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In a place like Southern Colorado where public transportation is limited at best, towns are spread far apart, and an abundance of cheap land means sprawl is inevitable, most people own cars and drive long distances between home and work, or make frequent short trips to run errands to strip malls and grocery stores and other places unfriendly to bicycles and pedestrians. With gas prices once again looking like they’ll reach $5/gallon this summer, even buying a more fuel efficient or hybrid car alone won’t save most people much money at the pump compared to the cost of the vehicle. So what’s a schlub on a budget to do?
The lessons of hypermiling may be the best place to start whether you own a Prius or an SUV. Widely credited to a nuclear engineer named Wayne Gerdes and his website cleanmpg.com, the movement is about beating the beating the Environmental Protection Agency’s City/Highway fuel economy estimates with a number of techniques (a very few of which are more extreme and potentially dangerous) that fall squarely into the realm of common sense and greater overall driving safety. Here are few of the basic and intermediate techniques as quoted from Gerdes’ article Beating the EPA – The Why’s and How to Hypermile at his site:
* Do not accelerate quickly or brake heavily: This reduces fuel economy by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent around town. EPA tests do not account for this kind of vigorous driving.
* Do not idle if not necessary: Decreases average FE. The EPA city test includes idling and in many cases, it is not necessary. Consider shutting down your vehicle if stopped for more than 7-seconds as that is all the fuel it takes to restart a modern day, fuel-inject engine.
* Avoid driving at higher speeds: This increases aerodynamic drag (wind resistance) and mechanical friction which reduces fuel economy. The EPA test accounts for aerodynamic drag up to highway speeds of 60 mph, but most exceed that speed far more often then necessary.
* Cold weather and frequent short trips reduce fuel economy, since your engine doesn’t operate efficiently until it is warmed up. In colder weather, it takes longer for your engine to warm, and on short trips, your vehicle operates a smaller percentage of time at the desired temperature. Note: Letting your car idle to warm-up does not help your fuel economy, it actually uses more fuel and creates more pollution. Drive to your furthest destination first and then as you are heading home, stop at the closer destinations in order from furthest to closest as the car is warmed up for longer portions of your drive.
* Remove Cargo or cargo racks: Cargo and/or racks on top of your vehicle (e.g., cargo boxes, canoes, etc.) increase aerodynamic drag and lower FE. Vehicles are not tested with additional cargo on the exterior.
* Do not tow unless absolutely necessary: Towing a trailer or carrying excessive weight decreases fuel economy. Vehicles are assumed to carry three hundred pounds of passengers and cargo in the EPA test cycles.
* Minimize running mechanical and electrical accessories: Running mechanical and electrical accessories (e.g., air conditioner) decreases fuel economy. Operating the air conditioner on “Max” can reduce MPG by roughly 5-30% compared to not using it.
* Avoid driving on hilly or mountainous terrain if possible: Driving hilly or mountainous terrain or on unpaved roads reduces fuel economy most of the time. The EPA test assumes vehicles operate over flat ground.
* Do not use 4-wheel drive if it is not needed. 4-Wheel drive reduces fuel economy. Four-wheel drive vehicles are tested in 2-wheel drive. Engaging all four wheels makes the engine work harder and increases crankcase losses.
*Maintain your Automobile: A poorly tuned engine burns more fuel, so fuel economy will suffer if it is not in tune. Improperly aligned or under inflated tires can lower fuel economy, as can a dirty air filter or brake drag.
-Tire pressures are a very important key to higher fuel economy. The higher the pressure, the lower the rolling resistance, the higher the fuel economy. The absolute minimum you should use is the driver’s side door or owners manual recommended tire inflation criteria. This is what the EPA and your car manufacturer sets tire pressures to during the EPA city/highway testing. MAX sidewall is what I would recommend for most as it is well within the safety limits of your car and tire and allows better FE than the pressure listed in the driver’s side door. I can discuss but cannot personally recommend upwards of 25% higher than MAX sidewall as there are legal constraints we all have to live with. That being said, 50 + #’s on a MAX Sidewall rated tire leads to even higher FE. Pros, higher FE, less tread wear, more even tread wear across the treads width, shorter braking distances in a variety of conditions, and in many cases, even better handling. Cons, higher NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness).
-Oil types and amounts are another important key to higher FE . A proper amount of low kinematic viscosity oil can do wonders for not only longevity of your ICE but the FE your automobile may be capable of. You should use oil with a viscosity that is within the band of your automobiles lubrication requirements. That being said, not all oils are the same. Many automobiles that spec 5W-20 can also use Synthetic 0W-20. Mobil1 0W-20 has the lowest kinematic viscosity as well as superior wear and breakdown properties vs. ANY non-synthetic I know of. About that level … I recommend that instead of filling the case up to the high level mark that you instead use just enough oil to bring the level up to between the high and low marks as specified in your owners manual. You lose capacity in case of a leak and have a very slight increase in oil temps but gain a slight amount of FE with a slightly lowered strain on the ICE’s frictional components.
-Vehicle fuel economy feedback is possibly the most important fuel saving item one can add to their car or truck if it not already equipped. Most CleanMPG’ers see an approximate 15% increase once an add-on ScanGauge for 1996 and newer vehicles is installed. Some of the more advanced highway techniques including SHM for Toyota Hybrids and SAHM for many Honda’s make this device almost a necessity.
RR: Ridge Riding. The safest way to make you stand out and noticed! What I would like most here to use RR for is the safety aspect. RR helps wake up drivers behind you as you appear far different just by your placement on the road than anyone they may have encountered today. This “Wake Up” places them into a more defensive driving mode which is only to your benefit as they pull around to pass if traveling above the limits far sooner than they may have if you were not RR. In inclement weather, you ride the center and white line edges to alleviate some of the drag caused during rain and/or wet conditions. In most cases during rain, the center crown or ridge will have the least depth of water to plow though as will the right or left edges of your lane. You can see the changing depths ahead and adjust your track as conditions change/allow. You want to ride the ridges whenever conditions make it possible to do so. In the snow, you will generally want to ride the most traveled tracks as they may be clear of snow, slush, water vs. riding the lanes with a snow cover or accumulation. Pros, maximizes FE in the worst conditions. Cons, requires quite a bit of concentration to maintain the wheels within a tight area of roadway.
Three Lights out or distant Anticipatory Focus: When driving in any environment, continuously scan the road far ahead looking for situations or obstacles which may impede your steady state progress. In the heavier suburban or city environment, I recommend looking ahead 3 lights. Not only will this give you an advantage of light timing but you will also have a much heightened awareness of the traffic and terrain conditions ahead, to the side, and even behind!
DWL: Driving w/ Load: Instead of relying on CC (Cruise Control) to maintain speed, you rely on your iFCD (Instantaneous Fuel Consumption Display) and accelerator pedal for those automobiles that have them to stay locked in at a given fuel economy. One example would be when climbing an overpass. Instead of holding a steady speed up, over, and down the other side, you allow speed to droop as you climb while maintaining load or FE on the ICE and climb back to initial target after the decline on the backside. Begin the overpass climb at 65 mph, drop off speed as you climb, reach 62 mph at the crest, increase speed on the decline back to 65 mph. The technique depends on elevation deltas and traffic conditions. This can be simulated in a non iFCD equipped Accord or other automobile by locking in the accelerator pedal when approaching the overpass. Just hold the accelerator steady into, up, over, and down the back side at the same exact angle while arriving at the same initial target speed after the overpass has been cleared. There are slight accelerator pedal changes that can maximize the technique for those with iFCD’s but the locked down accelerator will work well for those just starting out and with a lack of an iFCD. An even easier way to understand the technique is to drive like a roller coaster coasts over the peaks and through the troughs. Pros are increased FE over any small terrain delta with a minimum of work. Cons are that there is thought and user input involved as well as slightly lowering your overall average speed to a given Point B.
DWB: Driving w/out Brakes (or Driving w/ Buffers): In its simplest form, you drive as if you do not have brakes. If you have degraded or no brakes for whatever reason, you will increase buffers in traffic like you may never have considered previously. In heavy traffic and traffic jam conditions, this will allow you to maintain some speed before throwing away energy to heating up the pads/shoes. With larger buffers comes the ability to maintain a very slow speed while most others are in a stop and go jam. You can use this in any traffic tie up or heavy congestion. Pros include higher FE, less wear on the ICE and braking systems, and easier on your mental state. Cons include drivers near may continuously fill your buffers and thus you will again back off to recreate them. It may actually tax your mental state depending on your aggressiveness.
PP: Potential Parking: When entering a parking lot of any description, seek out the highest spot in said parking area. What this encompasses is looking for the highest elevation (Potential) and usually FAS’ing to bleed off speed so you DWB into said spot. On egress, you have a downhill slope to help you accelerate in a FAS or with ICE-On thus increasing your overall average FE. Pros, decreased fuel consumption and usually easier egress as you are usually in the back of the mall, grocery store, whatever. Cons, usually farther from the store entrance and thus a longer walk.
Face-Out: As described. When parked, you want your egress to be as clean as possible. Instead of ICE-On, Reverse, Brake, Drive, pull forward, you pull in to whatever parking lot, area, Face-Out. What it does is eliminate Reverse or any unintended fuel use to spin around. Some can use this technique even from their home with limited or no fuel consumption with a FAS based turn around Face-Out. If your drive allows (mine does) you are in a FAS coming into your drive, pull into the highest spot, coast back while spinning the car around 180 degrees to a slightly lower spot. You are now Face-Out for your next days or drives egress. Even if you do not FAS, it is best to spin your car around when it is already warmed up than in the morning from dead cold. Your fuel consumption at dead cold is much higher than when warm. Pros, lower fuel consumption. Cons, you have to be careful that someone would not pull in behind and limit your ability to load your trunk.
Rabbit Timing: Assume a stop light ½ a mile ahead. You see Stale Green (Green for a very long time ready to turn Yellow) or already red and will not change until a car comes up upon it and trips the sensors in the pavement to change it back to green. You want to have any traffic around you (the Rabbit) trip the weight sensor before you are anywhere near that light so you are unimpeded with a green light by the time you reach it.
Alternate Routes: If you have a choice between a 65 mph limited high speed route w/ few lights to work or a 40 mph limited route with some lights to work, which one do you take? The 40 mph limited route will give you many more opportunities to achieve FE far above the EPA ratings of your hybrid as seen in the speed tests above. The techniques you can use to maximize FE by P&G or FAS are just 2 examples of many.
* Incline: When coming to a red light or stop sign on an incline heading upwards, you want to travel as far up the hill or ascent as possible before stopping. Starting from a dead stop while facing an uphill climb is the absolute worst FE scenario imaginable. SB on an incline can help reduce the FE hit if performed properly.
* Descent: When coming to a red light on a descent, you want to stop well before the actual light or traffic ahead so as to use the potential still available to help you accelerate back up to speed through the light. There will have to be at least one car well out in front in the case of weight sensored lights so as to trip them for you so you can glide/coast down the incline and possibly across the intersection before having to restart your car for propulsion again.
* Slowing for/with traffic or traffic signals: Have ever heard that if you move half the distance to the goal line again and again you will never reach said goal line? The same can be said for your speed when coming to a stop. What you want to attempt is to continue slowing before you actually stop until the light changes to green and you can re-accelerate without having to do so from a stop.
For more advanced techniques and to decide for yourself about the merits of such practices, there’s more in Gerdes’ article HERE and many forums dedicated to these topics, car reviews and more at cleanmpg.com.