The Futility of Hypermiling

Everyone likes the idea of vehicles that have good fuel economy. The more efficient a vehicle is, the less money you have to spend on gas.

There are a lot of different approaches people take to getting better mileage. On one hand, you’ve got a bunch of sub-compact cars with tiny gas engines like the Smart Car, Mini Cooper and the Fiat 500. On the other hand, you’ve got a bunch of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius, Nissan Altima, and some Hyundais.

Still other people think the problem can be solved with pure electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S. Then there’s the Chevrolet Volt crowd preaching the plug-in hybrid. There’s also a growing community behind the idea of bio-diesel powered vehicles. Whatever the approach, the underlying idea is the same: to stretch a gallon of fuel as far as you possibly can.

One method that people use to try and increase fuel economy is a risky and stupid practice called “hypermiling.” Hypermiling is a specific style of driving that tries to maximize fuel economy. Some techniques include:

  • Inflating tires beyond recommended specifications
  • Following very closely behind large trucks
  • Coasting down hills
  • Coasting with the engine off
  • Modifying your car for better aerodynamics

On Internet message boards, people discuss their mileage with other drivers in a bragging contest for who can get the highest numbers out of an ordinary car. In implementing these risky techniques, some drivers claim massive improvements in miles-per-gallon.

I think the whole practice is utterly stupid.

These hypermiling techniques are dangerous to other drivers. Overinflating your tires means less rolling resistance, but it also means a smaller contact patch with the road and therefore less grip. Less grip increases the potential for the car to lose control in wet or sudden braking situations.

Tailgating other drivers increases the risk of a collision, and coasting with the engine off is illegal in many states because the vehicle will not have power brakes or steering, and poses a safety risk to other drivers.

Hypermiling is a dumb solution to the problem of trying to save on gas.

Let me illustrate the problem with a different example: let’s say you have a good friend whose house keeps getting broken into. It’s happened 3 times in the last year. Distraught, your friend asks you for advice. He’s contemplating buying a gun, installing security doors and windows, installing an alarm system, and more. It’s quite obvious that if your friend’s house keeps getting broken into in spite of those things, the best choice is to MOVE SOMEWHERE ELSE.

If you really want to save on gas, don’t tape off your front bumper and remove your side mirrors. Don’t draft behind tractor-trailers on the freeway and don’t overinflate your tires. Here are some of MY solutions for saving gas:

  • Combine your trips
  • Telecommute or carpool to work
  • Use public transportation
  • Buy a more fuel efficient car (trade in your K5 Blazer for a Prius)

If you already do these things and you still feel like gas is too expensive, then maybe driving just isn’t for you. Maybe you shouldn’t own a car at all. Move to a dense, urban, walkable city with good public transit. It’s not worth endangering your life and everyone else’s safety just to save a measly few dollars at the pump.

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