Drivers go to extremes to save each drop of gas

The Associated PressMay 30, 2007 

  • Hypermilers say many of their techniques can help even drivers of conventional cars boost their gas mileage:

    AVOID jack-rabbit starts.

    OVERINFLATE tires slightly.

    SHIFT into neutral when going downhill.

    DRIVE 5 mph below the speed limit, staying in the right lane.

    COAST to a stop at red lights.

    SHUT OFF the air conditioner.

    MONITOR your mileage on a real-time gauge and adjust as you go.

    KNOW alternate routes to avoid stop-and-go traffic.

    PARK at the highest point in parking lots and let gravity get the car moving.

— The passion that burns in Laurie With is not visible until she gets behind the wheel of her Honda Civic hybrid -- and drives really slowly.

She accelerates gently when the light turns green, and she coasts down hills to save gas. On highways, she stays in the right lane and watches the big SUVs zoom past.

"When I see someone roar past me, I think, 'They just used enough gas to last me a week,' " she said.

She is part of a small and extremely dedicated group of drivers around the country who call themselves "hypermilers." They almost exclusively drive hybrid vehicles, and their goal is simple: squeeze every mile they can out of each drop of gas.

Some of their tips are a matter of common sense and could help any driver, especially now, with gas climbing past $3 a gallon: avoiding jack-rabbit starts, using alternate routes to avoid stop-and-go traffic, anticipating lights and driving more slowly.

But those are just a start. Hypermilers slightly overinflate their tires to cut rolling resistance, seize every chance to coast with their gasoline engines off, and sometimes "draft" like race cars behind larger vehicles.

Some of these techniques can be dangerous, and some cannot even be done in certain conventional automobiles.

Chuck Thomas, a 49-year-old computer programmer from Lewisville, Texas, milks his hybrid Honda Insight for about 75 mpg, 10 more than the government estimate for the vehicle in mixed gas-and-electric driving.

Wayne Gerdes, who runs a Web site dedicated to high mileage (www.cleanmpg.com) and claims to have coined the term hypermiling, lists a variety of other techniques, including drafting off the rear right corner of a tractor-trailer to reduce wind resistance while still allowing the rig's driver to see you. Gerdes recommends following the truck at a gap of about one second; drafting any closer yields eye-popping gas mileage but is too dangerous, he says.

Kurt Antonius, a spokesman for Honda Motor Co., said the company shares hypermilers' enthusiasm for high mileage but cannot endorse some of their techniques. "It may be great on the racetrack to do drafting, but not on the highway," he said.

Similarly, Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Mark Peterson applauded the hypermilers' goals but said drafting less than three seconds behind tractor-trailers and shutting down a traditional engine while driving -- a practice called "pulse and glide" -- sound dangerous.

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