Hypermiler or Hyperdumb?

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.

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100mpg? That's nothing. I drove (and helped to build) a car that got over 900mpg. Admittedly it was made of plywood and shrink wrap plastic and ran off a modified lawnmower engine, but still.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

Based on my experience, the simple way to greatly increase your fuel economy (I usually get close to 50 mpg) is to buy a small diesel-powered car and drive it as you normally drive. Oh, that's right, no automaker currently sells them in the US.

I still maintain that the best way to improve your gas mileage is to not drive. Kind of obvious perhaps, but it's amazing how many people don't consider it.

The point really isn't to get as high a mileage as possible, it's to use as little fuel as possible. I could devise a nearly "all highway" route to work which would achieve a higher fuel mileage than my current route through town, but as it would be a clear increase in distance, I'd wind up using more fuel. Consequently, I found the whole concept of a fuel mileage contest to be rather odd, especially considering that they weren't trying to prove new or competing technologies.

I read that article, those people are insane. What's the point of driving a loop on the access road? You're just adding miles to the odometer, but not towards your destination! I drive a route that's half on freeway and half on streets. I could totally raise my average MPG if I drove back and forth on the freeway 4 times before hitting the streets to my destination - but what would be the point of that?!

You are correct about the one good, actually quite insightful point - all cars should have an mpg readout.

A new iteration of scammers are taking advantage of the hydrogen fuel cell buzz to push "free energy" scams. Denny Klein claims to be able to run a car on water. The 'kernel of truth' hidden in there is Brown's gas; an electrolytically produced mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. Stanley Wu keeps his claims more moderate and therefore deniable; he claims mileage increases of 15-28% with his Brown's gas automotive add-on. That's within placebo or self-fulfilling behavior modification range.

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 03 Jan 2007 #permalink

It seems the only criterion they judge on is MPG, as indicated by the dashboard gauge. There is mention of a man who has an extra wheel which can descend from his car to add power from an electric battery. That is apparently not considered cheating. Most of the drivers are using hybrids, which use both gas and stored electricity, and that is not considered cheating. What if you had your car towed the entire distance? Would that fall within the rules? What if you competed in an all-electric car, such as an EV-1? That would be infinite MPG!

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 04 Jan 2007 #permalink

This mileage champ in the article reminds me of the daredevil skateboarders who risk mortal injury in order to prove their prowess navigating a stairwell.

It looks like the rest of his lifestyle is not really about conserving energy. He has a large house with modern electric conveniences, and, *he lives a two-hour commute* from his job.

Imagine how much gasoline he would save if he moved to where he could walk to work.

My last point in rantium is that it curls my talons when I see individuals feeling personally responsible for governmental policy failures.

This nut is endangering peoples lives on a throughway because we have no real mass-transit or fuel efficiency standards for any segment of industry.

We all faithfully spend trillions of manhour-years sorting our recyclables, when what we really should have, in the first place, is regulations that minimize packaging waste, or at least make it biodegradable.

Well, I gotta take some H2 gas from my personal home solar fuel cell to inflate the ballons I use to half-float my bicycle when I ride to the store to buy mass-produced pre-disjointed chicken that comes on a styrofoam tray. :D

By gingerbaker (not verified) on 07 Jan 2007 #permalink