Increasing gas mileage by 'hypermiling'

Kai Ryssdal and Rance Russo take hypermiling out for a test drive.

Kai Ryssdal: There was an interesting chart of crude oil prices versus gas prices I saw online this morning. The crude trend is down the past couple weeks. Gas is most definitely not.

So the other day, we invited this guy over to go for a drive.

Rance Russo: I'm Rance Russo. I hypermile.

Hypermiling was quite the thing back a couple of years ago when gas was $4 a gallon. Maximizing your mileage by changing the way you drive. Regular unleaded's still not cheap, so the other day Rance rode shotgun in the Ryssdal family wagon -- a 10-year-old minivan with just over 150,000 miles on it right now -- to see if I've got a future as hypermiler.

Ryssdal: All right, here we go. A little engine goose right there.

Rance Russo: A little bit too much. You always want to be gentle with the accelerator.

Ryssdal: All right here we are, taking a left out onto 2nd Street out of the garage, there's some traffic.

Russo: Nice and easy.

Ryssdal: Nice and easy.

Russo: You're doing well. Now you have a stop light coming up.

Ryssdal: I do, the light's red.

Russo: Take off the gas now.

Ryssdal: That's like a mile away! I mean, come on.

Russo: Watch, though, watch. You're close right up to it.

Ryssdal: This guy in the Corolla behind me is not at all happy.

Russo: The key to all of this is just to minimize the amount of braking that you have to do. If everyone got two miles per gallon --

Ryssdal: All right, wait, you totally missed the dirty look that that guy gave me.

Russo: You know, that's their problem. But I was going to say, I did some calculations last night and I computed that if everyone got two miles per gallon more, every year we would save over 11 billion gallons in fuel. And that's approximate to one month's use of the entire U.S.

Ryssdal: All right, green light.

Russo: Little faster.

Ryssdal: Little faster than that? All right. I'm just trying to be, you know.

Russo: You always want to keep the two on your tachometer. Try to keep the needle below that.

Ryssdal: Now is that as you get going or always?

Russo: As your accelerating.

Ryssdal: All right.

Russo: You're doing well.

Ryssdal: Kind of boring. It's kind of boring. We should probably have a conversation at some point about extreme hypermiling versus common sense hypermiling, right?

Russo: So extreme hypermiling, there's some people out there, they take off-ramps at very high speeds, you know, to maintain momentum. They take turns at very high speeds.

Ryssdal: Highway turns?

Russo: Even normal turns. To keep their momentum up. There's drafting trucks.

Ryssdal: What do you mean?

Russo: You get behind a truck, you get in its slipstream. It increases your miles per gallon a whole bunch. If you get up too close, however, the micromanage on throttle and whatnot will actually make you use more gas.

Ryssdal: Not to mention the whole tailgating thing.

Russo: Right. Which is illegal.

Ryssdal: Yeah. All right, so here is the 2 on-ramp.

Russo: Is this downhill?

Ryssdal: Yeah it is, so my foot's off the gas.

Russo: So build up your speed now.

Ryssdal: Oh, all right.

Russo: Wait for this higher grade right here.

Ryssdal: You're making me tense.

Russo: Get up to highway speed.

Ryssdal: All right. We are now at an uphill. Speed's coming off.

Russo: But don't let it get below where you were at before.

Ryssdal: You're killing me. 'Do this, do that. Don't let it get too fast, don't let it get too slow.' All right. This is hard.

Russo: It's hard. It's very hard. It's a lot easier to do when you're not going up a huge hill like this.

Ryssdal: Also, easier to do when there's some guy not keeping an eye on you in the passenger seat, I'm just saying.

Russo: And another thing, too, we're heavy -- we have people in the car, you know, it's a heavy car.

Ryssdal: This is life, right? I schlep six people around in this car.

Russo: Right, I'm saying so sometimes, you know, you can't do this.

Ryssdal: Now riddle me this: Do you hypermile to save the planet, or do you hypermile to save money?

Russo: I started doing it when prices got really high. Now I want to see what I can do with it. Obviously, it's a little bit annoying at times, I know. But when you have to fill up one less time a month, you know, you start to think, well this might be worth it.

Ryssdal: Mmhmm. So we're on a big fat downhill, it's going to go for another mile. So I'm off the gas, coasting down. This is good. I haven't touched the gas in like 90 seconds and we're still doing 60 miles an hour. Look at that, tachometer's still under two, good deal.

Russo: What you just did right there was perfect technique. That's how you do it.

Ryssdal: There you go, see! Twenty minutes later, I know what I'm doing!

Ryssdal: If you want to hypermile without Rance Russo sitting next to you, here's a how-to guide.

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I tried Hypermiling when I bought my Prius. It is even more fun in a hybrid where the engine sometimes shuts off. Riding a bicycle also demonstrates all these concepts really well. I also think about the old days when cars had only three gears and now the norm is five. For the same size engine, a car with 6 gears will get better mileage than a car with five. Tractor trailers have many more gears (as many as 18) than cars to make moving the large weight more efficient by narrowing the range of speeds the engine has to operate at.

You call it "hypermiling", I call it "Working The Money Pedals". My car has two pedals, an accelerator and a brake pedal. When I press down on either one, it pumps money to Saudia Arabia. The Saudis have enough. I don't. When just started, the engine idle is high anyway, and I go for quite a distance without touching the money pedals. I find the brake is as bad as the accelerator for pumping money, and I do believe we'd all be richer if we kept our feet on the floor instead of pumping the money pedals.

hypermiling in a 2000 Honda Odyssey van is tough so I can sympathize with Ky. We also own a 1994 Honda Civic VX which on a good day on the highway has achieved 50 mpg by just sticking to the 65 mph speed limit. Having the tires inflated to 35psi is effective. The VTec-E engine helps too.

I "hypermile" -- in my Nissan Leaf. I pay 10% extra to buy 100% green zero emissions electricity from my utility. I was paying $200 per month for gasoline from my previous gas car. Now with my Nissan Leaf I pay $20 a month for my gree electricity -- 10X LESS MONEY -- i.e. 10X better "gas mileage" -- on a fuel cost per mile basis -- and my "gas" -- actually green electricity -- causes ZERO emissions anywhere! How do I "hypermile" in my Nissan Leaf? I push the "gas" pedal to go, and I push the brake pedal to stop -- and that's all it takes in a Nissan Leaf to get 10X better "gas" milage!

I just did the rear brakes on my 89 year model car with 341,000 miles--yes they were working ! Conservative driving pays for itself in lower maintenance costs, too. (Did I mention that this was the 'learner' car for two kids and NO, the car never went to a body shop, either)


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