Pooduck Skiff: Making the Spars
Tall Ships, Small Ships

Why You Should Drive Like Your Grandma


A while ago I posted on the Kayak Building Forum in a discussion about how car topping kayaks affects your MPG. I recently discovered for myself that it makes a significant difference whether I transported my kayak upside down (which probably decreases drag) than right side up. Since gas prices have gone up I started to pay attention to little details like that especially on longer trips. Then a few days ago I read this very interesting article in Mother Jones about hypermilers, these guys who have become experts at squeezing as many miles per gallon from their cars as possible by changing the way they drive. They have been in the news recently, which tended to sensationalize their more dangerous and illegal practices, like drafting behind semi trucks, not stopping at stoplights, not slowing down around curves, and turning the engine off to coast down hills. These guys can get 59 MPG using a regular Honda Accord (not a hybrid)!    

For the past several years I’ve consistently gotten no better than 42 MPG in my 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid. Yesterday though I decided to try some of these tricks. Since I have a instantaneous MPG indicator on my dash board it makes it easy to see how every little move changes my fuel consumption. Today I tested these techniques while driving around running errands, mostly gathering a few final pieces for my Joel White Pooduck Skiff. I accelerated very slowly from complete stops, taking a second to let the idling engine get the car moving without pushing on the accelerator. When I could avoid it I would never stop completely at stop signs. I tended to drive slower, at whatever speed I seemed to get the best mileage. One advantage to driving slowly is that you don’t have to push on the breaks because there is someone driving slower in front of you. Breaking is a waste of momentum. I tried not to break going around curves. I put my car in neutral (but kept the engine on) going down hills. With a hybrid engine, keeping the car in "drive" and coasting down a hill recharges the battery, but I found that in neutral I go farther faster. I tried to anticipate stop lights. If a light in front of me turned red, I would immediately let off the accelerator and coast toward it. I used cruise control on the freeway. I chose parking spots that were on high ground and that faced out so that when I left I could just put the car in neutral and coast down to the street without putting the car in reverse, stopping, then going forward (really). I kept the air conditioner off until I needed it. I did not draft behind semi trucks.
Well after about 50 miles in mixed freeway and city driving I averaged an incredible 52 MPG! And this was due entirely to my first clumsy attempt at changing my driving habits.  Can you imagine if everyone improved their fuel efficiency by 10 MPG?  I didn’t have to do anything at all to my car, like strip out the seats, take off my roof rack, or even make sure the tires were inflated or change the oil. Hypermiling really works! And it’s something you can do right now. In fact I recommend you do it right now. You don’t need a hybrid car to make it work, although you really should have a real-time read out of your MPG. It also requires a paradigm shift in driving. Say goodbye to the NASCAR culture. You can’t think of driving as a race anymore, where you aggressively push toward your destination in the fastest time possible, speeding up just to stop and wait at the next traffic light, and where every other car around you and the speed limits are there just to get in your way.


Andrew Elizaga

For a detailed description of hypermiling techniques see the post by Wayne Gerdes at:


Thomas Duncan

What kind of display do you have? What do you know about getting aftermarket FCDs? I found this one on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/ScanGauge-Compact-Multifunction-Computer-Customizable/dp/B000AAMY86

I want to learn and use some of these techniques and see how much I can save.

Good post, thanks for bringing up hypermiling.

Andrew Elizaga

The display on my Honda Civic is similar to the displays shown at the end of the Wayne Gerdes article I mentioned above. It simply has a bar which displays real time MPG and a couple digital read outs which show average MPG and the total miles. The total miles can be zeroed at any time.

I'm excited about learning how to use these techniques too. I tried doing a "forced auto stop" the other day -- turned off my car while moving and turned the electronics back on. I lost my power steering, which freaked me out so I may just avoid doing that until I learn more about it.

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