Getting more mileage is an art form

Marketplace Staff Apr 27, 2007

Getting more mileage is an art form

Marketplace Staff Apr 27, 2007

This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media. I’m Tess Vigeland.

Conventional wisdom says we’ll soon hit four bucks a gallon for gas.
Conventional wisdom has said that before, and been wrong. But even if we do cross that barrier, what are the odds we’ll change our collective habits?

Maybe we’ll buy more hybrid cars. Maybe we’ll carpool a little more.
But here’s another gas-saving idea that, frankly, I’d never heard of: Become a hypermiler.

From the Marketplace Sustainability desk, Francesca Segre tells us it works — even if you end up a little hyper yourself.

FRANCESCA SEGRE: Wayne Gerdes makes a point of driving exactly the posted speed limit — or slower.

[SOUND: Horns honking]

SEGRE: How often do you get the middle finger?

WAYNE GERDES: Oh, maybe once every three days.

But Gerdes isn’t just slow, he’s deliberate. And he’s the best hypermiler in the world.

Hypermiling? What’s that you ask? It’s the art of getting the most mileage out of every drop of gas in your tank.

Gerdes never uses airconditioning, he takes alternative routes to avoid red lights — stepping on the brakes just wastes gas in his estimation — and he’s known to tailgait 18-wheelers and let them pull him along.

We just had a semi-pullaround, and I’m just using a little bit of his draft with my motor off as he’s slowly backing away. I’m gonna move into the right lane, I’m gonna go into a ridge ride so I don’t impede anybody. And we’re going to get the maximum distance we can with the engine off in neutral, before we have to pulse up.

Pulse up is his word for stepping on the gas, something else he tries to avoid.

Seems like an awful lot of trouble to save a little fuel. But Gerdes saves more than a little.

He says he’s managed to get 59 miles-per-gallon out of his regular 2005 Honda Accord. Honda itself expects the Accord to get about 34 miles-per-gallon at best.

Put Gerdes in a Prius, and he once recorded 127 miles-per-gallon.

He squeezed 200 miles-per-gallon out of a Honda Insight hybrid.

Gerdes says most American drive 15,000 miles per year – and that’s some significant wear-and-tear on the pocketbook.

SEGRE: Well the average driver, driving the average amount of miles, spends about $2,000 a year. And I think that with some of the basic techniques, they can increase that by almost 50 percent. So they’ll be saving about $50 a month.

Gerdes uses a fuel consumption display. That’s a gadget he bought for 150 bucks. It’s attached to his dash board to monitor his gas usage.

He takes pictures of this fuel consumption display and posts those shots online to and other hypermiling websites. There, hundreds of other hypermiling enthusiasts brag about their fuel efficiency and swap ideas about improving technique.

But Gerdes hasn’t always been a slow-poke. He used to drive 75 miles per hour in the far left lane.

Well, it had to do with when the World Trade Centers came down. That woke me up, and I’m surprised it didn’t wake more of the people that were driving with today up. There is a direct correlation between our addiction to oil in the US and the world trade centers coming down through Osama Bin Laden and his group of Al-Qaeda. 19 seconds.

America imports about 60 percent of its oil, and Gerdes didn’t want to use any more gas than absolutely necessary. And he became more focused on reducing emissions, as he learned more about global warming.

But then how exactly can he justify his two-hour commute to work?

GERDES: Unfortunately I worked at nuclear plant that closed down, and I was offered another position that was 90 miles away. And my wife didn’t want to move, so that forced me into driving a crazy amount of distance, unfortunately. I guess you could call me a hypocrite because I do burn a lot of gas, but I’m doing what I can to save and I’m trying teach others and reduce their carbon footprint.

Gerdes’s wife, Marian, admits hypermiling is a noble cause, that doesn’t mean she likes driving with him.

MARIAN GERDES: Now I just kinda shut my eyes and don’t look.

And the hypermiling tests his 14-year-old son’s patience too.

WAYNE’S SON: If I ask Dad to drive, I tell him I have to be there like 30 minutes earlier than I do or something.

Illinois State Police Trooper Clare Pfotenhauer says hypermiling techniques can also be illegal.

CLARE PFOTENHAUER: I think he’s insane.

And if he’s caught doing one of his daredevil moves – like drafting behind an 18-wheeler – he could get charged with three moving violations. Including impeding the flow of traffic.

Trooper Pfotenhauer says convictions come with hefty fines – and he could lose his license for a year.

PFOTENHAUER: Now that money that you tried to save in gas, it just cost you, it maybe even cost you a little bit more.

In fact, Gerdes says he’s been pulled over a couple of times. The first time it was during a hypermiling road race.

GERDES: We got pulled over in Ohio for goin too slow. And I think that he thought we were drunk.

But Gerdes is not deterred. He encourages everyone to drive at the speed limit
Increase their tire pressure and use their brakes as little as possible
He says that alone can improve your fuel economy by 20 to 25 percent.

He insists anyone can do it, you just gotta slow down.

In Chicago, I’m Francesca Segre for Marketplace Money.

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