Thursday, 9 July 2009

Hybrid Miles from the Car You Already Own


This may make you think less of me but I proudly own a hybrid SUV. I know that hybrid and sports utility vehicle aren't concepts people think of in conjunction with one another but I needed the functionality of a SUV and I wanted to do my part for the environment. When I purchased my Ford Escape Hybrid I was about to move to Colorado, the winters there are killer. You know how I know? When visiting I saw quite a few Priuses and similar small non hybrid vehicles stranded on the side of the road. Some of them did the slip and slide in the ice and some of them got stuck in the snow. Either way I knew I didn't want that to be me! I also wanted a vehicle that would grow with me- you know a family, kids, dogs etc and one that could haul stuff around. Ultimately I want to own and work some land. A small SUV would fit all of those needs and it has quite successfully. To make it a bit more green we leave it parked most of the time and get around on foot or bike.

But you don't have to own a hybrid to save some money on gas and do your part for the environment.

One of the first things I did after buying a hybrid was research hypermiling. It's become a whole subculture of people dedicated to getting the most gas mileage out of any car. There are those that purport to get 100 mpg on Accords! Personally I think those people are a bit to intense for me but by practicing some of the hypermiling techniques I've been able to get almost 40 mpg on a car that is estimated to get 30 mpg highway and 32 mpg in the city. Some others are routinely getting 40-45 mpg on similar models.

The basic techniques are:

1. Stop speeding: The harder you press the gas pedal, the more gas you’re using. If you’re driving over the speed limit, you might save time, but you’re definitely wasting gas and money. Slow down a little if you can so that you’re driving at or just below the actual speed limit. (This is big I got 38 mpg by only going 60 mph on the highway instead of the 75 mph speed limit. Yes it felt weird but it didn't take me all the much longer and since I wasn't worried about getting somewhere RIGHT NOW I was calmer and enjoyed the drive more)

2. Coast instead of braking: When you see a stop sign up ahead or a traffic light turning yellow, immediately take your foot off the gas and let your vehicle slow down by itself. If you wait until the last possible minute to brake, then you’re wasting all the gas you used when you could have been slowing down. (In a hybrid the energy created by braking is harnessed to power the electric engine but I still try to brake as little as possible. It drives the people behind me nuts though...)

3. Cruise Control: The feathering of your foot on the gas pedal that naturally occurs wastes more gas. By putting in on cruise control the car can use the gas more economically while still going the desired speed but you still have to go slower to see any real gas savings. (An exception to this is uphill, cruise control will keeping you going a consistent speed but to save on gas should actually slow down going up hill)

4. Put your car in neutral: Coasting with your car in neutral takes the burden off your gas pedal preventing you from wasting fuel. If you’re not driving in heavy traffic, experiment with this effective money saver. ( I don't do this because I just don't like the idea. The nice thing about having a hybrid is that I don't need to, in bumper to bumper traffic the electric engine will pretty much take over.)

5. Lighten the load: The heavier your car is, the harder it has to work to propel itself forward. Empty out your trunk and backseat of ice chests, beach chairs, and other items that you’re not using to lighten the load. (I don't keep anything in the car that I won't need that day. It took a lot of thought at first but now my car is cleaner and lighter. The only exception is in the winter I keep a snow shovel.)

6. Drafting: This technique comes with a warning sign: according to many hypermiling experts, it is incredibly dangerous. A “deliberate form of tailgating,” the forced auto stop involves turning off your car’s engine and then following closely behind the vehicle in front of you “in order to take advantage of the reduced wind resistance in [the other car's] immediate wake.” (Yeah... I don't do this either. You can draft without turning the engine off but getting that close to a semi freaks me out. You would have very little reaction time if something were to happen.)

7. Find a route that’s easy on your vehicle: A story in the Washington Post discusses the benefits of “optimiz[ing] your route” when implementing hypermiling tricks. Instead of taking the scenic route to work, which could include more hills, twists, and dips, try finding a route that features level roads and less traffic lights or stop signs.

8. Roll down the windows if you’re not on the highway: After the scorching hot temperatures of the summer have retreated, stop blasting the air conditioner and roll down your windows. According to, “It is generally accepted that air-conditioning increases fuel consumption by about 10 percent but winding down the windows increases drag, which is also an enemy of good fuel consumption.” If you’re going to be on the highway, keeping your A/C on low is still a good idea, but if you’re taking a joy ride, think about getting a little fresh air. (This one is hard for me because I cannot stand to be hot, but I do it... most of the time...)

9. Don’t leave the car running: People used to believe it was better to keep the car running for really short errands but it just wastes gas.

10. Keep up with maintenance- obviously a well tuned car will run more efficiently. But make sure you look at your cars maintenance schedule. If you go to a place like Jiffy Lube they will tell you to get an oil change every 3,500 miles but that may not be true. My hybrid only needs an oil change every 10,000 miles.

11. Check your tire pressure and tire balance: Tires that are beginning to lose air and go flat put more stress on your engine, making it work harder and burn more fuel. If your tires aren’t balanced correctly, you could end up wearing out certain tires faster than others, causing them to lose air and forcing your engine to work harder. (An added bonus is that doing this will extend the life of your tires)

Some techniques are easier then others, for me slowing down is hard, but I find by keeping the fuel consumption screen up on my hybrid I am more motivated to slow down because I get instant and constant feedback on my fuel consumption.

Have you ever tried hypermiling? What kind of results have you gotten?