Hypermiling: 7 Techniques for More Frugal, Efficient Driving

Here in the early 2020s, drivers around the world once again find themselves in a familiar, if uncomfortable, spot: struggling to keep up with gas prices. In this climate, as in previous ones like it, many frugal drivers are turning to hypermiling to keep their fuel costs reasonable. 

Or, you know, something closer to reasonable, anyway.

What Is Hypermiling?

Hypermiling is the practice of reducing fuel costs by improving the efficiency with which you maintain and operate a vehicle. 

Wayne Gerdes coined the term in 2004, another period when many people were looking for anything they could do to keep up with rising gasoline prices. Coinciding with the rise in popularity of the Toyota Prius and other hybrid vehicles, hypermiling remains popular with frugal drivers today.

Hypermiling is primarily a set of techniques and practices that aim to achieve the best fuel economy possible. These techniques range from simple and effective to extreme and potentially hazardous.

Is Hypermiling Good for Your Car?

In general, hypermiling offers many benefits to the maintenance and longevity of your car, not to mention it typically increases road awareness and, by extension, safety. While some techniques can be dangerous and risk damaging your vehicle, these do represent responsible hypermiling.

The primary goal of hypermiling is to reduce the cost of owning and operating your vehicle. Proper maintenance and routine service are two huge factors in keeping your car running as efficiently as possible. A healthy car is an efficient car. Hypermiling is a natural friend to making your vehicle last longer.

Some hypermiling techniques lead to better gas mileage by handling your car more gently, such as reducing the need for excessive accelerating and braking. This level of care can further reduce the maintenance burden of your vehicle.

Other techniques, such as planning routes and maneuvers ahead of time, increase driver awareness and, in the process, significantly improve road safety.

Hypermilers don’t want to spend too much on gas. But, likewise, even one massive repair, insurance hike, or auto-related medical bill could devastate those savings. As such, hypermilers tend to take great care of their rides and maintain sharp awareness on the road.

Hypermiling Safety Issues

Wherever you find a means of being frugal and saving money, you are likely to find at least a few people taking it to an unreasonable extreme and making it less fun for everyone. 

Hypermiling is no exception. Some hypermilers adopt extreme tactics that are by no means worth the risk to your vehicle and personal safety:

  • Putting the car in neutral and idling while going downhill
  • Cutting the engine off entirely while stopped in traffic
  • Drafting or slipstreaming behind other vehicles to reduce aerodynamic drag

Maneuvers like these are nowhere near worth the risk to save fractions of cents at a time. Increasing the risk of an accident or losing control of your car is incredibly dangerous to your and others’ safety, not to mention your vehicle. Plus, causing an accident with one of these techniques can easily cost you a lifetime’s worth of savings from doing it “right.”

7 Hypermiling Techniques for Efficient Driving

Fortunately, there are many effective ways to improve fuel economy and maximize your vehicle’s miles per gallon without putting yourself and others in danger.

Below are some of the most common hypermiling strategies to help responsibly reduce fuel consumption and your overall fuel cost. Try some fuel-saving tips to achieve better MPG and become the most fuel-efficient driver you can be!

Don’t Drive

It’s hard to save more money on gas than by not using any at all.

One of the first things hypermilers do to maximize fuel savings is to figure out if they even need to drive to get there in the first place. Depending on your location and setting, alternatives such as walking, biking, carpooling, or public transit could all be valid options. 

Each of these options would save money over driving yourself, most are healthier, and all are better for the environment.

Proper Maintenance and Routine Service

As we mentioned above, healthy cars are efficient cars. In addition to preventing potentially severe damage or incidents down the road, routine maintenance can also improve fuel efficiency in day-to-day driving. 

Experienced hypermilers keep their inspections up to date, check tire pressure and tread regularly, and keep a close eye on their oil and other fluids. Some also invest in fuel-efficient car parts such as special tires to reduce rolling resistance.

Just like how daily toothbrushing and regular cleanings can reduce the need for painful and expensive dental work later, keeping your car well maintained is a great way to use less fuel and reduce long-term costs!

Reduce Your Cargo

As drivers, we tend to give our cars a lot of credit for being indomitable steel beasts with massive horsepower. But the harder we push them and the more we ask them to do, the more strain we put on them.

Consider the weight we ask our cars to carry. Our engines are already doing plenty of work just by hauling the car’s body around. Putting drivers and passengers in adds a bit more weight to the equation. Adding unnecessary weight beyond that can sharply reduce fuel economy.

Things like toolboxes, that 200-pound pile of clothes you need to bring to the donation bin at some point, and enough water bottles to quench a football team all add weight to your vehicle. Reducing this burden can be a big help to fuel efficiency.

Maintain an Efficient Speed

There is a reason car advertisements list their highway MPG ratings separately from their city fuel economy. Different speeds and cadences of driving consume fuel differently.

Slow, stop-and-go driving can be a big waste of gas, but blowing past the speed limit on the highway also makes your car work harder than it should. The precise sweet spot will vary from one vehicle to the next, but most are at their max fuel efficiency around 55-65 MPH.

Anything you can do to maintain a speed close to this range without sacrificing safety or compliance with the rules of the road can be a big fuel economy boost. Using cruise control when safe to do so is one great way to maintain a level speed efficiently.

Plan Your Route

UPS, a company that knows more than a thing or two about efficiency in driving, saves millions of gallons of fuel across its fleets by eliminating 90% of left turns from its delivery routes. Left turns, in countries where cars drive on the right, consume more fuel sitting in traffic while you wait for an opening. Not to mention, left turns also lead to far more collisions than right turns.

While eliminating left turns altogether may not be possible for day-to-day commuting and errands, UPS’ manner of planning certainly is. Thinking about your route before you depart can help you avoid congested areas or busy times of day, find smoother (if less obvious) routes, and save fuel in several unexpected ways.

Plan Your Maneuvers

Like planning your route, planning your maneuvers on the road before you do them is a popular and effective hypermiling technique.

Thinking ahead to your next turn, merge, or lane change helps to reduce excessive acceleration or hard braking, both of which consume unnecessary fuel.

Many hypermilers aspire to the challenge of driving without brakes, or DWB. For instance, coasting to a stop at a red light, rather than rushing up and slamming the brakes, makes more use of the fuel you’ve already expended and puts less strain on the vehicle.

Being more intentional with your maneuvers on the road saves fuel and reduces the maintenance impact of daily driving. Furthermore, extra vigilance contributes to better defensive driving and road safety.

Work With the Climate

There are several things you can do to improve climate control efficiency within your car’s cabin, saving on fuel without sacrificing yourself to the elements.

In winter, park facing the sun whenever possible. This technique will decrease the likeliness and amount you need to use window defrosters when you get back in. Alternatively, parking inside a garage or other structure can go a long way toward warming the interior.

Using air conditioning generally consumes more fuel than heating, but there are a few ways to lighten that burden. Parking in the shade is a big one. You can also keep your car cool more efficiently by setting the air to recirculate rather than continually cooling new air from the outside. 

At low speeds, it is more fuel efficient to open your windows than run the A/C, whereas, at highway speeds, the drag from open windows makes A/C the better option. That is something you can use to keep cooling costs down as well.

Maximizing Fuel Efficiency Without Risking Safety

Hypermiling has an outward reputation similar to many areas of frugal living. To the unfamiliar, it may sound like an extreme, curmudgeonly, or even dangerous way to improve gas mileage. But like other types of frugality, there’s a way to do it and a way to overdo it.

If, like everyone else with a set of car keys, you’ve been struggling with the inflated cost of a fill-up, a bit of hypermiling might be the thing for you. Of course, it may not turn your whole financial situation around overnight. But if a little bit of planning, awareness, and maintenance can help you increase fuel efficiency and drive safer at the same time, what have you got to lose?

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Hey, I’m Sam. I created Smarter and Harder to explore big ideas, both old and new, about building a better life. My mission is to evolve the conversation about personal growth and have fun doing it.

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