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Going the Extra Mile–Tips from Energy-Saving Hypermilers

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So you don’t drive a hybrid. But you can still get better mpg in the car you have.

Join the ranks of the hypermilers–people who compete over how much they can improve their fuel economy just by using better driving techniques. There are more of these techniques than you think–and they make a big difference. Here are tips from the website Ecomodder.com on how to maximize your miles.

Give the Brake a Break

One obvious intervention: Don’t break hard at a traffic light. Don’t waste your momentum–ease off the gas early and coast to a stop. The hypermilers have a whole rulebook on how to avoid braking. Turn wide, so you don’t have to brake as hard. Anticipate changes in traffic lights, slowing as you approach in case a green turns red–or in case a red turns green, allowing you to coast slowly toward the light and accelerate when the car isn’t completely stopped. And when you do stop, accelerate slowly–don’t floor the gas pedal.

Hypermiling Starts Before You Even Start the Car

Taking stuff out of your trunk will lighten your car. Try putting bike racks on the back, not on top, where they add to drag. Or taking off roof racks you don’t use. Check your tire pressure: Tires that aren’t properly inflated produce too much friction on the road, slowing you down. Tire pressure drops with temperature, so check more often as the seasons change.

No More Idling

Idling means you’re getting zero miles per gallon. It’s actually better to turn off your engine (that’s how hybrids work). Switch the key from “run” to “acc” (not “off”). (This works best in cars with a stick shift and no power steering.) An easier way to reduce idling is to go to gas stations at off-peak times, so you’re not waiting for a pump. Avoid the drive-through. Get an E-Z Pass to slide right through toll booths instead of waiting in line.

And of course, do everything you can to avoid getting stuck in traffic. Plan your route ahead of time to avoid rush hour. On city streets, driving in the right lane may mean you end up having to navigate around buses making frequent stops and delivery vehicles double-parked in the street. Pick the lane of least resistance.

Plan Ahead

Run several errands on the same trip. Take the longest trip first. That way, your car warms up more and might not cool all the way down by the time you finish your errand. Starting a warm car is more efficient than getting a cold engine going.

To Draft Or Not to Draft

Drafting off trucks by driving close on their tails might increase efficiency, but it’s dangerous and inconsiderate. (A smart hypermiler puts safety first.) But the physics of drafting can come in handy other ways. You can drive next to (and a little behind) trucks to let them reduce crosswinds. And sometimes following a slow-moving truck (at a safe distance) is helpful if you want to slow down without angering other drivers. After all, reducing speed is one of the best ways to improve your mileage.

Amenities and Add-Ons

You don’t need your lights on during the day. Don’t use four-wheel drive unless you really need it – four-wheel drive increases friction with the road, making your car work harder to move forward. Reduce your use of air conditioning by parking in the shade. Some hypermilers suggest using a beaded seat cover, which increases ventilation and might keep you from reaching for the AC.

But remember, keeping your windows open creates a lot of drag on the car, especially at highway speeds. You can open them in the city–but otherwise, it’s best to use your vents.

Drive It Like You Bike It

If you also ride a bicycle, you’ll notice a lot of these techniques feel familiar–you probably already do them on a bike. After all, the energy you’re burning on a bike is your energy, and it’s hard not to notice when you’re wasting it. It wouldn’t make sense to pedal as hard as you can to a red light and then brake hard. It goes without saying that tight turns on sidewalks force you to slow way down, as opposed to wide turns on streets, where you can keep your momentum going. You ride with as little extra weight as possible. You also avoid stops and starts–ever see those fixed-gear riders balancing at red lights without ever putting their feet down?

Hypermilers say they can improve their fuel efficiency easily by 35 percent. Now, can you go the extra mile?

–Tanya Snyder

Related:

Calculate Your Energy Diet

Green Guide‘s Travel & Transportation Hub

Cars Buying Guide

Photograph courtesy Lorenzo Menendez, My Shot