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Hypermiling to boost a car's fuel economy

Anybody can get improved fuel economy
Anybody can get improved fuel economy

Ever wish you could get more than just the average miles per gallon out of your car? Hypermiling, or eco-driving, can boost the average driver's miles per gallon by up to 20 percent, says Darin Cosgrove, co-founder of EcoModder.com, a site dedicated to economical driving and vehicle modifications. "Simply, hypermiling is the use of fuel-efficient driving techniques to beat a vehicle's fuel economy ratings," he says.

This isn't a new idea. Cosgrove says it's been around for decades, but when gas prices spike, so does interest in hypermiling.

Eco-driving can be beneficial even if you own a hybrid or electric car. "If you want to reduce your fuel consumption, the main techniques apply to all vehicles," Cosgrove says.

John O'Dell, senior editor of the car website Edmunds.com, says any driver can pluck a number of good ideas out of the hypermiler's handbook and apply them to his or her own driving style for improved fuel economy.

Keep this in mind: Some hypermiling techniques may be dangerous or affect drivability or handling. Make safety your first priority. Here are the basics you'll need to know.

Change your driving habits
Change your driving habits

Changing your driving behavior is first on the list for better fuel economy. "Short of getting a more fuel-efficient vehicle, adjusting the nut behind the wheel is the easiest thing a person can do to save fuel," Cosgrove says.

"One fuel-saving technique that yields the biggest savings is also one of the easiest. Ease up on the gas pedal, and slow down on the highway," Cosgrove says. He advises that gas mileage falls quickly at speeds of more than 50 miles per hour, and drivers can save 10 percent to 15 percent on fuel costs just by driving the speed limit.

Be conscious of your brake usage as well. "Your goal should be to brake as little and lightly as possible in any type of vehicle," Cosgrove says. "Each time you press the brake, you effectively convert fuel into brake dust."

If you have to idle, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests turning off the car because idling burns more gas than restarting the engine.

According to EcoModder's 100-plus hypermiling tips, simple things such as using roads where there is less traffic and altering your route to avoid hills can help. If you can't avoid hills, a smooth and steady throttle is ideal for saving fuel, Cosgrove says.

Learn eco-driving advanced techniques
Learn eco-driving advanced techniques

Some hypermilers use advanced techniques that require a good understanding of the vehicle and regional highway laws, Cosgrove says. For example, shifting into neutral and coasting can sometimes save more fuel than just letting your foot off the gas pedal, but it's illegal in some jurisdictions, so check before trying it.

Engine-off coasting in nonhybrid cars is an advanced technique that can be dangerous. If performed wrong, it will cause the steering to lock. With this technique, advanced eco-drivers accomplish higher gas mileage by coasting with the engine off.

According to O'Dell, the start-stop systems in hybrid and electric cars automatically do this. He says even nonhybrids are starting to include stock microhybrid technology start-stop systems that mimic this behavior.

"Pulse and glide" is another method. Eco-drivers increase speed to a certain mph, known as the pulse. Then, they shift to neutral and release the accelerator to let the speed fall to another set mph and coast, known as the glide. The process is then repeated.

Timing your driving between stoplights is one way to avoid stopping at red lights.

And don't be afraid to use your muscles. According to EcoModder.com, pushing your car a short distance -- such as out of the garage -- can save you some fuel.

Give your vehicle some love
Give your vehicle some love

The best hypermilers take care of their cars. A well-tuned engine is much more efficient, O'Dell says. You should at least follow the manufacturer's maintenance schedule, keeping the vehicle and all of its parts in optimal condition.

As for oil, O'Dell says using the best synthetic motor oil with the lowest possible viscosity will help with your fuel economy if your car has an internal combustion engine.

According to the EPA, proper tire inflation also plays a big part in fuel efficiency. The EPA says keeping tires inflated to the vehicle's recommended pressure can improve gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent.

Some hypermilers inflate their tires to the maximum capacity in order to get the lowest possible resistance, O'Dell says. But he warns that despite the boost in fuel economy, this can be dangerous. Instead, he says to check out low rolling-resistance tires, which are safer and minimize wasted energy.

When it comes to gas type, Cosgrove points out there is a small chance some high-performance engines may get better fuel economy with premium gas, but the added cost may cancel out savings.

Improve your car's aerodynamics
Improve your car's aerodynamics

Improving the aerodynamics of a car seems to be an eco-driver's secret weapon. "At moderate to high speeds, more fuel is burned on overcoming aero drag than on any other factor," Cosgrove says. That's why keeping speed down on the highway can save so much fuel.

O'Dell agrees. Anything that can catch air increases the drag on your car. "You want to avoid wind resistance," he says.

Aside from modifying your vehicle for higher mpg, Cosgrove points out a few easy fixes. Removing roof racks and avoiding wider-than-stock wheels and tires can improve aerodynamics. Smooth wheel covers and hubcaps also improve fuel economy.

Partially blocking the grille of your vehicle also can help make your car aero-friendly. More cars are coming factory-equipped with automatic grille shutters to send excess airflow around the car and reduce drag, Cosgrove says. There are ways to do this manually, but he warns that you'll need to monitor the engine temperature.

O'Dell says that cleaning the outside of your car and fixing dents or imperfections also can boost your mpg. "Keep the car as close to showroom-new as you can," he says.

Track your progress
Track your progress

If you really want to use hypermiling effectively, you'll need to keep track. "Anyone serious about saving fuel keeps a fuel log, whether manually or online," Cosgrove says. You can do this manually by saving fuel receipts and marking the distance traveled on each one. Some online programs will do that for you. There are even mileage-tracking apps for smartphones.

Real-time feedback is invaluable. O'Dell says newer cars, especially hybrids and electric cars, come with gas gauges that give you instant feedback on your fuel consumption. If your vehicle is lacking a modern fuel gauge, don't worry. There are plenty on the market. One popular gauge will run you about $160.

Cosgrove points out that many fuel gauges offer additional features that show more information about the car, such as engine load and throttle position, to fine-tune your driving techniques.

Make it a game and a challenge to improve your gas mileage on every trip, Cosgrove says. "You can't manage what you don't measure, so keep a fuel log of all your fill-ups, and use a fuel economy gauge to challenge yourself to keep improving your previous high score on regular trips and commutes."

 

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