Learn to Hypermile When You Drive

Save money on gas and help the environment with a few automobile strategies.

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When Sam Harrington, 22, drove from middletown, Conn., to Troy, N.Y., his two-door 2003 Acura RSX got 50.2 miles per gallon. The secret? "Hypermiling."

Hypermiling means driving for maximum gas mileage. Chicagoan Wayne Gerdes, a former nuclear power plant operator, coined the word in 2004, hoping to wean America off foreign oil. In 2008, during the summer of $4-a-gallon gas, hypermiling became hyperpopular. That's why the New Oxford American dictionary named it the word of the year.

But how far do you go in the name of fuel economy—and is safety sacrificed? The basic principles are familiar:

  • Keep tires properly inflated. Go for the number recommended on the tire's sidewall, urges Gerdes, not the more conservative number in the car's manual.
  • A 55-mph driver uses about 30 percent less gas than the car in the fast lane hitting 70.
  • Slowing down midblock when a light turns red is better than zooming to the intersection. 
  • Shut down the engine if idling more than 30 sec-onds. Jake Fisher of Consumers Union found a 10-minute idle for a Buick Lucerne's V8 engine ate up an eighth of a gallon.
  • Cruise control can eliminate countless little accelerations that eat fuel. "I drive with my thumb on cruise control," says Steve Chafe, who runs the website hypermiling.com.

Following these tips could cut gas use by 5 to 10 percent, estimates John Nielsen of AAA. Some hypermilers turn off the engine altogether for downhill stretches, on the way to a red light, or on a highway exit ramp. "That's an advanced technique," cautions Gerdes; an engineless car has no power brakes or steering. Tailgating trucks to take advantage of their draft is another risky hypermiling tactic.