When I started driving, my first car was a huge, mid-eighties station wagon. Although it contained a lot of steel (which my parents liked) and could carry a lot of my friends (which I liked), the behemoth also sucked down a lot of gas, which was sometimes hard to cover on the money that I made from my after school job. To combat the fuel drain, I quickly picked up a few tricks, like drafting and coasting.
Drafting was all well and good, but it tended to terrify the other drivers. My preferred money-saving method was coasting. Rather than use a lot of gas to speed up and then use my brake to slow down, I tried, as often as possible, to get gravity to do my work. In Northern Virginia, where I lived, this became pretty interesting, as there were a lot of small hills. However, by carefully calibrating my acceleration, I was able to use the natural topography to save fuel. My favorite route was through the middle of town, where two major highways met. There was a wide valley in the area and, if I could time the lights properly, I was able to go about a mile or so without hitting the gas. Of course, there were times when my refusal to hit the brakes was sorely tested, and I still have bad dreams about some of my close calls. On the other hand, I did eke out between 20 and 30 mpg in Northern Virginia city driving, which is damn near miraculous.
Recently, as the cost of gas has soared, my old tricks have really come back into fashion. Whereas I used to refer to my little gas-saving tricks as "driving like a stupid, cheap teenager," current practitioners prefer the snappier-sounding "hypermiling." Personally, I think hypermiling sounds like the way you drive when you've got a full bladder and the next rest stop is ten exits away, but I guess it conveys the supercool exxxtreme notion of intensely saving gas. At any rate, in addition to "drafting," which involves driving insanely close to the person in front of you, and "coasting," which involves never hitting the gas, hypermilers also superinflate their tires to reduce road resistance and some even turn off their engines while coasting, a process that they call "pulse and glide." By following these methods, they often eke out astounding mpgs from their cars, sometimes exceeding the actual sticker values that car lots advertise!
There are already a few hypermiling websites, including Hypermiling.com and MetroMpg, where competitive hypermilers can learn about new techniques and brag about their successes. However, even as the sport becomes more popular, authorities are beginning to become critical of it. Some states already have laws against pulse and gliding, and other hypermiling techniques could, officially, count as reckless driving. AAA has come out against hypermiling, as have some state police groups. Both groups have argued that hypermiling can easily cause accidents.
On the other hand, nobody ever said that getting 35 mpg was going to be easy...
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. "Driving on fumes" is his middle name.
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