Hypermilers: Are They Sacrificing Safety for Mileage?

As gas prices continue to skyrocket and motorists look for ways to improve fuel economy this holiday weekend, auto safety experts warn that many "hypermilers" are putting their lives and others at risk with extreme driving techniques on the road.

Hypermiling, the increasingly common practice of modifying driving to decrease fuel consumption, is growing in popularity as Americans preference fuel economy more and more over performance and power on the road.

"Some motorists have taken their desire to improve fuel economy to extremes with techniques that put themselves, as well as their fellow motorists, in danger," says Marshall L. Doney, AAA Automotive Vice President. "Not only are these extreme driving behaviors dangerous, many of them also are illegal."

This weekend 34.2 million Americans will be hitting the road for the holiday and drivers in 31 states and the District of Columbia are now paying over $4.00 a gallon on average according to the AAA.

This perfect storm is creating a "new breed of fuel-sipping fanatics that are menacing our roads," according to Jake Fisher, Consumer Report's Auto Division Senior Engineer.

"Speeding down hills to maintain momentum, slowing up the hills to prevent pressing too hard on the gas pedal, coasting through red lights, and even tailgating semi-trucks to save fuel are all symptoms of this new threat to drivers everywhere," according to Fisher.

Doney and other experts do not condemn all hypermiling techniques, but rather recommend legal and safe practices such as "smooth and easy acceleration and braking, maintaining a steady speed, using cruise control and looking ahead to anticipate changing traffic conditions."

Not only are there dangerous hypermiling techniques on the road, but some other tricks of the trade can also be dangerous to your car's engine and tires warn experts.

Properly inflating tires can help fuel economy by two or three percent, but the Rubber Manufacturers Association warns that over-inflation, which reduces friction on pavement, could lead to premature ware and may cause handling issues on slick or icy surfaces.

Further, some hypermilers seek out the lowest "weight" motor oil with the lowest viscosity to allow engine parts to move at the highest level. However, the AAA warns that using too light of oil may cause premature engine ware.

Safety experts admire the spirit of hypermilers and do not wish to vilify their quest for maximum fuel efficiency, but rather simply want to emphasize "safety first" on the roads this summer.

Fisher recommends sites like Hypermiling.com and Cleanmpg.com that promote safe and effective ways to maximize fuel economy.

Fisher says, "You should always be courteous to others around you and watch the road not the fuel economy gauge."

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