Attention Hypermilers – Please Don’t Be a Traffic Impediment

By Chris Haak


With average US gas prices over $4 per gallon (and a near-celebration that the average fell two tenths of a cent over the past few days), a growing number of individuals have decided that rather than shopping for the lowest gas prices or considering the purchase of a more fuel-efficient vehicle, they will do their best to eke out fuel economy numbers that are seemingly impossible to achieve.

We’ve all seen the standard tips for fuel efficient driving a thousand times; don’t waste energy by accelerating or braking hard; keep speeds down, keep tires properly inflated, keep the air filter clean and the car well-tuned, etc. In this environment, however, there are people who call themselves “hypermilers” who take all of the above steps to the highest power, use some more extreme fuel-saving tips to get incredible fuel economy figures far above EPA estimates.

Instead of inflating their tires to 32 PSI, a hypermiler might inflate his to 50 PSI, which reduces the size of the patch and therefore adversely affects handling, braking, and steering performance, but the harder tires also roll down the road more easily.

Other tricks – sometimes questionable – employed by hypermilers include using a thinner viscosity motor oil to reduce internal friction, removing unused seats and extraneous weight from their vehicles, turning off their engine at traffic lights (sometimes even in stop and go traffic), coasting down hills in neutral, and fastidiously avoiding the use of air conditioning or other electrical accessories that might require the car’s alternator to engage. Knowing that I might be on the road simultaneously with a hypermiler, I’m not inclined to appreciate their overinflated tires (making them more likely to be in an accident), out-of-control downhill coasting in neutral, or having to wait for them to restart their engine at each prolonged stop in traffic or at a red light.

I’d read about these “hypermiler” creatures before – and frankly was uninterested in any of their techniques due to a combination of impatience and safety reasons – but had never seen a hypermiler in the wild before. Until this evening, that is.

On my commute home from work, I encountered a Toyota Tercel similar to the one pictured above with its hazard flashers activated in the right-hand shoulder of the two-lane road I was traveling on. At first glance, I assumed the car was pulled over for one reason or another, but later realized that it was actually moving down the road, albeit at a slow pace (probably about 25-30 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour speed limit). Just as I approached the car, the driver zipped in front of me in the true travel lane to avoid something on the shoulder, and I realized what I had just seen. I’m generally not the most observant person in the world, but the stickers and placards all over the back window (which, incidentally, is another safety hazard) saying, “I’m a hypermiler! 58 miles per gallon!” among other things really helped give away his intent. Curious after reading his rear window display, I kept a closer eye on this individual. The weather was sunny and in the high-70s, and the driver maneuvered back to the shoulder, I noticed that he had his windows open and was sweating profusely. Hopefully the sweat was caused by his shame for dawdling along on the shoulder (illegally) and not by his discomfort in a hot car.

The fundamental question that a hypermiler has to ask himself is whether the safety, comfort, and time sacrifices are all worth it to save $13.92 per week (assuming that the guy I saw gets 58 miles per gallon in his Tercel rather than the 31 miles per gallon a 1994 Tercel was rated at by the EPA in the adjusted 2008 scale). Assuming 12,000 miles per year, he’d save 181 gallons of gas, which is $724 per year, $60 per month, or $13.92 per week. More importantly for me, however, is that he probably irritates 181 motorists per day by driving around them on the shoulder in traffic, dodging in front of them when there is a shoulder obstruction, and visually bragging about his fuel efficiency claims all over his back window.

Hypermiling is not for me, but for people that do choose to engage in it, please be considerate of other motorists. Really, your fuel economy is not as important to your fellow motorists as safe, considerate driving.

COPYRIGHT – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. Some of these tips sound pretty useful.

  2. Great article, everyone and their cousin is talking abt hypermiling but no one seems to care what kind of impact it has on drivers elsewhere.

    People who are hypermiling to save the earth might be interested to know that their actions in traffic actually cause MORE fuel to be used in order to avoid them.

    I think many of the principles are sound, but the one that bugs me (which isn’t actually mentioned in the article but I’ve seen it on hypermiling forums) is the folks who engage neutral and shut off their engines while gliding downhill.

    WTF are you thinking???

  3. I will say that turning off your engine at traffic lights is actually quite common in some countries – in Switzerland pretty much everyone does it at the longer lights.

  4. This very odd, I’ve never heard of this before. It seems like other people know about it, but it must be under the radar in most places.

  5. I will slow my acceleration and roll to stops and even coast down hills, but drive like that? Uh, no…

  6. Well, I saw the same hypermiler on my way in this morning. The flashers were still on, but he had the windows up.
    I’m going to try to have my Blackberry ready to snap a photo on the ride home tonight of this guy.

  7. Knuckleheads that are interested only in their selfish concerns and are not concerned about other’s safety. Typical misguided earnestness by the eco-communists.

  8. Go to the nearest autocross event and ask anyone what psi they’re running. Is it over the manufacturer’s recommended pressure? I guarantee it is.

    They’re adversely affecting the patch! Inform them that they they’re endangering everyone, and just letting some air out will help them perform better. When they whine about higher pressures performing better, just scoff. Theory trumps experience, and they clearly are doing it wrong.

  9. My worst encounter with a variation of a hypermiler was on the New York State Thruway. It was a Volkswagen Diesel with a GreaseCar conversion. He had all of his cooking oil conversion & filtering apparatus secured to his roof rack and as I approached, it suddenly broke loose. I barely managed to avoid getting hit by it.

  10. I think the best thing people can do to save gas after getting their tires properly inflated is to slow the [email protected]#$ DOWN!

    I just traded in my Mustang for a 08 Focus for my 50 mile one way commute.

    I am just amazed by the number of people blowing by me on the interstate in their Maxisized SUVs and Pickups when I’m doing 65 to 70.

    I think we should have a national speed limit of 65 and I think all hevy trucks engaged in interstate commerce should be required to install a speed governor.

  11. One of these comments said everyone and his cousin is talking about hyper-miling but I’m with lone salter, I’ve never even heard of it. I must be hanging out with the wrong crowd!

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