interestingly, while doing some research on this, I found some comments that coasting in neutral is actually less fuel efficient than coasting in gear. This is because coasting in gear results in the injectors being shutoff, while coasting in neutral still requires the injectors to maintain sufficient fuel flow to idle the engine.
    However, this is dependant on the car, as not every car will stop fuel delivery when coasting in gear.

  7. castocreations Says:

    Good to know!!! :) I just want to do whatever I can to save gas the most efficient (and SAFE) way possible.

    I need to get an oil change too. lol

  8. "Mo" Money Says:

    All good suggestions. I have an instant mileage computer on my Mercury Villager, This helps me to watch my mileagge as I drive.

  9. Justin Says:

    I’ll second that comment about not turning off the engine. Losing power brakes and steering is a very dangerous thing indeed.

  10. glblguy Says:

    Thanks for all the comments. Point of clarification, I don’t think the tip about turning off the engine was intended to be done while the vehicle is moving, but when standing still (say at a light).

    I started doing a few of these things today and really trying to put a focus on them. I have a manual transmission and was shifting at low RPMs and coasting to tops. We’ll see if it makes a difference or not.

  11. IT Says:

    I have experimented with this off and on for something like the last 6 months. Its an experiment that could easily be titled, How to Make Friends and Influence People. I wrote a bit of an article about it and the not so obviously emotional cost of following it, at least to those around you.
    http://itpilgrimage.wordpress.com/2008/06/03/hypermiling-is-it-worth-it1/

  12. justin Says:

    @No Debt Plan: I think the point on pulling through the empty space is more to do with inertia than distance. You don’t have to reverse your direction completely, i.e. stop moving in one direction and start moving in another, thus the engine has to work harder.

  13. MITBeta @ Don't Feed the Alligators Says:

    Shifting to neutral to coast is actually illegal in many states. How they would enforce it, I don’t know.

    I have been carefully using most of the legal techniques here. I already get about 45 mpg in mixed driving in my 2001 VW Jetta diesel, but I now know the cycle lengths of all of the lights between my house and work, so I know if a red light will change to green by the time I get to it or vice versa and lift off or continue to apply pressure to the accelerator to compensate. I try to touch the brakes only when absolutely necessary.

    I have also been playing with skipping gears on my manual transmission. Most manuals have at least one gear that is very close to another and can easily be skipped with little detriment. My torquey diesel can handle skips from 1-3-5 (ie I only use the top gears…). Anecdotal evidence indicates that I’m approaching 50mpg with little highway driving. If I can achieve this, I’ll get 800 miles per 16 gallon tank.

  14. castocreations Says:

    So now I have another question. If I have an automatic car, is it harmful to shift down to 2nd gear while driving? What about low? I’ve been told to do this instead of touching the breaks to slow down and hubby does it in his truck. Does it help to save gas at all? And why?

  15. glblguy Says:

    @castocreations – Save brakes yes, but it will use more gas as you are revving up the engine more.

  16. ChristianPF Says:

    I have been trying out the DWB lately and it is a new challenge, but it really seems to be helping the MPGs

  17. NewLeaf Says:

    Is there any MPG Meter out there that is cheaper than the ScanGauge?

  18. Susan Says:

    These are great tips! I’m definitely a coaster now, but it’s a challenge when there’s another car coming up behind me at a fast pace!

    I’m a little leery about turning off my engine and coasting, though. I’d rather switch to neutral after coming to a stop, specifically at a long stop light.

  19. MITBeta @ Don't Feed The Alligators Says:

    @castocreations:

    You might save your breaks by downshifting, but you’re not doing your clutch much good, and brakes are a lot cheaper than clutches.

    I don’t think you’re saving any gas by doing this, not because the engine revs up (this is simply a matter of gearing) but because the effect is ultimately the same as if you stepped on the brake. You’re trading wheel braking for engine braking — but braking nonetheless.

  20. squawkfox Says:

    I find I save LOTS on gas by riding my bike. ;)

  21. Make Friends, Earn Money Says:

    also don’t load up your car with too many items that you are unlikely to use. Take any junk out as this can make the car heavier and increase car consumption. Also where possible try and avoid air con as it adds about 10% consumption to your gas bill. Obviously this isn’t always possible depending where you live in the US.

  22. David Carter Says:

    Something that needs to be noted that coasting in drive IS better than coasting in neutral if you are leaving your engine on. Coasting in drive keeps your engine moving by the mechanical connection to the tires. When you are in neutral, your engine is idling and this take gas for it to keep turning.

  23. Matthew Says:

    Engine oil does not get thicker as it is used inside the engine: the oil is actually sheared when in use (whenever your engine is running). Old oil loses its ability to protect partly due to it thinning out from being sheared apart from the motor. Change your oil according to your owner’s manual for maintenance reasons.

    Also, as mentioned above, modern fuel injected cars will turn off the injectors if you are using engine braking, especially downhill: putting your car in neutral will actually use more gas than if you left it in gear.

    One last bit: in some area, pulling through a double parking space to face out is illegal.

  24. Jade Says:

    Well, shutting off your car at a long red light is a great idea… assuming you’re confident your car will start again. Unfortunately my Ford has been Found On Road Dead many times when it just decides not to start… well, until the tow truck driver shows up anyway. My dad has hopefully found and cured the problems that were causing my car to not start, so I’m not as worried about this anymore, but I still avoid crappy parts of town, partly for this reason.

    However he hasn’t figured out my occasional stalling problem, and I’m starting to see this problem as a blessing in disguise. While I don’t shut off my car at a long red light (With all of the starting issues I’ve had, I don’t want to push my luck…), sometimes it will decide to stall anyway. Some issue with the computer not giving the engine enough gas while it’s idling or a sensor not working or some part not letting gas through (it’s an ’84, what can I say? My dad jokes around that the computer is not OBD 1, it’s OBD 0).

    So if I’ve got some people in front of me or if I can see the other traffic signals and have a pretty good indication of when my light will turn green, then when my car starts acting like it wants to stall I just let it stall and then wait until the light is about to turn green before starting it again. After all, the only way to keep it running is to give it more gas…

  25. Zook Says:

    I might be alone here, but I think hyper-milling is a good idea……Many are basic concepts that I have been doing for years and are reasonable. Now all of a sudden we get this new fancy name for maintaining your car and picking the shortest route to your destination and bang….we got some other really foolish ideas like turning your car off while driving and “coasting”. This might be neat if there were a total of a few thousand cars in all of the US. Does anyone live in the city? Do you see how many cars and people there are? Don’t you think it is kinda unfair to coast or turn your car off while on public roads?

    There is no way I could take everyone on the road coasting. Seriously. The road rage and insurance premiums that would follow aren’t worth the 1.5% gas savings.

    I have read a ton and have even seen a few videos on how to do it. One of the tips is to “coast” if you think you are coming up to a “stale” green light. So let me get this straight. The speed limit is 40MPH and I have to follow someone actually slowing down because they are guessing that the GREEN light might not be there when they get to it? I am reasonable and just thinking of someone going 25MPH in a 40MPH with a green light makes me pissed. LOL…

    As far as putting the car in idle or turning off the engine? You have GOT to be joking as this being an actual tip. You got kids in the car and you are going to turn off the freakin’ engine or put the car into neutral? Wow. Again, save 1-2% and put everyone in the car in danger. Just because you want to save a percent or two in your gas savings, doesn’t mean the world revolves around you. Keep the car engaged at least and by no means should this tactic be used at anytime over 25 MPH on a COMMUNITY road between the hours of 7AM and 10PM.

  26. Riley Says:

    Regarding how to be a hypermiler, another real life tip that anyone can use in their vehicle. The use of synthetic oil combined with high quality properly inflated tires will usually add 2-4 MPG to a car’s mileage.

  27. 42 Says:

    I disagree that downhill coasting is less efficient that leaving the car in gear; the point is to preserve or increase speed and if the engine is engaged with the throttle closed you are slowing the car down and losing energy from pumping losses. if I can maintain 65 coasting, why not? the amount of fuel used for idling is miniscule, and I have no idea if the injectors in my car shut off or not under negative engine load. I do know that my mpg has gone from 23 to 34!

    I don’t think coasting in neutral (manual trans) is at all risky esp. going downhill on a restricted highway; you still have brakes, and you need to be careful about doing it on surface streets. shutting off the engine while moving? absolutely a bad idea.

  28. Brett Says:

    Exactly what I needed. I heard about hypermiling on Good Morning America and wanted to learn more about how to be a hypermiler. This hit the spot! Also heading over to MPG Meters to purchase one of those gauges too as I have an older car and have no clue what my gas mileage is.

    Thanks!

  29. Justin Says:

    @Brett, you could always calculate by hand what your MPGs are. It’s not hard. Next time you fill your tank reset the trip gauge. Then, the next time you fill up, divide the number of miles on your trip gauge by the number of gallons you filled up with. Reset your trip gauge, repeat.

  30. Cath Says:

    I’ve heard one delivery company plans out trips so they only make turns to the right, so they don’t have to wait for oncoming traffic. Makes sense…

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