What if you could stretch the gas in your tank an extra 50 miles? Or, even better, 100? This past summer Ian and I did just that by hypermiling our 2008 Yaris across the western U.S. — increasing our gas mileage by up to 25 percent! Want to learn how you can save substantially on gas money and get better mileage than the EPA’s estimate for your car? Well, read on, because that’s what I’m going to share with you here.
Last June Ian and I had a wedding to attend in my home town of St. Louis, and we set out on a road trip to explore the western United States along the way. Still in the early stages of entrepreneurial life, we needed to save money wherever we could.
Our trusty steed, a 2008 Yaris with automatic transmission, gets an EPA-estimated 29 city / 35 highway MPG — already quite impressive for a non-hybrid vehicle. We typically get 36 MPG in our car, but we wanted to see if we could do better.
(A note on the above photo: For reference, the Yaris’s tank only holds 11.1 gallons of fuel, making that number even more impressive.)
On our summer road trip, we got an average of 45 MPG. Whenever we stopped for gas, we calculated our average MPG for each tank, which peaked at 49 and plummeted at 38. But the fun part was competing to see who could get the best number along the way. Our MPG app calculates your estimated average as you’re driving, and we were constantly monitoring it to try to keep our average high. Turned out Ian was pretty good at hypermiling, reaching highs of 49! But we saw who the real champ was when I got a whopping 55 MPG during a portion of our drive.
Are you excited about trying hypermiling yet? If the answer is yes, here are 5 easy ways to get started now.
Get Started with Hypermiling
1. Lay off the lead foot
If you’re the type of driver that accelerates quickly or is in a constant rush to get everywhere, you’ll have to relax quite a bit with your driving. Fast acceleration is THE WORST culprit for bad gas mileage. Even when driving at a constant speed, let off the gas slightly to see if you can maintain the same speed with less effort.
Similarly, you’ll also want to take it easy on hills. Zooming uphill is bad for gas mileage, too. We’ve found that decreasing to a steady reasonable speed works best for the uphill spurts of a cross-country trek. Yes, that probably means heading to the right side of the freeway for the climb and going at a slower speed than what you’re at on flat ground, but taking it easy uphill will do wonders for your MPG.
2. Slow down your slowing down
This applies mostly to city driving with frequent traffic lights, and it goes hand-in-hand with #1. Try to avoid stopping your car whenever possible. Now I’m not recommending you blow through stop signs or anything; just do your best to time your approach to an intersection so that the light will be green and the traffic in front of you will be flowing when you get to it. The goal is to maintain as much of your original momentum as possible.
Most drivers approach a stopped intersection by simply following the car in front of them in a way that they won’t rear-end it. Not a hypermiler. A hypermiler strategizes their speed so that once the light’s green they can begin their entrance to the intersection at the highest speed possible (never slowing to a stop beforehand). That means you need to pay attention to any upcoming traffic lights as far ahead as possible.
If you’re approaching a red light from at least 500 feet away, reduce your speed immediately to give the light time to get through its cycle. Lower your speed more drastically if there are several cars in line in front of you. Entering an intersection with a starting speed of 10mph is immensely better than 0mph. If the light cycle is short enough, you’ll rarely come to a complete stop at a light again.
3. Reduce and regulate your speed
Every car has its own optimum speed for maximizing gas mileage, and generally speaking it’s not going to be the 70mph speed limit on the highway. On our road trip, we took it slow and drove around 50mph most of the way. Taking the scenic byways makes for a nicely-paced ride with enjoyable scenery.
The three driving tactics above will make the biggest difference in your car’s fuel efficiency. If you want to gauge which driving habits are best and worst for your MPG, take a look at the tools I’ve noted in the next section. Having a visual representation of our fuel efficiency while driving was pretty eye-opening for both of us!
That up there is documentation of me on my way to my personal best. We had no idea hypermiling was going to turn into a fun game for our road trip! The next two MPG increasers are here courtesy of Ian, who was actually the one researching all this stuff last summer.
4. Replace your engine air filter often
Your engine “breathes” through the engine air filter. If it’s dirty, the car has to work harder to get up to speed, lowering your efficiency. Know how old your engine air filter is and the recommended length of time or mileage you can go before changing it. Some driving conditions may require you to replace it more frequently than recommended (e.g. driving your car in and out of Burning Man).
5. Switch to a lower weight oil
First, ensure your car can run on a lower weight oil without causing problems for your engine. (Putting lower weight oil in older cars/engines can cause extra wear and tear if the weight is too low, which isn’t worth the switch.) We previously used 5W-30 (recommended in our car’s 2008 manual), but we switched to 0W-20, a more modern oil with a lower viscosity at a wider range of temperature. I didn’t understand why that was better, so I asked Ian to explain. The ‘0W’ makes the engine start and run more efficiently (with less drag) when cold; the ’20’ does the same thing when the engine is warm. According to Mobil 1 switching to 0W-20 can increase your fuel efficiency by 0.2-2.3%.
If you’re not familiar with how car engines operate, ask a knowledgable mechanic if lower weight oil is a good idea for your vehicle.
Helpful Tools to Increase Your MPG
Some fancy new cars include estimated MPG in their dashboard display. But our Yaris and a lot of other cars don’t. The good news is there are affordable tools you can use to add the same feature to your car!
OBDII Scan Tool
After scouring a few blogs on the subject, we purchased an OBDII scan tool to test on our 2014 summer road trip. It works in conjunction with an app we downloaded on our Android smart phones. (If you’re an iPhone user, unfortunately that particular model won’t work for you, and it’s a little unclear which iPhone compatible OBDII scanner works best, but there are several available on Amazon.)
The Torque Pro app works with the scan tool we purchased, and we found that it worked quite well. You may want to find a well-rated app for your phone first and read the reviews to see which scan tool people are using.
A photo posted by Diana Southern (NorthToSouth) (@dianasouth) on
That about sums up our recommendations for getting the best MPG you can out of your car. I hope you’ve found this article helpful, whether you use the information for your daily commute or an upcoming road trip. Let us know how your hypermiling journeys are going in the comments below!
If you liked this post, you should check out our budget travel secret for flying to Europe for under $200!
This post was handcrafted for you during our travels in Los Angeles, California.
About the Author
- In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.