Mother Jones: This Guy Can Get 59 MPG in a Plain Old Accord

I was reading the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine when I stumbled across an article entitled This Guy Can Get 59 MPG in a Plain Old Accord. Beat That, Punk. Normally, Mother Jones focuses on progressive political topics, but I still read it even though I’m not really interested in leftist or rightist propaganda. So why read it? There’s about an article every issue that focuses on an environmental topic, and about half of those are very interesting from a penny-pinching perspective. This one hits a grand slam.

The article focuses on “hypermilers,” a group of individuals who hone techniques for minimalizing their fuel usage while on the road. The article mostly focuses on Wayne Gerdes, who seems to be one of the charter members of the group – and perhaps the most skilled of the lot. He has a Honda Accord that, over its lifetime, has averaged a little over 90 MPG, a number that seems almost comical when you first read it.

During the article, Wayne and a group of hypermilers take part in the “Hybridfest MPG Challenge,” which consists of driving a twenty mile course through Madison, Wisconsin to see who can spend the least amount of gasoline. During practice runs on the course, drivers were cracking the 100 MPG mark left and right, and during the competition, people popped over 120 MPG.

How does it all turn out?

by the time Wayne enters the lot from his run, it’s past 5 p.m., and the other hypermilers have retreated from the storm and are off to Hybridfest’s happy hour. Wayne’s cap is off and his head, soaking wet, is sticking out the window because his breath has fogged up the windshield, and he refuses to turn on the defroster. Wayne honks to get a judge to run through the rain to record his fcd. It reads as high as the Insight can record: 150 mpg. Afterward, the Insight’s owner hits a switch that shows Wayne’s mark in kilometers per liter, which has a higher limit. It reads 1.3 L/100 km. That’s 180.91 mpg. Later, at the awards dinner, Wayne is presented with a one-year subscription to Green Car Journal and a $25 gas card. For all we know, Wayne’s still using it.

What can we learn from this article? Several fuel-saving driving techniques are alluded to, but only two are spelled out with any detail:

ridge-ride: to drive an automobile with one’s right wheels touching the right white line. Used to avoid puddles and excess friction and to alert approaching vehicles that one is moving slowly.

This technique makes a good deal of sense, actually. I tend to automatically do this during rainstorms to the chagrin of people riding with me, mostly because I feel really uncomfortable driving through the “lanes” of water. I never really considered that it is a good way to conserve gas because of the reduction in drag as compared to driving through the water.

D-FAS (Draft-assisted Forced Auto Stop): a fuel-saving driving technique in which one turns off the engine and tailgates a large truck in order to lower one’s wind resistance.

This technique, on the other hand, scares the life out of me. I can’t imagine getting in really close behind a semi, then flipping the car into neutral and coasting along in the air pocket behind the truck, using the wind resistance to aid me. I could do it, but I see all sorts of things going wrong with it.

Wayne also offers four more realistic steps that anyone can do to increase their MPG:

Easy on the brakes: Braking is inefficient because it kills your car’s momentum. One European test found that aggressive jackrabbit start-and-stop driving in the city increased fuel consumption by 37%. Coast to a stop. Take alternative routes to avoid stop-and-go traffic and time your driving to roll through green lights.

Don’t speed: For every 5 MPH you drive over 60, you lose about 7% fuel efficiency, largely because of wind resistance (the reason hypermilers roll up the windows and remove the roof rack). I like to drive at about 55 on the highway and even slower on country roads. Driving over 65 scares me.

Inflate your tires to the maximum recommended pounds per square inch: For every two PSI your tires are below the manufacturer’s recommendation, you increase your fuel consumption by nearly a percentage point. That’s why hypermilers inflate their tires far beyond the maximum recommended. But I can’t tell you to do that.

Never idle: Idling uses gas and gets you nogwhere. Any time I stop for more than a few seconds – for trains, stoplights, gridlocked traffic – I turn off my motor. I also turn my motor off when I’m moving. But I can’t tell you to do that either.

Great… but how much will that save me? Let’s say you currently get 10 MPG, but you drive 75 MPH on the interstate, have your tires 10 PSI below the maximum recommended, and drive like a jackrabbit in the city. If you severely cut down on brake usage, air up your tires, and cut your interstate speed down to 60, you can raise your average MPG up to about 16 MPG. What will that save? At $2.25 a gallon, over 1,000 miles you can save $84.38. If you’re like me and would only do these things sometimes, but you drive 10,000 miles a year, you can still save hundreds of dollars a year by following Wayne’s driving tips.

Another great article from a surprisingly good magazine.

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