Mother Jones has an interesting article this month concerning hypermilers, that is, people who try to get the absolute highest possible fuel mileage out of their vehicles. Lots of folks are concerned about the environment along with high fuel costs, so I figured these drivers might be able to give me a few pointers. Boy, was I wrong.
As far as I can determine, this has little to do with environmental responsibility and everything to do with some sort of competition gone awry. Sure, some hypermilers have managed to get very impressive figures out of their vehicles, in excess of 100 miles per gallon, but the way some of them go about it is downright crazy. Techniques used include over-inflating tires, tailgating trucks on highways to within one car length, turning off the engine while coming down hills (could lose power steering or brakes), driving considerably slower than the flow of traffic on highways (by 20 MPH), driving much faster than posted speeds around corners and down hills to avoid braking, and other similar, downright dangerous (if not blatantly illegal) tricks. I was only modestly surprised that no one had mounted a mast on their trunk with a large sail at the ready for tail winds, or had devised some manner of grappling hook to lasso the car ahead of them.
What really got my head spinning were not the afore-mentioned techniques, but some other aspects that were very nonsensical. For example, at one point in a “fuel mileage competition”, the gentleman who’s the focus of the story was slowing down a Honda Insight by making a loop on an exit road in order to avoid braking at a traffic jam ahead. Granted, you want to squeeze the last milliliter of fuel, but the Insight has regenerative braking. I’m willing to concede that the Honda’s regenerative braking is not 100% efficient and he probably gained a little, but consider the fact that this guy sold his own Insight a couple of years back, replacing it with an Accord. And he has a two hour commute to work each day. He also has a Ford Ranger, which he starts by pushing it down his driveway, jumping in, and then coasting out to the street (where he continues to coast). At one point, he takes the author of the story and another fellow on a “milk run”. Does he take the Accord? No, he takes the Ford. I don’t know this fellow’s background or why he lives two hours from work, but these are not the actions of someone truly concerned about energy consumption. These are the actions of someone obsessed with squeaking out an impressive MPG value even if it means endangering himself and other drivers around him. Can you imagine if everyone drove this way?
There is one point made in the article worth repeating, and that’s the usefulness of having a real-time fuel mileage gauge in the dashboard. Now that’s a tool that could help many people refine their driving technique and would easily pay for itself in a very short time.