Will Hypermiling Catch on?

The world’s economy has tripped and skinned its knee. “Cost cutting” is the term of the moment. Even the profligate spenders in Formula One are trimming their expenses -- and even considering an expenditure cap. Motor sports the world over are looking for ways to give themselves something of a green veneer, and the average person is just trying to figure out how to save some money. The solution to both may come in a new redheaded stepchild of motor sports called hypermiling. No, it’s not racing, and it might be a stretch to call it a motor sport, but its practitioners are as serious about it as an F1 driver preparing for a grand prix.

Hypermiling is a new kind of motoring event in which cars are driven thousands of miles very slowly and carefully, proving that motor sports don’t have to be all about screeching tires, maximum revs and power slides. Quite the opposite, really: Hypermiling is all about driving smoothly, slowly and keeping momentum. Brakes are bad; coasting is good.

One of the pioneers of hypermiling, Wayne Gerdes recently drove a Ford Fusion almost 1,500 miles on just one tank of fuel costing less than $40. To make the feat even more impressive, Gerdes didn’t drive the journey in some uber-friendly eco-buggy either: The Fusion was a standard 2.5-liter family sedan.

While the choice of car can certainly make a difference, the technique is the thing in hypermiling. The aim is to drive the car as far as possible on a single tank of fuel, as frugally as possible. That means no stereo, no air conditioning, no open windows and minimal use of the throttle. Tire pressures are inflated to their absolute safe maximum to reduce rolling resistance, and every fuel-saving technique possible is applied -- such as freewheeling down hills.

Even though the sport sounds like stuff that favors the proverbial little old lady from Pasadena -- though not her superstock Dodge -- Gerdes’ most recent run in his Ford Fusion was with a team of six, each taking shifts at the wheel. It could well be a world record, although, sadly, Guinness World Records representatives weren’t present to record the event. The fuel in the Fusion finally ran dry after 1,445.7 miles and 69 hours of driving. That’s pretty impressive fuel economy in anyone’s logbook.

While you might not be able to compete at quite the same level as Gerdes and his team, here are some basic tips for any wannabe hypermiler:

  • Accelerate as smoothly and as gingerly as possible given the demands of traffic behind you.
  • Brake as gently and as little as you can. Anticipating the traffic flow will help you achieve this.
  • Coast up to traffic lights and stop signs.
  • As you approach the top of a hill, take your foot off the accelerator. Inertia will allow you to crest the brow, and then gravity will take over, pulling you downhill.  Some hypermilers turn off the ignition as they coast, but this could cost you in steering and braking control, so we don’t recommend it.
  • Avoid bumps and potholes, which reduce forward momentum.
  • Install a fuel-consumption gauge in your car so you can track your performance.

Will hypermiling really take off as a motor sport? As a participant sport, it is already with us because the economy has turned many of us into de facto hypermilers, but we can’t imagine that an endurance contest featuring cars going very slowly for hours at a time will catch on as a televised sport. But then again, who could’ve thought amateur dance contests could rule the prime-time airwaves?