We’ve all been there. Running a few minutes late for an important meeting and feeling that every second counts. Slamming down the gas pedal is empowering. We feel we’re taking charge of the situation and making up time.
In reality, we’re wasting gas, increasing emissions, endangering ourselves and anyone else on the road, and not even accomplishing the goal of jack rabbit driving — saving time. According to a study by Edmunds.com, an automotive education site, jack rabbit starts and hard-brake stops only reduce travel time by 4 percent. That’s barely more than one minute for a 30-minute trip.
What do you do to improve your fuel economy?
Do you consider yourself a hypermiler or do you know one? Share your techniques.
To put the theory to the test in Columbia, I drove my wife to work Wednesday.
We live near the corner of West Blvd and Worley Street, and my wife works on the southeast side of town near the AC exit. We took West Blvd to Stadium, headed east and then turned south on Old 63. From our driveway to her office is about 7 miles.
On one route, I rocketed from stops (as much as a 7-year-old Nissan Sentra can rocket), braked at the last minute for stoplights and signs and exceeded the speed limit by about 10 miles per hour.
The second time around, I coasted into stoplights and stop signs trying to minimize brake use, crept away from stops and rarely exceeded the speed limit.
How much time did I save zipping around, nearly burning rubber as I took off from intersections, reliving the day I got my license? Ten seconds. That’s hardly worth the extra mental stress, wear on our car, or the 25 percent or worse decline I experienced in fuel economy.
The simple lesson that’s difficult to remember—slow down, and you’ll still get there at the same time. “Until you’re ready to drive differently everything else is moot,” said Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com.
A new breed of drivers are doing just that and breaking records for fuel economy. They’re called hypermilers, and that person you’ve been stuck behind on the highway driving 55 might not be an “experienced” driver, but a hypermiler striving to squeeze efficiency out of every ounce of fuel.
Wayne Gerdes is one the leaders in the quest for fuel efficiency, and he started an online forum, CleanMPG.com, dedicated to improving fuel economy and reducing emissions for any and all vehicles. Gerdes consistently gets about 60 miles to the gallon in a nonhybrid 2005 Accord.
You can try hypermiling tips, but some throw comfort to the wayside. Hypermilers remove seats, radios and pretty much anything not connected to the operation of the car. They also drive with the windows up and the air conditioning off, and some air-seal the gaps in the front of the car.
Some of the more extreme and potentially dangerous techniques are removing side mirrors for greater aerodynamic performance, and drafting semis on the highway, similar to the way NASCAR drivers draft each other on the track.
I find my mirrors pretty useful on the highway and for backing up, and turning off the engine to coast brings back bad memories of my steering locking up on my Tornado when the engine failed, so I’m passing on those fuel-saving tips.
But many of the techniques are easy, practical and won’t slow you down or infringe on your comfort. My favorite for around town is the power of the coast. As soon as you see a yellow or red light or stop sign, take your foot off the accelerator and ease your way to the intersection. Keep your tires inflated and your car well-maintained. Inflating 5 pounds above the manufacture's suggestion is safe and will help increase mileage, according to Reed.
Get the junk and other heavy items out of the trunk too, but don't expect to see huge gains when you remove the Kleenex box.
Planning your trips to avoid stoplights and stop signs is much more important than agonizing over weight. If you think of every time you brake as wasted energy, and thus wasted fuel, you can become a more efficient driver with more cash in your pocket too, Reed said.
If you hone your hypermiling skills, you can test your merit at the annual Green Drive Expo MPG Challenge. Even the 2009 non-hybrid category winner achieved 65 mpg, more than 140 percent above the EPA estimate for his 1991 Honda CRX. Missouri wasn’t represented among the winners, so here’s a call to car glory, although not exactly Carl Edwards-style.
To really save gas and cut your greenhouse gas emissions, try driving less.
This September’s program is the fifth annual No Car, Low Car and Whoa! Car Challenge. The program aims to get people out of their cars on their daily commutes and to promote the idea of the car as an option, not a necessity. Last year, more than 80 Columbians signed up for the challenge.
There are four levels of participation. I’ve got a weekend trip planned in September, so I committed to the Low Car category, which affords me one trip in a car for the month.
"No car" is for the die-hards, who won’t ride in a car for the entire month for any reason. They can, however, take public transport such as buses, trains and planes. "Whoa! car" folks can drive once per week, and business traveler participants get a pass for all work-related travel, but they must forgo their vehicles for any personal trips.
Spandex is not required whether you’re biking, walking or wheeling to your destinations. All participants will receive a hot-pink card with freebies, including bus fare for the month and discounts at local businesses. Check the PedNet website for a complete list of the events planned for the month.
Overshiner said that by making the commitment, participants learn to overcome challenges, such as weather. “After riding in the rain a few times, people realize it’s not that big of a deal,” she said.
See you in the slow lane.
Michael Burden is a journalism graduate student at MU, the MU campus representative for the Peace Corps and an amateur hypermiler.