Millions of Americans run to stay in shape, but a relative handful of ultramarathoners put in more than 100 miles in a race. Extreme athletes show us what is possible, even if we don’t ever expect to match it ourselves. Knowing what they can do helps us push ourselves to new possibilities.
With that in mind, we’d like you to know that a pair of drivers once drove through all 48 contiguous states averaging 81.17 miles per gallon in a car certified for 31 mpg on the highway.
There’s a subculture of drivers who compete to see who can go the furthest on a gallon of gas. They’re called hypermilers, and each one combines an engineer’s skills with an elite athlete’s mind-set to accomplish mpg ratings that would shock even the people who designed the cars they drive.
Like a weekend runner learning from an ultramarathoner, you might not decide to adopt every trick in the hypermiler’s book in your daily life. But, when gas prices hit record highs as they did in spring 2022, it might get you thinking like a hypermiler.
Here are some techniques learned from the world of hypermiling that could stretch your dollars. These techniques assume you’re driving a car with a gasoline-powered engine, though some could help you stretch more range out of your electric vehicle’s battery, too.
1. The goal? Constant motion
Off the highway, most of hypermiling is learning to time stoplights. Engines use the least gas when maintaining a constant speed. So the goal is not to have to slow down and speed up again. That means timing lights. Practice your usual drives, aiming to find the speed that lets you hit most lights when they’re green. Never accelerate toward a red light — there’s no reason to spend gas to stop sooner. A hypermiler’s worst enemy is a “stale green” — a light that has been green for some unknown amount of time, so they don’t know if they’ll be able to coast through it.
2. Coast to stops
When you’re riding a bicycle, you don’t race toward a stop and then slam on the brakes. It’s a waste of energy. So why do the same in your car? Lift your foot off the gas far ahead of required stops and drift in, losing speed gradually. The hypermiler’s goal is “driving without brakes” — reaching their destination without hitting the brake pedal, keeping momentum the whole time, so they never have to burn more gas to get it back.
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3. Never settle for zero mpg
Hypermilers don’t idle. If sitting at a red light, they turn their engines off. Yes, this can mean restarting the car many times on a single drive. That’s OK. Today’s starters don’t wear out from overuse like a generation ago. Some vehicles even come from the factory with a start and stop function that will do this for you. Some drivers find it annoying and switch it off. Even with gas prices under $4, you may want to keep that function on.
4. Consider wind resistance
Some hypermilers modify their cars’ bodies. Smooth panels covering the rear wheels, for instance, reduce drag. You don’t have to go that far. But removing a roof rack can make your car slip through the air more efficiently.
Aerodynamics make a big difference.
5. Keep your engine warm
Engines are the least efficient when they’re cold. Turning them on to warm them up before driving uses gas to go nowhere, which is counterproductive. But parking indoors, whenever possible, helps keep the engine from getting too cold between trips. When they do drive, many hypermilers look to combine trips. They’ll hit the furthest stop on their list first to get the engine warm, then do other errands on the way back, keeping stops as short as possible to prevent cooling.
6. Think of electricity as gas
All those gadgets that use electricity, even in a gas-powered car, add work to the engine. Some use little. Listening to the radio makes almost no appreciable difference in mpg. Some use a lot — switching off the A/C can save a measurable amount of gasoline.
7. Plan your route and avoid bumps
Nothing robs your car of momentum like a pothole. Even small bumps in the road can translate forward motion into useless vibration. Make an effort to stay in the smoothest part of your lane. Some hypermilers go as far as deliberately driving on the painted lines to minimize resistance, but that can be illegal.
8. Go for gravity
Maps has a great tool to assist you with saving some gas. It flags the most fuel-efficient option with a leaf icon when it offers you several routes to your destination. The system uses the number of stoplights and elevation change to do this, giving you downhill roads whenever possible. Some hypermilers even switch their engines off when coasting downhill. If you try this, be aware that this also deactivates power steering, requiring more effort to steer the car while the engine is off.
9. Use your automatic transmission’s efficient setting
Most automatic transmissions are tuned to shift at the most aesthetically pleasing moment, in the middle of their power band. But many have a sport setting, which shifts them more aggressively, and an eco setting, which times shifts to be most efficient.
10. Consider the humble stick shift
Better yet, shift yourself. Many hypermilers swear by manual transmissions and shift up as soon as possible (keeping rpm around 2,500 in most engines) for maximum efficiency.
11. Obey the speed limit
Most cars hit peak efficiency around 60 mph. Every 5 mph over 60 can make your car 10% less fuel-efficient.
12. Park strategically
Some hypermilers use what they call “potential parking” — park at the most elevated spot in a parking lot, so you can use downhill momentum to help you get started. In an empty lot, never reverse. Drive straight into parking spots and straight out — it requires less use of the right pedal and thus, uses less gas.
13. Keep your car well maintained
Big engine problems, like a bad oxygen sensor, can make an engine 40% less efficient. But even minor problems—like older, thicker oil — keep an engine from peak efficiency. Hypermilers are obsessive about maintenance. Use our Service and Repair Guide to find dealerships and repair shops so you can keep your car in top working condition.
14. Track your mpg
What kind of mpg are you getting now? You don’t know, do you? Most drivers don’t. If you want to start getting more efficient, you need to figure out how efficient you are now. Many modern vehicles will show your fuel economy, or you can use an app on your phone like Fuelly or FuelLog, found in the Apple
App Store and Google Play Store.
This story originally ran on KBB.com.