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Miracle tech improves fuel efficiency up to 50%

Recession blown a hole in your plans to upgrade to a fancy new plug-in hybrid? Fear not — according to the Wall Street Journal you can boost your current car’s mileage 20, 40, even 50% just by learning a few simple “eco-driving” tricks.

We’ve covered the ways in which driver behavior interacts with fuel efficiency on a few prior occasions, but this latest article has some useful new takes on old tricks. For example: “Drive as if there is a hot cup of coffee in the cup holder at risk of splashing.” In one study, this simple tip — which motivates drivers to start, stop, and turn more smoothly — boosted fuel efficiency by an average of 10%.

An increasing number of trials in different countries are confirming and replicating the findings. In Germany, driver education classes now incorporate three eco-driving tips:

> First, watch the tachometer, not just the speedometer, and shift gears before the car’s engine speed reaches 2,000 revolutions per minute to minimize how hard the engine has to work. Second, don’t tailgate, because tailgating requires a lot of unnecessary braking and accelerating. Third, coast if an upcoming light is red, letting it turn green so there is no need to stop.

Smooth starts and stops are the key to the amazing results that hard-core hypermilers achieve:

> The basic hypermiling technique is the “pulse-and-glide,” says Dan Bryant, a Houston-based competitor whose accomplishments include driving a Toyota Prius on an 844-mile trip around Texas last year on a single tank of gas. The driver slowly accelerates to about 60% of full throttle — the point where a car’s engine tends to operate most efficiently — and then steps off the gas, coasting until the car’s speed drops. At the right moment, before losing too much speed, the driver gently presses the gas pedal again.

Other tips are more straightforward. For example, drive in the right lane of the highway as much as possible, and keep your speed to about 60 miles per hour. The WSJ has put together a handy little guide (pdf).

Researchers have also noticed that instant mileage feedback helps drivers improve their fuel efficiency. So if that Prius is out of reach, keep in mind that a ScanGauge II mileage computer — available in the TerraPass store — should pay for itself in fuel savings in short order.

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