Conservation tip: fuel efficiency advice from the clinically insane

hypermiling.jpg

Read it and weep. Preferably softly, and to yourself.

This is a driving competition we can behind. Mother Jones reports on hypermilers, mileage-obsessed drivers who can squeeze 180 mpg out of their hybrids by, well, breaking every traffic and safety law on record.

Their hero is Wayne Gerdes, the man who wears the current Most Fuel-Efficient Driver in the World crown. Wayne is…a little eccentric. One of his secret weapons, for example, is his “ice vest,” a device that needs for his work in a nuclear power plant. The ice vest allows him to stay cool even as he rides around on humid summer days with the air conditioner off and the windows rolled up.

Wayne’s tendencies run in the family — his dad has written down his mileage from every gallon of gas for the last 50 years — but it was the purchase of a vehicle with a fuel consumption device (FCD) that truly ignited Wayne’s passion.

If people could see how much fuel they guzzled while driving, Wayne believes they’d quickly learn to drive more efficiently. “If the EPA would mandate FCDs in every car, this country would save 20 percent on fuel overnight,” he says. “They’re not expensive for the manufacturers to put in — 10 to 20 bucks — and it would save more fuel than all the laws passed in the last 25 years. All from a simple display.”

Wayne’s a dreamer. He’s also curiously monomaniacal. One of the more discordant aspects of the article is that Wayne owns the largest flat-screen TV the author has “ever seen outside of a sports bar,” which alone is probably responsible for more carbon emissions than his driving.

But global warming isn’t Wayne’s bag. He’s concerned about energy security, and since his electricity probably comes from coal or — more likely, given his job — nuclear energy, the TV is mostly a nice way to unwind after a day of drafting behind semis with the engine off or taking exit ramps at 50 miles per hour.

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  1. Aaron A. - March 13, 2007

    While I can’t condone their potentially-lethal behavior, I must say that I’m impressed with their ability to squeeze 100 MPG out of an standard issue, available to the public, internal combustion vehicle.

  2. Anonymous - March 14, 2007

    Two things… Are the display numbers actualy accurate?
    secondly. There are safe places where high fuel efficency events are held. It seems like this guy should be rewarded with perminent loss of his licence for endangering himselves and others not a pritty writeup. I most certainly can NOT get behind this type of competition.

  3. Maya Konforti - March 14, 2007

    Wayne is right on with his fuel consumprion device: Almost all new cars in France have one. So as you drive down the road, you can be very aware of the effect of your driving style on your gas mileage. I think it’s great!
    I wonder why car manufatureres inthre US are so behind european-ones. French cars, for example a mini-van the equivalent of a caravan, so a big car by french standards, gets 50 % better gas mileage than its amercian counterpart, about 35 mpg!
    But of course, you cannot bring those cars to the US!

  4. Jimmie - March 14, 2007

    Wayne’s right about FCDs: When I had one in my VW Passat, I learned to drive it so as to optimize my fuel economy around town (it wasn’t as effective for highway driving). Unfortunately, that overweight sedan was mismatched with a sluggish automatic transmission and an underperforming engine. (Best I ever got on the highway was 32 mpg, and not very impressive around town even at my most efficient driving — legally, by the way.) I was glad to trade it for something more efficient last year: a VW Jetta TDI (turbodiesel).
    Without an FCD in the Jetta, I have to rely on instinct and what I learned from years of using the FCD in the old gas-guzzler Passat. While I’m not getting into the ethereal 100 mpg range, I am just under 50 mpg on a modest highway drive. That’s 8 mpg over the EPA rating, and I expect that I can do better — legally.
    What is important in this push for fuel economy is to change the driver’s behavior, just as Wayne points out. But, one needs to drive safely, too, and legally. But that can be as easy as simply driving at the speed limit, and not pretending to be in a drag race between stop lights or through residential zones.
    From my perspective, I’m looking for more availability of biodiesel — as close to 100% pure as I can find — to couple with my TDI. A friend who has an identical Jetta TDI runs it on B-99, getting roughly my performance level. With that, he’s offsetting far more carbon than any Prius or other hybrid that is reliant on gasoline — unless they are achieving 100+ mpg regularly.

  5. Rey Aquino - March 14, 2007

    Rolled down windows while driving on highway causes wind drag and therefore uses more fuel.

  6. Ron W. - March 14, 2007

    Wayne’s mileage numbers are real. I’ve known about him since I got my Honda Insight three years ago, because he was a member of Insightcentral.net, an Insight discussion group.
    Wayne would regularly report work commutes of 100 miles per gallon. On one day in particular, he got 126 miles per gallon because of a 45 mph tail wind. He had digital photographs of his readings to prove it. He once drove 1,500 miles on an tankful.
    I learned quite a few things from him:
    — Accelerate slowly. In the Insight, that would be using the battery power assist as little as possible.
    — Coast a lot.
    — Anticipate stop lights so that you don’t have to start again from a complete stop.
    — Drive at or lower than the speed limit, if possible. In my experience, the Insight does best mileage-wise at 40-45 mph.
    — Keep the windows rolled up. Windows rolled down increases wind resistance.
    — Use synthetic oil and don’t change it until the 7,500-mile mark.
    — Try to avoid hills if you can. Gerdes was lucky in this aspect; he lived in the Chicago area.

  7. Emily - March 14, 2007

    It is possible to draft without unduly endangering other drivers, but you’ve got to use some common sense about it. My rules for drafting:
    1. Only draft on multilane highways so you have plenty of escape routes in case somebody crams on the brakes right in front of you.
    2. Only draft in the right lane, and then only when the left lane is clear.
    3. Never draft when you are sleepy.
    4. Never draft behind anything smaller than a semi. (To get the benefits, you have to tailgate so closely that there’s absolutely no time to stop. If you’re following a semi, you can stop a LOT faster than he can, so your odds of hitting him go down significantly, and you don’t have to follow quite as closely as you would with a smaller vehicle.)
    5. Never draft behind a tanker or a truck with hazmat stickers. (If you accidentally rear-end a semi with a hybrid, you’re probably not going to do a lot of damage to the truck. If you rear-end a hazmat truck, all bets are off, plus you’ve just completely canceled out any possible good you did by saving a few mpgs.)
    6. Never draft behind a truck that is traveling at or above the speed limit. You will save more by driving 10 under than you will save trying to keep up with a faster-moving vehicle.
    7. Never draft while talking on the phone, eating, changing CDs, or talking to someone else in the car.

  8. DC Stanton - March 14, 2007

    I’m not the sponsor for this company, but I use a handy little monitoring device for my Scion XB to watch the overall performance while I drive (remember to watch the road!!). The Scion XB are rated 32-35 MPG on the highway, I have a stick shift 2006. The mileage is not super great, but better than the SUV I had. My foot print is 7100 lbs, so my terapass is helping off-set my use. Using the device, I was able to monitor the MPG, with care and learning the operational capabilities of the vehicle, I was able to obtain 42 MPG going to Monterey Bay from Long Beach recently. Now, the device is designed to work with most cars. So it might be a helpful device to master better MPG.

    There are many types of these monitoring devices for such use. I help you, remember there is computer connector under your dash call the OBDII. It’s a industry standard connector with industry standard computer outputs. Very useful and free to use!!

    Also, I do not draft other vehicals, I use to, until I witness a very serious accident. It’s dangerous and in California – it’s against the law. If you get caught, the money you saved for gas performance can be used to pay the heavy fine!!

  9. Debbie - March 14, 2007

    I have a Prius with a TerraPass sticker. I just want to mention how important it is to keep your tires properly inflated. The first time I took my Prius to the dealer for an oil change they put 32 lbs into all the tires and I got less than 50 mpg on my way home (I reset the mpg when I get the oil changed). Today was the second time and I reminded them that it needs 35 in the front tires and 33 in the rear. On my way home I got 66 mpg (it’s hilly here and more down than up in that direction – but still that was quite a difference!) You’d think the dealer would know the proper pressure for a Prius but they didn’t.

  10. Chad - March 15, 2007

    I have mentioned this hear before, but I will say it again….driving slowly in order to save gasoline is a waste of time – you save about $10 in gas for each extra hour you spend on the road. Your time is almost certainly more valuable than that. If you have any passengers, it is absolutely that your combined time is worth more than the gasoline.
    Please drive within the normal pace of traffic, and take the hour you save every week and volunteer, or perhaps work more and donate the money to a good cause. Not only will traffic flow better (the fastest 10% AND the slowest 10% cause most of the problems), but you will do the world more good.

  11. Adam Stein - March 15, 2007

    Chad, I think part of the reason people don’t seem swayed by this argument is that most of us don’t really believe it’s possible to salvage a usable hour of time by shaving a minute here and a minute there off of every car trip. It’d be nice if we could bundle up all the wasted minutes in our lives and turn them into volunteer time, but life doesn’t seem to work that way.
    Then there’s the fact that racing around often just means hitting the brakes that much harder at a stop sign or stop light.

  12. ogden - March 20, 2007

    Sure you could save a lot of gas by drafting, but that is not what I’m interested in saving. What I’m most interested is save is my life. I live in city with a lot of drivers that are not the best drives. Those that are 80 Plus also those are just 16, and every crazy nut in between. So I believe that if you drive like normal sane person not only do you save gas but you might save your own life. Post script; I drive a civic hybrid with 46mpg average, with 4,128 lbs of CO2 per year.

  13. Anonymous - March 24, 2007

    Drafting is not something I care to do, nonetheless I think it is amazing how people here instantly began castigating Wayne based on very little information on what he was doing. Just a few words that he was crazy, and people started jumping on him right and left!
    As for exiting the freeway at 50 mph — *everyone* does that! Honestly now, does anyone here slow down to 30 mph before getting off the freeway? I certainly hope not, because if you do you are presenting a severe hazard to both yourself and other drivers.

  14. Anonymous - April 28, 2007

    It appears most people think that in order to get an effective draft, a trailing car must be inches away from the leading car/or semi. However, this is not the case. Although it is true that the closer you are, the better, an effective draft can still be maintained at a further distance. The reason a semi produces a good draft is because it displaces so much air, that it leaves a low pressure area behind it, or vacuum. This low pressure area continues for a significant distance behind the truck, although the further you get, the more additional air your car must displace. Regardless, drafting is beneficial for both cars(or trucks). The trailing car cuts drag on the first car by decreasing the pressure wake from behind it. The trailing car then gets the benefit of taking advantage of the vacuum. I have done some simulation with drafting, with a CFD package (COMSOL), which illustrates the point I am making.

  15. John - July 31, 2007

    Wanna save energy? I’ll bet you don’t! I’ll bet you wanna be a hipster and *feel* like you are doing something. Ya probably really digg tofu.
    I live 3 miles from work, on purpose…I had the job before I had the house. I ride my bike 30 percent of the time( and get really weird looks), walk 5 percent of the time and drive a manual 1992 Toyota Paseo that gets 38 (40+ freeway) in town. I buy my groceries once a week (unless I forget something). I don’t turn my central air on at home unless its really hot. I turn off my lights when I’m not in the room. I don’t turn the heat up high in the winter. I live in an appropriately sized home (read small) I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t create much waste. I don’t preach, have bumper stickers, flip off SUV drivers, drive some fancy hybrid car thats full of batteries (although not a bad thing… I bet my paseo is right up there without the prestige… or the batteries…hey energy isn’t free… gotta plug that sucker in..cuz like… I don’t care what ya think about me). I own a 1994 F150 that I drive about 400 miles a year to haul loads and such. I don’t stand out in the least. I don’t have a display in my car (though I wouldn’t mind…kinda cool) because it would be silly to try to gain a couple of miles on my 3 mile trek.
    If you are serious enough to post then you should be serious enough to rethink your lifestyle. If that means moving, move. If that means downsizing, then downsize. If that means that you can’t park your hybrid in front of your 5000sqft ranch with two giant CA’s out back… well do it. And I mean, buy a few fluorescent bulbs already.
    If you are just so-so’n it… well thats cool. And I appreciate it and I personally thank you…it all adds up. But, just consider that getting 50 in a hybrid isn’t going to save the world. You probably wouldn’t be caught dead in my Paseo (I think its cool lookin :) And you probably wouldn’t live in my house.
    Being an ass and breaking laws should land you in jail. I hope you don’t kill anyone. I really hope you don’t kill a family and kids in a van that stops at stop signs. I kinda do hope you get butt raped.
    I personally go for tire wear. I want my tires to last 100,000 miles… and if that means hitting the rare cat, well so be it…Roads are for cars, not cats! I gotta get that 100,000. Wash hands, wash hands, wash hands.
    Guy’s got a mental disorder :)
    Take it easy and don’t bend over,
    John

  16. John - July 31, 2007

    Oh yeah… Please try to limit purchasing products made in China, Korea, Mexico and any country where they do not pay a decent working wage. If China has its way, we well all live in poverty. Wages even out. If you buy stuff that was made by a person that makes 63 cents an hour, then you will one day make 63 cents an hour (Thereabouts) Concentrate on America, Canada, Japan, Europe. I more concerned with our lives and freedom than a few Co2’s.
    And just so we are all on the same page. If our economy collapses, pollution will dramatically increase throughout the world. China has no controls and is horribly polluted. Cancer rates are very high there.
    Not to mention, stale bread and water will be hard to come by. That will get you and me well before the Co2’s.
    I just thought about it, I’ll make a website…
    wecantletthishappen.com
    I’ll never profit from it.
    Free stickers and free tshirts at my cost.
    This is serious,
    John

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