Hypermiling is a relatively recent term––one that has only been around since the early 2000s––focused on finding ways to squeeze the maximum fuel efficiency out of vehicles, provoked by rising fuel costs and environmental concerns. It combines methods first developed during WWII petrol rationing and the 1973 oil crisis with modern technologies (like the real-time mileage displays in many of today’s new hybrids) to help drivers get the most from each fill-up. But hypermiling isn’t only for penny-pinchers and environmentalists. It has lately even become something of a sport, and contests are now held annually around the world to showcase innovative new practices and the skills of those who take hypermiling to new heights.
The practice is believed to have originated in hybrid vehicle driving clubs about a decade ago, and the word itself (hypermlling) made its first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2008. Lately, it has also been associated with another neologism, nempimania, which is derived from the Japanese word for fuel economy. But regardless of what you decide to call it, hypermiling involves a number of established techniques and practices, ranging from driving habits to loss prevention and simple maintenance.
Aerodynamics and Mass
To reduce fuel-wasting drag and inefficient mass, hypermilers remove running boards, overhead racks, spoilers, and brush guards. They keep their vehicles empty of other passengers and unnecessary cargo whenever possible, and never fill their fuel tanks completely. By driving with a minimum of gas and refueling more often, they reduce mass and ensure better fuel efficiency. Hypermiling also dictates that drivers should keep their windows rolled up to reduce drag.
Vehicle maintenance is one of the cornerstones of hypermiling. By inflating tires to the maximum suggested pressure, drivers can cut down on road/tire friction and reduce resistance by minimizing the surface area where rubber meets the road. Properly aligned wheels, the use of low weight motor oil, frequently replaced air filters, and well-maintained spark plugs also improve fuel efficiency.
Another hypermiling method concerns the escape of evaporated gasoline. To prevent this loss, hypermilers park in the shade and always ensure their gas caps are screwed on tightly.
Driving speed also has a big impact on fuel consumption. Though every vehicle has a slightly different speed at which it achieves maximum fuel economy, most vehicles typically do best between 56 and 70km/h (35-45 mph). All vehicles get their best efficiency when cruising with no stops and minimal throttle in highest gear. Advanced hypermilers also shift into neutral when driving downhill and maximize their cruising time with carefully honed acceleration bursts.
In general, quick but smooth acceleration, coupled with minimal, gradual braking is the best way to conserve fuel. Anticipating red lights and upcoming stops far in advance is another proven way to cut down on consumption.
Another important method––one also used by Olympic speed skaters and racecar drivers––is drafting. When smaller vehicles drive close behind larger ones, they can take advantage of the low-pressure zone created by the lead car and be ‘pulled along’ without having to expend as much fuel.
These techniques all focus on minor improvements, which add up over time to create significant savings. We should note, however, that there are also several commonly accepted hypermilling techniques that have been shown to be ineffective. The use of high-octane fuel, for example, is expensive and yields negligible results. You should also keep in mind that certain hypermiling techniques (such as drafting) can be dangerous, and even illegal in some areas. Experts advise drivers to always put safe driving ahead of efficient driving. But aside from one or two advanced techniques, there is no reason both can’t be practiced simultaneously.
Do you employ any techniques to minimize your fuel consumption? Let us know in the comments.
George Mason is a writer from Sixt UK, a car rental business. He’s currently improving his fitness in preparation for a summer cycle tour of Eastern Europe.
Reducing the total number of vehicle miles (VMT) traveled is a major goal of transportation planners working with environmental priorities in mind. One way to reduce aggregate societal VMT is through ride sharing. I’d caution a message that champions keeping “vehicles empty of other passengers” if it discourages ride-sharing – not that hypermiling does per se, but the message might be misconstrued.
Good points, Heather — I know a lot of these folks do this competitively, which isn’t necessary the best use of fuel (no matter efficiently one’s burning it). But the tactics themselves are good to keep in mind for the average commuter – in addition to things like carpooling/ride sharing. Thanks for chiming in!
Anticipating red lights and stops are good techniques, but getting surprised by a yellow light where you have to slam on your brakes to stop before it turns red is the worst. Being able to predict them, and determine whether to “gun it” or start slowing down can save some fuel. Many intersections have crosswalk signals and they usually indicate that people can start crossing the street when the traffic light for cars going the same direction turns green. After a while, many of these crosswalk signals start counting down to when people shouldn’t cross the street and in many instances, this is ALSO a countdown to when the traffic light turns yellow. Crosswalk signals without countdowns are a little less useful, but can still help drivers predict when a light will turn yellow.
This light prediction technique can be combined with the famous (or infamous) “pulse-and-glide” technique hybrid hypermilers like to use. The greatest danger of getting surprised by a yellow light happens when a light down the road has been green for a while. The threat from these “stale” green lights can be lowered by accelerating a good distance away from the light, far enough away and fast enough so that you will have slowed down by coasting to below the speed limit or your cruising speed on the road by a few mph when you’re a few seconds away from the light. Sounds kind of confusing, but the point is that you will have been efficiently coasting down to a slower speed already if the light surprises you and turns yellow, so you don’t have to brake as hard if this happens. If the light DOESN’T turn yellow before you get close enough, you can “gun it” a little bit and shoot through the intersection before it does. Your average speed isn’t affected and as long as you don’t have somebody riding your bumper, other drivers will hardly notice.
Drafting is illegal in some areas as well as coasting on the highway but just slowing down 5-10 mph will have 10-30% on your gas. I have a 2015 Sonata that has an EPA of 25/35 but keeping my speed under 60 and 5mph slower in the city with slow acceleration (high gear, low rpm). I’m getting more around 35/42 and filling up every two weeks instead of every week.