Friday, June 20, 2008

Attention Hypermilers - Please Don't Be a Traffic Impediment

By Chris Haak


With average US gas prices over $4 per gallon (and a near-celebration that the average fell two tenths of a cent over the past few days), a growing number of individuals have decided that rather than shopping for the lowest gas prices or considering the purchase of a more fuel-efficient vehicle, they will do their best to eke out fuel economy numbers that are seemingly impossible to achieve.

We've all seen the standard tips for fuel efficient driving a thousand times; don't waste energy by accelerating or braking hard; keep speeds down, keep tires properly inflated, keep the air filter clean and the car well-tuned, etc. In this environment, however, there are people who call themselves "hypermilers" who take all of the above steps to the highest power, plus use some more extreme fuel-saving tips to get incredible fuel economy figures far above EPA estimates.

Instead of inflating their tires to 32 PSI, a hypermiler might inflate his to 50 PSI, which reduces the size of the contact patch and therefore adversely affects handling, braking, and steering performance, but the harder tires also roll down the road more easily.

Other tricks - sometimes questionable - employed by hypermilers include using a thinner viscosity motor oil to reduce internal friction, removing unused seats and extraneous weight from their vehicles, turning off their engine at traffic lights (sometimes even in stop and go traffic), coasting down hills in neutral, and fastidiously avoiding the use of air conditioning or other electrical accessories that might require the car's alternator to engage. Knowing that I might be on the road simultaneously with a hypermiler, I'm not inclined to appreciate their overinflated tires (making them more likely to be in an accident), out-of-control downhill coasting in neutral, or having to wait for them to restart their engine at each prolonged stop in traffic or at a red light.

I'd read about these "hypermiler" creatures before - and frankly was uninterested in any of their techniques due to a combination of impatience and safety reasons - but had never seen a hypermiler in the wild before. Until this evening, that is.

On my commute home from work, I encountered a Toyota Tercel similar to the one pictured above with its hazard flashers activated in the right-hand shoulder of the two-lane road I was traveling on. At first glance, I assumed the car was pulled over for one reason or another, but later realized that it was actually moving down the road, albeit at a slow pace (probably about 25-30 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour speed limit). Just as I approached the car, the driver zipped in front of me in the true travel lane to avoid something on the shoulder, and I realized what I had just seen. I'm generally not the most observant person in the world, but the stickers and placards all over the back window (which, incidentally, is another safety hazard) saying, "I'm a hypermiler! 58 miles per gallon!" among other things really helped give away his intent. Curious after reading his rear window display, I kept a closer eye on this individual. The weather was sunny and in the high-70s, and the driver maneuvered back to the shoulder, I noticed that he had his windows open and was sweating profusely. Hopefully the sweat was caused by his shame for dawdling along on the shoulder (illegally) and not by his discomfort in a hot car.

The fundamental question that a hypermiler has to ask himself is whether the safety, comfort, and time sacrifices are all worth it to save $13.92 per week (assuming that the guy I saw gets 58 miles per gallon in his Tercel rather than the 31 miles per gallon a 1994 Tercel was rated at by the EPA in the adjusted 2008 scale). Assuming 12,000 miles per year, he'd save 181 gallons of gas, which is $724 per year, $60 per month, or $13.92 per week. More importantly for me, however, is that he probably irritates 181 motorists per day by driving around them on the shoulder in traffic, dodging in front of them when there is a shoulder obstruction, and visually bragging about his fuel efficiency claims all over his back window.

Hypermiling is not for me, but for people that do choose to engage in it, please be considerate of other motorists. Really, your fuel economy is not as important to your fellow motorists as safe, considerate driving.

No comments: