My brother in law tipped me off on an article in the Washington Post on “hypermiling” — driving in ways to vastly improve your mpg. I never heard the term, but I’m definitely a mileage nerd like the folks in the article.
By Joshua Zumbrun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 6, 2006; M05
There was good news and bad news, I learned. The good news: I got a promotion. The bad news: I landed in The Post’s Howard County news bureau — a wonderful spot, but about 35 miles from my front door.
This was last summer. I didn’t own a car, the job started in two weeks, gas prices were climbing, and a 70-mile commute (instead of 10 friendly minutes on the Circulator bus) was looking expensive.
The Insight, Honda’s two-seater hybrid with amazing gas mileage, sounded almost too good to be true. A lot of reports said it was — real drivers don’t get the numbers Honda touts. (The Department of Energy has a useful site explaining why this is at http://www.fueleconomy.gov./ ) The cars were scarce, so I flew to Wisconsin to become the proud owner of a 2001 Honda Insight, with an estimated 57 mpg in the city, 56 on the highway.
That’s where I randomly met Bradlee Fons, an enthusiast of the cars who starts spouting hybrid statistics the moment he introduces himself. He and his son Justin are part of a rare fraternity: hypermilers, people who modify their driving to improve mileage and reduce emissions.
Fons explained that you need to “relearn how to drive” in order to appreciate a hybrid’s benefits. After averaging around 48 mpg on my way home — good, but not what was advertised — I logged onto InsightCentral.net and GreenHybrid.com, two sites Fons had recommended to learn the ins and outs of hypermiling. The sites are full of people obsessed with their mileage gauges, people who log their mileage on each tank of gas, even people who photograph the odometer and post it online to show off particularly successful runs.
Fons also suggested I talk to someone he’s dubbed “America’s greatest hypermiler,” Wayne Gerdes. The nuclear power plant operator in Illinois (”producing electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions,” Gerdes observed) averaged more than 90 mpg for more than a year driving a manual transmission Honda Insight. He was part of a team that drove a Toyota Prius for more than 1,200 miles, in two straight days of driving, on a single tank of gas, an effort that was featured in an HBO Earth Day Special “Too Hot Not to Handle.”
Gerdes says he has always kept records for every vehicle he’s owned. Tired of paying for gas, he started watching the way he drove in his Toyota Corolla, thinking about the physics of driving and experimenting with ways to improve mileage. “I hit 52 mpg in my Corolla and I said, ‘Wow, this is pretty special. I bet there’s more.’ ”
Turns out, there’s a lot more. And the handful of driving tips that I adopted worked wonders. On a recent drive home from work, I checked the odometer as I coasted across the Key Bridge: 82 miles since leaving home that morning, or 75.6 miles per gallon.
From Georgetown to Columbia, and back — on barely a gallon of gas.
Hypermiling is all about making adjustments to maximize your gas mileage, and many techniques work whether you’re driving a hybrid or a Hummer.
“Anybody can be a hypermiler. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Dodge Durango getting 10 mpg today. You can get 15 mpg tomorrow,” says Wayne Gerdes. “It’s going to save fuel. And this country needs that.”
Below are some common hypermiling suggestions — and an expert’s view on whether the technique is smart and safe. We asked auto expert Pat Goss — owner of Goss’ Garage in Seabrook, commentator for PBS’s “Motorweek,” and host of a regular chat on washingtonpost.com — to weigh in on what works.
DRIVE THE SPEED LIMIT
Expert’s take : Goss says that as you go above 38 mph in most cars, you lose mileage. For every 5 mph above 55, he says you can lose as much as 10 percent of your fuel economy. So slowing down can save you gas.
DRIVING WITHOUT BRAKES (or in hypermiling lingo, “d.w.b.”) is all about coasting. Congestion is constant in Washington, and accelerating from zero to 20, then back to zero, is inefficient. Instead, if the car in front of you is speeding up, maintain a steady speed and let it get ahead of you, when traffic starts to slow back down you’ll catch up.
Expert’s take: Do it when possible — but be careful. “You’re probably going to have some highly ticked off people if you do it on the Beltway,” Goss warns.
TURN OFF YOUR CAR AND COAST , aka the “forced-auto stop.” In hybrids, the internal combustion engine shuts off at stops to conserve fuel; the electric batteries keep the car running. To save even more fuel when decelerating, some hypermilers — including Gerdes — shift to neutral and turn off the engine while coasting to a stop.
Expert’s take: “Highly dangerous. You don’t have your car under control,” says Goss. (In other words, not all hypermiling techniques are good ones.)
OPTIMIZE YOUR ROUTE : Avoid big hills or stop-and-go traffic. Test different routes to see which is the smoothest ride. Sometimes, a longer route with better driving conditions uses less gas.
Expert’s take: “Basic driving techniques. I teach this the first day,” Goss says.
WATCH YOUR TIRE PRESSURE . It takes a lot of extra energy to move even slightly flat tires. Some hypermilers recommend over-inflating tires.
Expert’s take: Goss says this works but is very risky. “When you over-inflate a tire, you can compromise its traction and . . . make the tire wear out more rapidly,” he says, adding that it could be “very negligent to recommend that someone do that.”
STAY ON TOP OF OIL CHANGES , and use thinner oil.
Expert’s take: “It can have a significant effect on fuel economy, especially as the oil ages,” Goss says. “The viscosity of engine oil is always increasing. . . . The thicker the oil is the harder it is to push through the engine.”
And also this.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 7, 2006; 12:00 PM
When Josh Zumbrun landed a job in The Post’s Howard County News Bureau he took on a 35-mile commute from his home in Georgetown. He purchased a hybrid vehicle, but didn’t get the mileage the manufacturer touted until he learned about hypermiling — techniques designed for any car to improve its gas mileage and reduce emissions.
In his Honda, Josh went from getting 48 miles per gallon to 75.6 miles per gallon after he started hypermiling.
How To: Increase Your Gas Mileage ( Post, Aug. 6 )
Zumbrun was online Monday, Aug. 7, at Noon ET to recount his experiences and share hypermiling tips.
A transcript follows.
Josh Zumbrun: Alright, let’s get started.
I’m excited to be online where we can flesh this out a little bit more. Questions about hypermilers, about techniques that might work for you, about hybrids, oil, or just general life advice — I’m all ears.
People get into this for a lot of reasons: to save money, to help the environment, boredom with their commute or a gut-wrenching aversion to gas stations caused by spending the worst summer of one’s life working at one.
Welcome to the wild world of hypermiling. Let’s start with a question about safety.
Washington, D.C.: The expert questioned alongside your hypermiling tips seems to think some of them are pretty dangerous. Have you ever been in an accident, or come close, while ‘hypermiling’? While I’m sure you’re an excellent motorist, do you really think it’s a good idea to encourage the idiot drivers of the world to coast and not use brakes?
Josh Zumbrun: That’s the whole reason we talked to the expert — to remind people that this can be dangerous. DISCLAIMER: In case you only skimmed the article: don’t try these techniques for the first time on I-95 at 85 miles per hour with a baby in the passenger seat.
If you’re serious about changing the way you drive, start with something simple. Not driving faster than you need to, maybe. Then get in the habit of slowing down a bit when you go up hills and accelerating on the way down, when gravity is your friend. Change your oil, if you’ve never done it. See if you’re already seeing some savings (if you’re driving as far as I do every morning you will be), then decide if you want to try for more.
Odenton, Md.: I’ve gotten into the habit of putting the car in neutral and coasting whenever possible. Will this result in a significant improvement in gas mileage?
Josh Zumbrun: Probably. Depends how often you do it, When your car is in neutral, the engine is just softly purring, right? Generally the lower your RPM’s, the less gas you’re guzzling. Again with the disclaimer… be careful and know your car before you try this. Don’t throw the car in neutral on a highway, and then put the car back in first gear at 45 miles per hour. And if you’re thinking “huh? what’s first gear?” then don’t even try it.
Washington, D.C. : You mentioned thinner gas is better. What kind of gas is thinner?
Josh Zumbrun: Uh… I think I mentioned thinner oil is better. You do know about the oil for your engine, right? It’s in the plastic containers marked Pennzoil or Valvoline next to the Hostess Cupcakes but before you get to the Slim Jims.
Sparks, Nev.: Is there a difference in mileage for a hybrid because of battery efficiency between hot weather and cold winter weather?
Josh Zumbrun: There’s a pretty big difference in all cars in different temperatures. I don’t know whether it’s more pronounced in hybrids than in other cars. All cars get worse mileage in the winter. That’s just a fact of life.
For me, I was barely able to stay above 60 miles per gallon in the winter. Now that it’s blazing summer, I’m able to get back to the 70s.
Fort Wayne, Ind.: I am curious about how long the batteries in hybrids will last. And since I have a son who owns a hybrid, are there possible electrical dangers, or dangers with the batteries in accidents?
Josh Zumbrun: When they first made hybrids this was a big concern everybody had. So they offered ridiculously long warranties — 10 years I believe, on the batteries. I don’t have to worry about it until well after 2010.
If you’re buying a used car, this is something to be mindful of — does it come with that warranty.
Boise, Idaho: Have you considered bicycling? It’s only 70 miles a day, round trip. And the mileage is pretty good, too.
Josh Zumbrun: Of course, if you can, bicycles get remarkable miles per gallon — but they’re not practical for everyone.
Portsmouth, N.H.: Any special tips for hypermiling in a Prius?
Josh Zumbrun: There’s a technique called the “pulse-and-glide” that’s specifically used to increase mileage on a Prius. This is one of the techniques Wayne Gerdes and his team used when they were able to average over 100 miles per gallon for an entire tank of gas. Check out his site.
Sterling, Va.: I drive a Prius, and there’s something to be said for parts of this. Our last tank average was 49 mpg (my wife doesn’t like “driving the car like a video game), and my normal average on my drive to work is 53 (I come over the mountains on Rt. 9), and the best I’ve ever done was 56. I’m already fairly conscious of how much pressure I’m using on the gas pedal, so these numbers are pretty good.
This morning I decided to focus even more on the mileage. I allowed the car to decelerate going uphill. I kept to the speed limit (unless coasting downhill). What I didn’t do was bump the pressure up in the tires (didn’t have time), as the dealer just set it at 32 and I want it at 40 (which is still safe for this car and tires). My average for the drive in today was 64.6 mpg. This is far better than I’ve ever done, and better than the “unattainable” EPA city average for the Prius of 60.
It’s really just a change in your focus when driving. Instead of “getting where you’re going as fast as possible”, it’s “getting where you’re going on as little gas as possible”. There are side benefits as well, such as no stress from lane changing and jockeying for position. I would add to the hypermiling suggestions that you leave five minutes earlier for wherever you’re going.
Josh Zumbrun: Here’s a success story. It’s really not that hard or dangerous. And really, you’ve only got Elliot in the Morning to keep you company on that early commute — it gives you a lot of time to experiment in the afternoon.
It’s all about the mind set. I find that even though I’m driving slower it doesn’t really take me any longer to get places.
Fairfax, Va.: I have one year of college left, and plan to get a car after I graduate. If I spend the money for a hybrid car, would I save enough money in the long run to make it worthwhile? My number one concern is the environment, but also as a poor college student, I have to be careful with the money. Any other suggestions for college students making their first car purchase would be great!
Josh Zumbrun: Alright, it’s math time!
Check this out: I drive about 500 miles a week or about 25,000 miles a year. Now, let’s assume that for the last year we’ve had an average of $3 per gallon gas.
At 75 miles per gallon, the best I can get, that’s 333 gallons of gas this year. At $3 per gallon, that’s $1,000.
At 60 miles per gallon, which you can easily get with a hybrid and a few of these techniques, 420 gallons of gas or $1,250.
At 40 miles per gallon, what you could possibly get in a typical sedan, 625 gallons of gas, $1,875.
But once you start talking about the way most people drive, it adds up faster.
At 25 miles per gallon, 1000 gallons of gas, $3,000.
At 20 miles per gallon, you’ll end up paying $3,750.
If I were at 10 miles per gallon in my squirrel-squashing, deer-smacking Canyonero SUV — $7,500 a year in gas. And some drivers get even worse mileage than that.
So it depends how much you drive, mostly. And how much you’ve got to spend. Nothing is going to be cheaper than that 1988 grey Ford Escort you inherit from your great-grandma.
Oakton, Va.: Does the Octane of gasoline make any difference in Hypermiling?
Josh Zumbrun: I’m pretty sure most hybrids use regular unleaded. I’ve never heard anyone suggest using something else. You’re definitely not going to save money putting premium fuel in a car that doesn’t need it.
Josh Zumbrun: Josh Zumbrun… sheesh
Alexandria, Va., to Reston and back: In your article, you recommend using thinner oils and changing the oil more frequently. For those of us who are “engineering-challenged,” what grade of oil is “thin” for the D.C. climate?
Josh Zumbrun: This is different for every car. My car uses a 0W20 oil that’s super thin already. If you trust your mechanic, ask him. Otherwise don’t worry about it — get your oil changed when you’re supposed to and I bet you’ll be doing better than most people.
Washington, D.C.: Why are people still not buying these cars?
Josh Zumbrun: Are you talking about hybrids? Or the Insight specifically? The Insight was never intended to sell hundreds of thousands. It’s a two-seater with a small trunk that weighs about 800 pounds. It’s not very practical for anybody with kids. It’s not very practical for people who use big cars to compensate for other inadequacies, I guess.
But Hybrids are selling like hot cakes. You can’t drive three blocks in DC without seeing a dozen Priuses.
Boston, Mass. I’ve religiously been keeping track of my mileage for just over a year on GreenHybrid . In that time my car has averaged 35 MPG. It’s a 2.0 liter gasoline Jetta, EPA rated at 24/31. Pretty good considering that I drive two hours daily, often in heavy rush hour traffic.
The toughest obstacle, and the best way to increase your efficiency is to drive the speed limit. But, if you only drive 45-55 in the slow lane, you are a nuisance and dangerous to traffic. I begrudgingly drive 60. At that speed you’re still annoying to most drivers, but not so much that you pose a safety risk.
The more people who slow down, the easier (and safer) it will be to drive for optimum efficiency. Until then, I certainly hope that people who are concerned with high mileage don’t prioritize that over public safety. It’s just not worth it!
Josh Zumbrun: You have to find a balance. It can be really dangerous to drive slower than everybody else on the road. You know, I actually found that if I left work at about 6:00, hit the outer loop of the Beltway at about 6:25, that my section of the loop was going at about 55 mph until I got to the 270 spur. That’s highly specific advice, and pretty lame to make note of — but if you have flexibility on when you come in and leave work, you might be able to find that optimum time where you can get significantly better mileage.
Rockville, Md.: I am disappointed to find that the mpg on the MFD is usually higher than the actual computation with gallons used for miles covered, the old way. Any comment? Prius 2004
Josh Zumbrun: This might be for two reasons: 1) when you fill up, you probably don’t fill up all the way to the very tip top exact same level every time. 2) you don’t always use your gas all the way down to the same level at the bottom of the tank.
I don’t think Toyota is trying to perpetrate any sort of fraud here.
Washington, D.C.: Do you notice a difference in mileage per gallon depending on the number of people in your car (i.e., more weight)?
Josh Zumbrun: My car is a two-seater, and as it so happens, I only give rides to slender, beautiful ladies. If I got caught checking the mileage to see if the weight of my passengers were wrecking it…
Seriously, I’ve never noticed. If you’re not a blacksmith it’s probably not a great idea to drive around with anvils. But if an extra passenger decreases your mileage a little bit it’s still a lot less gas than if they drove themselves. Don’t avoid car-pooling if it lowers your MPG by .8!
Josh Zumbrun: actually, I got an e-mail from a reader, Edward Pita, from Houston, TX who mentioned weight in the car as a factor for him. This was his advice:
1. Change oil/filter - thin oil 5-20 every 2000 miles.
2. Change air filter every 10,000 miles.
3. Change transmission fluid/filter every 15,000 miles.
4. Change fuel filter every 10,000 miles.
5. Over inflate tires 2-4 pounds over recommended. Will not hurt tires. Balance and rotate tires every 4,000 miles.
6. Agreed - coast.
7. Keep windows closed, use AC.
8. Use cruise control whenever in highway.
9. Wash car often - reduce drag.
10. Keep radiator clean of debris and change coolant at 30,000 mph - keep engine clean.
11. Change PCV valve every 20,000 miles and spark plugs even platinum every 30,000 miles max for constant good spark.
12. Don’t carry in car anything you don’t use daily.
I do everything myself so it is cheap. Like a Focus we have (2) we got 38-40 mpg on a trip to Utah from Houston at 70 mph all the way.
Josh Zumbrun: And your car’s owner manual gives you guidelines on how often to make all these changes. It’s not exactly the same for every car.
Omaha, Neb.: Will hybrid cars also run on grain alcohol? I hear it’s just as efficient.
Josh Zumbrun: They’re not designed to run on grain alcohol yet. The car probably won’t explode if you put it in there.
I’ve heard that grain alcohol will actually give you slightly lower mileage, but, obviously, it’s a renewable resource, so it’s not as much of a concern.
Fellow gas saver:
Although I applaud your desire and overall techniques to reduce gas consumption (I have always coasted — my grandfather, who was a traveling salesman, taught me that method to save gas and wear and tear on the car), unfortunately, these methods risk safety on our over congested roads and selfish drivers who will slot into every little nook and cranny at 60 mph to gain a car length. Do you think these methods risk the safety of all the other drivers on the road, plus yourself?
As an example of how our highway driving is not apt to hypermiling, with my car, I had my first set of brakes last over 60k miles (living and driving mostly in the District and to and from Tyson’s, rarely on the Beltway, plus I occasionally race my car at Summit Point). After getting married and moving to Gaithersburg, driving on 270 and 495 every day, the same car, same type of brakes lasted about 20k, as have the last 3 sets I’ve had (so it’s not an anomaly). I wish I could drive more economically, but you’d get shot on 270 if you coasted at 38 mph when traffic was actually moving. And, if there were any decent (not single lane no shoulder roads) alternatives, I would take them.
Josh Zumbrun: Not everybody has a commute where you can really do much to improve your mileage. If you think the techniques you’re doing are putting you at risk or making you a danger to other drivers, then back off. Generally, I think hypermilers are safer drivers, just because they are much more deliberate drivers.
Ames, Iowa: First of all, I love all your articles. They are always thought-provoking and interesting. However, wondering why you are obviously anti-SUV. The deer-splatting comment made earlier was disturbing, but perhaps you were just making an attempt at humor. Do you really believe that people like me that drive SUV’s (Dodge Durango) are evil?
Josh Zumbrun: No, no, no. I’m terrified of deer and actually jealous of people who don’t have to be scared of them every time they cruise down Rock Creek Park.
A lot of people need SUVs and Pick-ups for their jobs or for their kids, etc. But, there’s also a lot of people who don’t.
I see a lot of people cruising solo at 80 miles per hour in big ol’ SUVs and it doesn’t look like they are on their way to Home Depot. If you want to do that, great. But don’t complain about how gas is hurting you so bad at the same time.
Columbus, Ohio: I have a Prius, and I’ve obtained remarkable mileage so far, but my commute makes it dangerous to go 45 MPH. In fact, I’ve been pulled over by a cop and ticketed for being a road hazard by going that slow on the highway. What’s the answer to get around it? Travel 20 miles extra by going side roads instead of interstate?
Josh Zumbrun: Sometimes a longer route can improve your mileage so much that it’s actually saving gas. But generally, you’ll use more gas if you’re driving 20 extra miles — so it’s not really doing your pocketbook or the planet any favors — then you’re just driving for the ego-boost you get from the high-mileage.
I’d say don’t worry about it. Drive a safe (and legal!!) speed on whatever commute you’ve got.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada: I am a hypermiler and I didn’t even know it! I always lay off the gas when I see a red light ahead, and sometimes that gets other drivers mad, even though we end up waiting at the red light together. Do any of your hypermiler connections have warning bumper stickers? Oh, by the way, the bottled fuel injector cleaners work wonders for increasing gas consumption in my 92 Maxima.
Josh Zumbrun: I always get those bottled-fuel injectors as stocking stuffers. Those are great.
Yeah, it’s really amazing how important it is for some people to race to a red light. It also wreaks havoc on your tires to break way more often and way harder than you need to.
Gaithersburg, Md.: I have a question regarding the “slow down to save gas” idea. I drive a manual transmission, so at 55 mph I’m at 2500 rpm in 5th gear and just over 3000 rpm in 4th gear. I suppose basically it’s the same rpm’s for me to drive 55 in 4th gear as it is to drive 70 in 5th.
So my question is, for manual transmissions, is there (rather than an ideal speed) an ideal rpm level to optimize gas mileage? Thanks!
Josh Zumbrun: This is a really important point for drivers with manual transmissions. Your car will have a peak efficiency in each gear. But it’s different for every car.
This is actually true for automatic transmissions as well, but in an automatic you don’t have much control over what gear you’re in.
If you have a car that displays instantaneous gas mileage you can learn pretty quickly through trial and error where those peak speeds are. When I spoke to Pat Goss he mentioned installing a vacuum gauge to monitor how much gas you are using. Not a bad idea if you’ve got the know-how, but if you need a mechanic to do it and it ends up costing a couple hundred bucks… it’s going to take you a long time to save that money… watching your RPM’s, keeping them lower, that’ll give you enough of a guide.
Greenbelt, Md.: Hi, I read the article in Sunday’s paper and one of the things mentioned was to shift to neutral and turn off the engine when coasting to a stop. I do turn off the engine at lights when I am going to be stopped for at least 10 seconds or more. But I have found that when you turn off the engine, sometimes your brakes don’t function like they should. I have observed that when I have turned off the engine at a light and when it is downhill, I just let go of the brake to move a few feet and sometimes the brake doesn’t work! So, how can one coast with the engine turned off? What if I need to brake?
Thanks for a useful article. I drive a 10-year-old Honda Civic, half on the beltway and half on the back roads. I drive at 55 mph on the Beltway. During the summer months, I get anywhere between 37 and 40 mpg.
Josh Zumbrun: Aiiieeee! Don’t put your car in neutral if your brakes don’t always work when you do it! Heavens to Bessie. I’m so worried that people are going to go die because of this article.
Burbank, Calif.: First off, don’t you think you disrespect a car by hypermiling? I mean, cars are made to have their engines revved and to race. I’m just not sure about this hypermiling business. Second, give me 5 reasons why you think hybrids are better than regular old cars.
Josh Zumbrun: Yeah, I see what you’re saying, Ricky Bobby.
Seriously, I don’t mean this to come across as some sort of moralizing thing. Some people are really taking a hit in the pocketbooks at the gas station. Other people are, you know, patent attorneys who can afford it. And just today, barrels are hitting record highs.
But you gotta consider that maybe you’re disrespecting me and disrespecting the planet when you drive your car ridiculously fast.
Washington, D.C.: Does the small size of your car make it difficult to pick up girls?
Josh Zumbrun: Does anyone still cruise around in their cars trying to pick up women? Man, that’d be so fun. Next Saturday, I’m just going to cruise up and down Wisconsin Avenue, “hey there, lady, you wanna ride in my high-mileage machine?”
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Is there a point (mileage-wise) where it just doesn’t make sense to drive any more, even with these techniques? It seems to me like 35 miles is about pushing the limit. I’m not asking about anyone’s sanity during the commute, of course (knowing D.C. drivers), just about the math. How far away can you get before hypermiling isn’t worth it?
Josh Zumbrun: No, the longer you drive the more money you save with these techniques.
I mean, if you commute to Washington, DC, from Philadelphia every day you’re using a lot of gas. If you can move closer to work that’s better — but not a lot of people have that sort of flexibility.
Alexandria, Va.: When will hybrids come with rooftop solar panels to help feed the battery? I’d buy one today if I could find one.
Josh Zumbrun: Beats me… nobody knows what the next generation of more fuel-efficient cars is going to be. A lot of people talk about plug-in hybrids that will have big hybrid batteries that you just charge at a jack in your garage, and might get 100+ MPG. We’ll see. That seems a lot more practical to me than a car with rooftop solar panels. The roof of a car isn’t really big enough to generate much power.
Juneau, Alaska: Thanks for your information. Wondering if your driving tactics change while driving at night, or specifically, after dark? As you probably realize, it is rather dark up here for part of the year, so wondering if the electrical functions of my 1996 Chrysler would be hampered by shutting off the car while coasting?
Josh Zumbrun: They might be. I can’t speak to your Chrysler specifically. Try it once on a road you know is empty. If you key off and the headlights go off too… never try it again.
Rockville, Md: Re: Bicycling
If the bottom line is saving money, you need to consider that bicycling (or for that matter, walking or running) also requires the ‘combustion’ (i.e., metabolism) of organic materials (i.e., food). It’s an easy calculation to demonstrate that per mile you will need to spend more on food then you would on gasoline.
Josh Zumbrun: Well, yes, but food is generally considered to be more renewable than oil, right?
But let’s not get carried away. I’m not telling people to change their entire lives. If you have a longer commute and are looking to save some money, try some of this stuff out maybe
Gaithersburg, Md.: Did I just miss the obvious way to raise gas mileage? It’s been a cardinal rule for generations that a car with a standard transmission will always get better mph than an identical car with an automatic. Use the engine to slow the car by downshifting, in other words. A standard also gives the driver a better feel for the road in my experience, and thus a better feel for when to give it the gas. Plus, it’s just more fun to drive a standard.
Josh Zumbrun: Standard transmissions get better mileage than automatics in almost all circumstances. But not everybody is good enough at driving to use a manual. And some rare people have legitimate reasons that they need an automatic.
Anonymous: One oft-neglected tool in the MPG arsenal is the motorcycle. I routinely get over 50 MPG on mine without even thinking about it. It’s a great way to commute, especially with the options for protective over-clothes. Add a set of saddlebags and you would be surprised how much you can carry. And MUCH more fun than driving a Prius.
Josh Zumbrun: Yeah, motorcycles get great mileage. But they’re not a realistic option for many people. I wonder if anybody has ever tried all these hypermiling techniques on a motorcycle.
Portland, Ore.: I appreciated your story yesterday but was curious why you didn’t mention VW TDI vehicles. These vehicles, in my opinion, are a step better then hybrids in that they get better MPG (I average between 750-800 miles per tank) and since I’m running B 99 bio diesel, without needing to do any conversion, I am actually producing less emissions then a regular gasoline engine, while supporting a domestic, renewable fuel. While hybrids are quieter you are getting less MPG and still supporting foreign fuel interests.
Just a thought to consider but again kudos in shedding light on this important topic!
Josh Zumbrun: Bio diesel is great. But it was sort of a short story — it didn’t cover everything. The great thing about hypermiling is you can do it in any sort of car!
The only car I mentioned was my Insight — because it’s what I happen to drive!
Josh Zumbrun: And the Dodge Durango, that I unfairly disparaged.
Centreville, Va.: I don’t see any reason to recommend a hybrid to the student looking to save money. If they average 10,000 miles a year the numbers just don’t work out. Even at higher miles per year a good small sedan driven properly using many of the tips in your article will get you decent enough gas mileage. I have heard the hybrid technology bumps of the price by about $10,000 which can take up to 10 years of driving to break even if ever! I don’t believe this includes the additional maintenance costs for having all the additional gear. It is hard to calculate what those will be at around the five year mark since the technology is so new.
Josh Zumbrun: It depends how you’re paying for the car. Are you plopping down cash or taking out an auto loan over the years?
Back to the math.
Look at how much gas costs at 60 mpg, that’s your average hybrid owner doing some mild gas-saving techniques: $1,250. At 25 mpg, it’s $3,000. Now, let’s say that you’re a person that has $8,000 a year to spend on your car. And about $2,000 of that goes into maintenance, insurance, oil changes.
Then you’ve got $6,000 left. Go with the hybrid, after $1,250 of gas you’ll have $4,750 a year to spend on car payments - about enough money to buy a hybrid on a 5 or 6 year loan. Go with the 25 mpg machine and you’ve got $3,000 to spend on car payments.
But be honest, is anyone who buys a new car trying to save money as their first objective?
When people buy a new car, they’re not just considering its features, they are considering its style: the statement it makes, will your friends think it’s cool, what will all the pretty girls think of the car, etc.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: Hopefully the U.S. will wake up to the fact that they cannot continue to gluttonously ravage the world oil reserves on the basis of the “I have the money so I’ll spend it how I wish”. It is the rest of the World that has to try to survive in the fumes of the exhausts from oversized and under-used SUVs that just “Look Good.”
Josh Zumbrun: There was an amazing story in the Chicago Tribune this past weekend about the effect of the US gas appetite on the countries that produce the gas. Can we link to that?
A Tank of Gas, A World of Trouble
(Okay, it’s really long. And after you read it, come back to washingtonpost.com and click on a bunch of our advertisements and read our great reporters.)
Hillsborough, N.C.: I ask about cruise control because some sites say use it on flat terrain and other sites say use it, period. Interstates in North Carolina (except for the flat coastal plain) are rolling hills. Is cruise control still efficient on such roads?
Josh Zumbrun: Most hypermilers can always beat their cruise control. For many drivers, cruise control helps them avoid going too fast. It’s okay, but not great for hills. It prevents you from over-accelerating on hills. You see lots of drivers who hit a hill and speed up by about 10 mph to get the hill over quickly, I guess. That’s the opposite of what you want to do. It’s better than that.
But I doubt many commuters have much open road to cruise control on.
Winter vs. Summer MPG: I’ve always noticed that my gas mileage goes down in the summer. The density of the air is lower (less oxygen to burn), the summer-blend fuels, and the power-robbing A/C all take their tolls. My current car gets about 10-15 percent worse mileage in the summer with no change in driving technique.
Josh Zumbrun: Wow, I’ve noticed the exact opposite. I’ve noticed that my air-conditioning has very little effect on my cars mileage. I get about 10 mpg better in summer.
I guess this just goes to show how different cars are.
washingtonpost.com: A Tank of Gas, A World of Trouble ( Chicago Tribune )
Anonymous: This is off topic, but do you have an opinion on the future of bio diesel?
Josh Zumbrun: We’re getting to the end here, I can afford to go a bit off topic.
Annandale, Va.: Car manufacturers routinely blame drivers for the poor gas mileage, for not doing many of the things you espouse. What do you think the chances are the all cars will someday have a gauge that shows the current mpg so drivers can adjust their driving/car maintenance to get the most out of each gallon?
Josh Zumbrun: Many newer cars already have these gauges installed. I think these will become more and more standard. I believe all hybrids have these gauges.
We’re running out of time, I think I’ll take only a couple more questions.
Rockville, Md.: How does the other traffic react to your drifting actions. Don’t they get annoyed at your slower pace?
Josh Zumbrun: No, because I’m not obnoxious about it. I don’t drive much slower than anybody else. A lot of times I’ll just get behind semis — which are often a little slower. They help reduce drag a little bit too. Just don’t follow too closely.
“Food” vs. Oil: I think what Rockville meant was something like this: currently, the resources (water, fuel, etc.) you put into farming and transportation to produce a gallon of ethanol outweighs the savings. Plus, even if agricultural fuels are renewable, they still produce CO 2 - even more so if the above is true. Bottom line, ethanol is not at present as environmental as it’s held out to be.
Josh Zumbrun: The jury is still out on these alternative types of fuels.
But I think the bottom line is that, either way, ethanol is way more renewable. I don’t think anyone is debating that. And if the infrastructure was there, presumably those other costs would start to come down.
For now, the industry is still subsidized.
Paris, France: Is coasting difficult? It seems dangerous and complicated. Perhaps the author could explain the procedure to me over a romantic candle-light dinner.
Josh Zumbrun: Alright! This is the question I was waiting for. Enough of this chat business. E-mail me at email@example.com.
Josh Zumbrun: Thanks for your time, everybody. Check out the Web sites I recommended, if you’re looking to learn more. Keep it real. Drive safe.
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