Going the Extra Hypermile

by on March 7th, 2015
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It all began innocently enough on a Sunday morning. We’d slept late, had a leisurely breakfast and were enjoying our second cup of coffee when my husband casually remarked that he had been reading up on hypermiling and that it was something he wanted to try.

“It’s a good way to save gas,” he said. “I’d actually like to start doing it now so we will be really good at it when we drive to Georgia this summer.”

There went my perfect Sunday morning.

Without even fully understanding the implications of hypermiling, I knew that we were about to embark on a perilous journey. A staunch believer in the if-you-are-going-to-do-something-do-it-right philosophy, my husband goes from rational and easy-going to obsessive-compulsive when he undertakes a project. He also tends to explain things in great depth. Ask him what time it is and he will tell you how to make a watch. It was, therefore, with some trepidation, that I inquired about hypermiling.

“It’s a way of using certain driving techniques to get the best possible gas mileage out of your car. It will just mean adjusting our driving habits some,” he explained.

OK, that didn’t seem unreasonable, and given the amount of money we were spending at the pumps, I was for anything that would save gas. Little did I know that “adjusting our driving habits some” was the understatement of the century.

The first step in this rapidly escalating project was to save all our receipts and clock the mileage on each tank of gas to determine a baseline miles per gallon used. My husband put everything into a spreadsheet and then moved on to color-coded pie charts. He calculated the cost of each mile down to fractions of a penny. I didn’t have the heart to tell him his results were probably skewed because I frequently forgot to record the mileage and just made up numbers.

To make sure that we were using the right driving maneuvers, my husband began reading everything he could find on hypermiling. Once he had convinced himself that he had the theory of hypermiling down pat, it was time to put it into practice. I borrowed a friend’s statue of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, and placed it on the dashboard of our car.

Our first hypermile outing began when my husband insisted on rolling the car out of the garage instead of driving it out. He had me sit in the driver’s seat and put the car in neutral so he could push the car out onto the driveway and then let its natural incline take the car to the bottom.

“See,” he said massaging his back, “this way we aren’t using gas to do what gravity can do for us.”

“Gee,” I said, “what a great way to save a thimbleful of gas.”

Ignoring my remark, my husband signaled for me to get into the passenger seat as he took the wheel and started the car. “OK, we have to keep in mind that by minimizing the use of the brakes we save gas.”

Minimizing the use of the brakes? “Excuse me? How are we supposed to stop?” I asked, clutching St. Christopher in my now sweaty palms.

“Oh, you anticipate a stop, take your foot off the gas and let the car slow down by itself. If you brake at the last minute you waste gas.”

“I vote for wasting the gas.”

“I sense certain reluctance on your part to fully engage in this endeavor.”

Great, not only was he putting our lives in jeopardy to increase our gas mileage, now he was talking like a character in a bad English movie.

“I’m sorry. I will try to be more supportive,” I said tightening my seat belt.

We left the driveway and headed down the road at about 10 mph. Before I could ask why we were creeping along, my husband began his discourse on Hypermiling 101. “I’m going this slow for two reasons. First, you get better gas mileage at lower speeds, and second, we are coming to a stop sign and I want to avoid using my brakes if I can. I’m going to take my foot off the gas and coast to a stop. “

At 10 mph I really shouldn’t have panicked, but in truth, two minutes of hypermiling had me hyperventilating and we hadn’t even left our street. I closed my eyes and was hugely relieved when I felt the car come to a stop without colliding with another object. My husband’s coasting technique had worked and he’d successfully brought the car to halt without using the brakes. That we were at a standstill a full 15 feet before the stop sign bothered him not at all. He took it as a good omen that coasting worked.

We went out every day for a week and practiced hypermiling techniques. We turned corners without braking so as not to lose momentum leaving me white-knuckled and slightly nauseous. We drove at least 10 miles below the speed limit and incurred the wrath of every horn-honking and finger-flipping driver behind us. We shut the motor off in the drive-through to keep it from idling. Of course, we had to keep turning the engine on to move forward, so I’m still not sure how this saved gas, but my husband assured me that it did. We planned our trips to the store using routes that would let us pass through the fewest number of traffic signals and stop signs possible. We also avoided left turns so we wouldn’t have to stop (there’s that whole brake thing again) for oncoming traffic. At the end of the week we determined that we had increased our mileage by a half a mile per gallon.

Even though I was hoping that my husband would get discouraged by this meager improvement, I knew better. A half-a-mile per gallon gain just encouraged him to work harder at hypermiling.

“There are some other measures we can take,” he informed me. “We need to empty the trunk to lighten the load.” That was fine with me; the trunk was a mess. I did draw the line, however, on taking out the spare… and the back seat.

Next came what I referred to as the “parking lot treasure hunt.” My husband insisted that we had to park nose out on the highest point of the parking lot so we could coast out of our spot and avoid having to shift from drive to reverse when we left. When I pointed out that he had to shift from drive to reverse in order to park nose out, he replied not if we found a pull-through spot. Thus we began endlessly circling the lot in search of the elusive pull-through spot in a high place. I don’t know, call me dense, but the efficacy of this maneuver escaped me.

Months of hypermiling ultimately paid off to the tune of an eight mile per gallon increase. Even I had to acknowledge it was a pretty impressive gain, but my husband remained determined to boost it even higher as our departure for Georgia grew near. He began studying topographical maps to get a sense of where there was hilly terrain that would allow him to coast downhill.

“You know, we could coast down more hills and save a lot of gas if we drove to Alabama instead of Georgia,” he announced one evening.

“That may be so, but our children live in Georgia.”

“It was just a thought. One thing I did discover is that it is more efficient not to run the air conditioning and to keep the windows closed when driving on the highway.”

That stopped me in my tracks. “Um, let me remind you we will be driving down in July.”

“I know,” he said going to the back of his closet and holding up two vests. “That’s why I got these. They’re ice vests. We can wear them to keep cool.”

I reached for the phone and began to dial.

“What are you doing?”

“I am saving our marriage,” I answered. “We’re flying to Georgia.”

More from This Contributor:
Walking the Walk

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