Hypermilers: Drivers Go to Extremes for Gas Mileage

With gas prices on the rise, some drivers are using quirky ways to save money.

July 23, 2007 — -- Two years ago Americans were growing increasingly upset about rising prices when they reached $2 a gallon. Today the numbers are much higher.

The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.05, but Minnesota residents shell out more money. At $3.20 a gallon, they pay the highest price in the country, likely because of refinery problems in the Midwest.

Massachusetts residents have it a bit easier at $2.91. They are purchasing gas at the lowest price in the country.

With oil companies expected to release stellar second-quarter profit reports later this week, some drivers said they are looking to save money not by changing to hybrids, but by changing themselves.

Slow and Steady Saves Gas

Lately Joshua Zumbrun has averaged about 72 miles per gallon in the hybrid he bought for his long commute as a Washington Post reporter. The mileage is high, even for a hybrid.

"That's like driving from D.C. to Philly and a little bit more on just over 2 gallons of gas," he said.

Zumbrun has several tips to bring in big savings. The first is to slow down and drive steadily without accelerating and braking so often.

"There's no point in racing up to a red light every time," he said.

Zumbrun said gravity is a driver's friend and drivers should coast when they can. He also said that sitting at a long red light while the car's engine is idling could be hard on a car, but that drivers should shut off their engines.

Alone, each step may not save much, but together they could add up to huge savings.

Hypermilers Go the Distance

Some competitors in last weekend's Hybridfest "Miles Per Gallon" Challenge in Madison, Wis., put their gas saving skills to the test. The contestants, known as "hypermilers" for their skill at squeezing every mile they can out of every drop of gas, drove 30 miles with the goal of conserving as much gas as possible. The winner was the driver with the best gas mileage.

Hypermiler Wayne Gerdes said he constantly times traffic lights and anticipates helpful hills, and many competitors went as far as ditching their shoes in order to reduce the weight their cars carried.

When the race began, the contestants, driving slowly to conserve fuel, held up regular traffic. At the finish line, Gerdes came in second in his division with nearly 146 miles per gallon. Winner Bill Kinney eked out an amazing 168 miles per gallon.

Hypermilers achieve these fuel-saving goals in a variety of ways. The extreme ones draft behind big rig trucks and turn off their engines on freeways.

Hypermilers said drivers also can tweak their cars for better fuel economy. They suggest using the thinnest oil recommended for your vehicle and the maximum recommended tire pressure.

But some safety advocates disapprove of the tactics, noting that overinflated tires and close drafting behind big trucks on freeways can be dangerous.

"Those are frankly dangerous practices that no one should be doing no matter how much they want to save on the price of gasoline," said AAA public relations director Geoff Sundstrom.