Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Conscious Shopper Challenge: Learn to Hypermile

A challenge from The Conscious Shopper.

Those of you who've been following my personal blog know that this year I started The Conscious Shopper Challenge, a year-long series of challenges to help you go green without going broke. I recently decided to quit blogging at The Conscious Shopper, so I'm moving the challenge over here to the Green Phone Booth. Right now, we're in the middle of the travel-related challenges. If you want to go back to the beginning and work your way through the whole series (complete with checklists!), you can find the index here.

This week's challenge is...

Learn to Hypermile

While researching for this post, I read an article on Mother Jones about a man named Wayne Gerdes, who apparently invented the term hypermiler and at the time was the world's most fuel efficient driver. The journalist describes going for a drive with Gerdes and deciding that "hypermiling consists of driving like a 90-year-old in a mobile sweat lodge..." That is, until Gerdes takes the 270-degree exit at 50 miles per hour.

You've probably heard of some of the other crazy things dedicated hypermilers do: "drafting" behind semi-trucks, driving with the car in neutral or with the engine off, refusing to using their breaks, etc.

When I say "learn to hypermile," I am not referring to those crazy stunts. It is completely ridiculous to me to put yourself at risk just to save some gas. There are better ways to improve our fuel efficiency. So maybe "hypermile" isn't the most accurate term here. Maybe I should just say that I'm challenging you to be a better, more conscious, less aggressive driver.

To complete this challenge, you can:

  • Keep the junk out of your trunk. And off your trunk. And off your roof. And out of your car in general. And definitely don't haul a trailer if you can avoid it. Excess cargo and cargo racks make your car heavier and increase aerodynamic drag.
  • Don't be aggressive. Fast accelerations followed by slamming on the brakes are a big no-no if you want to improve your gas mileage and are more likely to induce a foul mood than save you time on the road. According to the Mother Jones article, "one study found that jackrabbit starts and hard brake stops reduce travel time by only about 4 percent—that's 75 seconds on a 30-minute trip."
  • Drive the speed limit. If you're in town, speeding will just lead to aggressive driving (see above), and if you're on the highway, driving too fast can actually lower your fuel efficiency. Most cars get their best mileage at around 55 mph.
  • Avoid making lots of small trips. Instead, plan your errands for one day and plot out an efficient route to hit all of your stops. In cold weather, start with the farthest destination first and work your way back, allowing your vehicle to get warmed up and thereby achieve it's most efficient mileage.
  • Avoid using the air conditioner. For the extremists out there - your car will always run most efficiently with the A/C off and the windows rolled up. If you're not into melting every morning on your way to work - my husband heard recently that the magic number for air conditioner use is 45 mph: if you're going slower than 45, keep the A/C off and the windows rolled down; if you're going faster than 45, keep the windows up and turn on the A/C.
  • Anticipate light changes. Pay attention to what's happening on the road several lights ahead so you can anticipate if the light is going to turn red and cruise to a stop rather than hitting the brakes.
  • Ride the ridge. On the highway or interstate, drive with your right wheels on the white line. This lets other drivers know that you're a slow driver so they can avoid you and also gets your wheels out of the watery grooves made by other drivers when it's raining.
Most of these tips could be summarized in two words: Pay attention! My challenge with putting these principles into action has been remembering to pay close attention to my driving, rather than talking to (or yelling at) the kids, grooving to music, or writing blog posts in my head. It's easy to become zombies behind the wheel of a car, but the more attentive we can be, the less gas we will consume.

Will you take the challenge?


Shona~ LALA dex press said...

When my boyfriend's grandmother died I bought her well maintained 1994 Olds Cutlas wagon w/ 42k miles (super sweet deal!) and as a result I started channeling old lady driving habits.

Glad to hear you will continue on this blog, but will still miss your personal blog.

Daisy said...

Good points! I like the practical suggestions. We make a habit of avoiding the A/C in town, using it on the highway only. Mileage actually decreases when all the windows are open and you're driving 65 mph.

Kathryn Grace said...

Sorry, can't. No car!

Green Bean said...

Great tips, Erin. I've done some of the easy ones and knew about the AC but the others are totally new to me.

Melissa @ HerGreenLife said...

I do most of these things already, and it seems to drive other drivers crazy. I take great pleasure when other cars zoom around me when the light turns green, only to slam on the brakes at the red light two blocks ahead, while I, with my slow and steady acceleration reach that next light at a better time and cruise by them. I don't know if the impatient and inefficient drivers can see my self-satisfied smile, but you can bet it's there ;)

Kellie said...

I've been hypermiling for over a year now and can really tell a difference in my mileage. I don't do any of the crazy, scary drafting type things, but like you said, being aware helps.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Shona - Thanks!

@Kathryn Grace - You go girl!

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