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May 28, 2009

News & Features

Oil barren: 'Hypermilers' pull out all the stops to achieve ultimate fuel economy

CTW Features


Wayne Gerdes runs a Web site that promotes saving fuel by "hypermiling."

Right after Sept. 11, 2001, Wayne Gerdes of Chicago went on a mission, deciding to do his part to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil by saving fuel. He coined the term "hypermiling" to describe the quest to exceed (in many cases by a wide margin) a vehicle's fuel-economy rating.

Now, Gerdes routinely gets about double the Environmental Protection Agency's estimated rating in his Honda Accord and shares his techniques on his Web site, He set a world record in 2006 at the Insight Marathon in Tonkawa, Okla., achieving an average of 164 mpg on a 2,000-plus-mile round trip.

Save up
  • More gas-saving recommendations from "hypermiler" Wayne Gerdes:
  • Buy the most fuel-efficient model in which you can fit and that meets your needs.
  • Practice "anticipatory focus," or planning ahead. Place yourself three blocks ahead and imagine how you'll get to that point without getting impeded by traffic or stoplights.
  • Accelerate gradually.
  • Minimize idling.
  • Lower overall speed.
  • Avoid using four-wheel drive.
  • Remove unnecessary weight or unused cargo racks that create wind resistance.
  • Avoid heavy braking. Gerdes says that when you put your foot deeply into the pedal, you waste fuel as heat that's generated by the brakes.
  • When running errands, go to the farthest destination first before stopping, and then work your way back.
  • Keep the car tuned.
  • Minimize use of air conditioning.

"It's my passion," says Gerdes. "If it wasn't my passion, it wouldn't be worth it."

But it's a passion that isn't without controversy, since pushing fuel economy to the limit means more than just using cruise control and maintaining a steady speed.

One of the more questionable hypermiling techniques is riding close to the rear bumper of a larger vehicle in order to reduce the overall effect of aerodynamic drag. Some see it as dangerous drafting. Turning off the engine or shifting into neutral gear in order to coast on the highway is also seen as an advanced -- and, to some, dangerous -- technique.

Gerdes says he provides a sort of menu of choices, and people can choose which ones to use.

"The most important thing for a hypermiler is to never to turn the key in the first place," says Gerdes. "Any time you can walk, bicycle or take public transportation, you should do that rather than driving."

Gerdes says all drivers can do three simple things to maximize their mileage.

He suggests keeping a vehicle's tires inflated to maximum sidewall pressure to minimize their rolling resistance. (AAA argues with that technique, however, saying it can prematurely wear the center of the tire or cause handling issues.)

Second, Gerdes recommends low-weight synthetic oil. Just be sure it's a weight recommended for your vehicle; don't just go with the lowest weight on the market.

Finally, have a fuel-consumption display installed on your dashboard that lets you know in real time how much gas you're using -- or saving, as the case may be.

"Doing those three things alone can add 20 percent to a vehicle's economy," Gerdes says.


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