Intro to Hypermiling: How to Save Money & Increase Your Car’s MPG [Budget Travel Secrets]

How to Maximize Your MPG through Hypermiling

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.

Over 300 miles with a half tank left. Another #yaris win! #hypermiling #roadtrip #usa

A photo posted by Diana Southern (NorthToSouth) (@dianasouth) on

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(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.)

Smartphone App

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.

#hypermiling in the #yaris! #roadtrip win!

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

Diana Southern
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.

7 Responses

  1. Andy - Window Seat Preferred May 10, 2015 / 9:33 pm

    Ha! While I completely agree with laying off on the gas and have been slowly trying to do this more and more (bear in mind I’m just trying not to have to fill the car so often, not achieve record-breaking mileage or the like), I can already imagine the reaction of my fellow motorists here in KL if I cruised up to the lights as gently as possible to avoid stopping…I’m pretty sure you’d hear the horns and beeping from here all the way to wherever you guys are! Interesting post though, never realised there were so many tricks of the trade…

    • Diana Southern May 10, 2015 / 10:22 pm

      Haha, yes, agreed. Hypermiling is more useful (and reasonable) in rural rather than urban areas. It’s working wonders for our gas mileage on our current road trip in the U.S.!

  2. Brad Armstrong June 16, 2015 / 4:14 am

    The amount of pressure in tires makes a large difference in the energy consumption of any vehicle. The higher the pressure the less the energy consumption. Within practical limits, of course, but the limits being quite a bit higher than most people imagine.

    • Diana Southern June 16, 2015 / 8:20 am

      Yes! We increased our tires’ pressure for our summer road trip last year but neglected to do it this time around — and we got better gas mileage last summer!

      Thanks for the reminder, Andy!

      • Brad Armstrong June 16, 2015 / 10:40 am

        But, beware, with increased tire pressure your ride might be a little bit harsher and emergency stopping distance longer.

  3. Daniel Sheehan June 22, 2015 / 7:16 am

    Also:
    Reduce weight. Remove the spare tire. A lot of new cars don’t even come with a spare. Don’t leave junk in the trunk.
    Reduce air drag. Using satellite radio? Remove the radio antenna. Wash and wax to smooth air flow. Don’t use window guards, running, boards, or any air dragging aftermarket junk.
    Reduce rolling resistance. I don’t recommend overfilling tires. The loss of ride quality, extra wear on suspension parts, uneven tire wear, and longer emergency braking distance make it unwise. But do monitor tire pressure closely and buy tires that are rated for good mpg. Wheel alignment is important to reduce friction too.
    Complete fuel burn. New plugs and on an older car new wires too.
    Don’t bother with premium fuel. If your manufacturer didn’t build for it it won’t help you.
    Your car will get its best mpg at its slowest speed in the highest gear. That usually around 40-45 mph in most vehicles. If you choose country roads with lower speeds you will get way better “scores” (because it is a game that’s fun) than you will on the expressway at 70 mph.

    • Diana Southern June 23, 2015 / 11:58 am

      Sounds like you’ve been doing this for awhile. 🙂 Thanks for the extra tips, Daniel.

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