January 1st, 2014

Hypermiling for better fuel economy

Posted by NRG SVR in Fuel Economy, smart car

We originally posted this on June 12th, 2008. We’ve moved it up to 2014 to make sure more readers see it.

Much has been written about ‘hypermiling’ and the driving style of ‘hypermilers’. The ability to squeeze 80, 90 or even 100 mpg out of my diesel smart car is clearly a good thing when fuel is $1.50 a litre in Canada / $5.00 a gallon in the US. Not only that, but there’s the impact of our vehicles CO2 emissions on the climate. A big impact. About 50% of the average Canadians greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from their vehicle.

There are some really common sense approaches to getting better mileage. And they don’t involve coasting dangerously through stop lights, disconnecting your alternator, letting your car sniff acetone, or strapping hideous and poorly paint-matched cardboard all over your car to increase the aerodynamics. (Don’t ask. It wasn’t me.)

Fueleconomy.gov has a good list… click on the drive more efficiently link.

Cleanmpg.com appears to be the home away from home of Wayne Gerdes, who coined the term ‘hypermiler’ some time ago. A bit of a scientific read.

A pretty exhaustive list of both common, and uncommon methods of saving fuel can be found at ecomodder.com… have fun with those 100+ ideas…

The list would not be complete without metrompg.com. Darin, the website owner, first brought the Scangauge to my attention back in June 2006. The site has a wealth of information, and some great interviews with fuel economy pioneers.

Here’s the main hypermiling techniques I utilize day in and day out to get better fuel economy in my smart car:

  • Use a Scangauge - it’s a fuel economy computer that plugs into the OBDII socket on most 1996+ cars. Yeah, I do sell them. There is a huge motivation factor when your actual fuel economy is displayed to you as you drive - and the Scangauge can even be programmed to show the cost of your trip. The Scanguage reinforces the need to adhere to almost all of the other points. If your car has a fuel economy readout in it already - use it. In my opinion, it should be required equipment on all new vehicles. I can’t think of any hypermilers that don’t use a Scangauge or other similar device.
  • Keep track of your fuel economy. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Hypermilers know their fuel economy inside out. Saying ‘I usually get 300 miles to a tank’ doesn’t mean much - how much fuel did you use? 330 miles is 10% better, but how will you really know how your changes in driving style have affected your fuel economy if you’re just guessing? Even worse… ‘It costs me $40 to fillup’. Uh, okay… when was that? Last year? You don’t have to get the scalpel out, but you should keep track of the volume of fuel that you use, either by recording the odometer or trip meter reading on the fuel receipt. You can work out your fuel economy on a per tank basis, and if you’re keen, you’ll enter it on a spreadsheet or at one of many websites that help you compare against other drivers. My favorite is spritmonitor, a German site, but that’s only because when the smart first came to Canada, the only way to find other drivers was to visit a European website. And too, Europe gets all the really cool diesels that we in North America do not.
  • Shift at the precise RPM that will drop you into the next gear right at the beginning of the power band, and shift quickly between the gears as you accelerate. In the smart diesel, 2500 RPM is an ideal shift point on the flats. Which means you need a tach, and if you haven’t got one of those, the Scangauge can show you the RPM as well. And yeah, you MUST drive the smart in manual mode to get better fuel economy. When cruising, drive in as high a gear, and as low an RPM as possible, without lugging (putting too much load on the engine).
  • Anticipate lights, stop signs and traffic flow. This is crucial in the city. It’s a total waste to keep your foot on the accelerator, and then have to use the brakes. Coast where possible, but don’t be a nuisance to other drivers. Practice makes perfect. I can travel miles through suburban areas and never touch the brakes…
  • If you have a manual, gear down for the corners and only take your foot off the accelerator - brakes are bad remember. Another trick you should use on freeway offramps is to gently rock the steering wheel very slightly left and right as you make the turn - you will have better control of the car if you don’t try and hold the wheel firmly in one position. This means less braking and more time coasting down to suburban speed.
  • Don’t idle. I turn off the ignition for trains and really long lights. Avoid drive thru lineups like the plague. IMO, they should be banned.
  • Keep your oil clean. Change it as recommended by the manufacturer. I change the smart oil out with synthetic 0w40 every 5000-6000 kms.
  • Tire pressure must be maintained. I like mine a bit higher than recommended by the vehicle manufacturer, but I never exceed the pressure that the tire manufacturer lists on the sidewall. You need to know the difference! Somewhere in between is ideal for fuel economy, handling, tire life and comfort of ride. Experiment, and make sure you use a good gauge when the tires are COLD. Even 2-3 PSI higher can get you better fuel economy.
  • A word on bike racks and luggage carriers. They may look cool, but they put a drag on both your car and your wallet. A bike rack on the diesel smart car with a bike on it can increase consumption by 20% easily. (Trust me, I tested it.) That thule box on your VW TDI might impress you friends, but take it off between the monthly trip to the slopes. The money you’ll save will pay for your dinner AND drinks at the Keg afterwards.
  • Control your speed. You will exponentially use more and more fuel the faster you go over 55 mph / 90 kmh on the freeway. Certainly don’t annoy every other vehicle on the road by driving too slow, but don’t speed… I can still get 3.5 L/100 km or 80 mpg driving the smart close to 60 mph / 100 kmh.
  • Use cruise control on the flats. Be careful uphill though. It’s better to gear down and slow down a little bit on the hills. Trying to maintain your cruising speed from the flats could use 50% more fuel than need be. On the hills, I keep an eye on the Scangauge and lay off the accelerator a bit.
  • Windows up? Yes, you will cost yourself more fuel driving with windows down and even a bit more with the top down in a convertible. But I don’t worry about this one too much… unless I am on a fuel economy run, where naturally, every percent counts.
  • Hypermiling involves pretty much all of the above as a minimum. There are more, shall we say ‘dedicated’ techniques, but if you adhere to this list, you’ll be more than well on your way.

    The reality is this - your right foot and your ego has the most to do with how much fuel your chosen vehicle burns. Even a Toyota Prius or Honda Civic hybrid is no guarantee of fuel savings if you don’t put a bit of effort into it. Or as one hypermiler put it: ‘fanatic’ is what the lazy call the dedicated.

    I plan on purchasing a 2008 gasoline smart car for extended fuel economy testing. The gasoline smart may not be as frugal as the diesel, but I’m sure I’ll figure out the nuances of the gasser quicker. I didn’t have a Scangauge in 2005 during the 100 MPG Challenge. This saw ‘NRG SVR’ and I drive round trip across all ten Canadian provinces averaging 3.6 L/100 km (78 mpg imperial / 65 mpg US). I was promoting the One-Tonne Challenge for the City of Abbotsford at about the time climate change concerns started to reach the public forefront.

    The best fuel economy I have achieved to date in the smart is 2.23 L/100 km, or 126 mpg imperial / 105 mpg US. You can read about that here. On my daily commute between Abbotsford and Cloverdale BC, 3.0 L/100 km is pretty standard, except in inclimate weather.

    I’m an analyst for Coastal Pacific Xpress, a large trucking company in Western Canada. I manage the fuel purchasing and I’m involved in all areas related to fuel consumption and sustainability. Indeed, ‘hypermileage’ is where it is at. We’re getting close to spending $50,000,000 a year on fuel.

    Contact me by e-mail with any comments.

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