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Report: Does hypermiling work for a Toyota Sienna?

In a word: Yes.

Last night on the way home from work, I heard on the news that the price of oil had jumped another $10 a barrel, and that gas prices are expected to reach $5 a gallon by July 4. Even though I was down only a quarter-tank of gas, I figured I’d better stop by Costco to top off at a price we’ll likely never see again.

At $3.939 a gallon, Costco’s gas had jumped since SDXB filled up five hours earlier. The lines stretched to the street; 25 other drivers had conceived the fill-up idea before I did.

My car took 4.6 gallons. That amount had carried it 118.8 miles, for an average 25.8 miles per gallon.

Not bad, for a lumbering minivan whose year 2000 EPA estimate was 18 mpg in town-a figure we know to have erred on the high side. The gummint’s revised estimate is now 16 in the city and 22 on the highway, for a combined 19 mpg. Since about half the 118.8 driving miles took place on the surface streets, we might take the EPA’s combined mpg as what we could expect. So, using a very basic seven frugal driving techniques gleaned from the hypermiling set, I managed to squeeze an extra 6.8 miles per gallon out of the old tank without much practice or expertise.

Next steps:

  • Check tire pressure; inflate to maximum
  • Use lowest recommended weight oil for next oil change
  • Change air filter

Frugal driving = stress relief

It ought to drive you bats to dork around with your driving habits, which have served you just fine over lo! these past 45 years, in penny-pinching resolve to save a gallon of gas here and a gallon of gas there. Focusing on every mile per hour and wondering whether the tattooed fright behind you will brandish his Uzi if you slow his blast-off from the red light should leave you grinding your teeth. It’s only common sense, right?

No. Paradoxically, the truth is quite the contrary. For the past week or ten days, I’ve been trying out hypermiling techniques, just to see if $4.00 can be stretched to cover a little more of my 38-mile round-trip commute. One issue the hypermiling advice has brought to my attention is that what I call “assertive” driving is actually…well, it’s true: aggressive driving. Also, it’s possible that flying down the freeway in the pod that habitually moves 10 or 15 mph over the limit could, maybe, be called “speeding.”

Since I’ve taken to following just a few steps to save gas, the hated drive has mysteriously become a lot less hateful. The stress of wending my way across the surface streets and then competing (yes, competing) with other wired-up drivers across 18 miles of freeways has gone away. If it doesn’t matter whether you get there first and it doesn’t matter whether you get across the city at 65 or 75 miles an hour, then suddenly it doesn’t matter whether someone cuts you off! It doesn’t matter whether slower traffic wanders right in front of you. And it doesn’t matter that you can’t see around the truck ahead of you, because seeing around it wouldn’t make you go any faster.

Removing all these frustrations that used to matter, at one psychological level or another, causes driving to morph from mildly annoying to fairly relaxing.

Now, here’s the weird part: Not only does frugal driving relieve stress, it gets you there just as fast as jerking around and racing down the road will! In fact, it may get you there faster.

First time I tried a couple of hypermiling techniques, I noticed I got all the way out to campus in about 20 minutes. Fluke. Gotta be a fluke: it was coming up on Memorial Day weekend. All the moron drivers must have knocked off a day early and gone on vacation. Next trip: 20 minutes flat. Next day: think I actually got there in under 20 minutes. But, uhm…this is a 30- to 40-minute drive under the best of circumstances; two hours on a bus.

Why? For one thing, it’s in the interest of hypermiling to stay on the freeway even if traffic is moving slowly, as long as it’s not stop-and-go, because you don’t want to have to accelerate from a standing stop (i.e., you don’t want to stop at intersections). So, instead of dropping onto the surface streets at the earliest sign of a back-up, I’m hanging in there to see what develops. Often freeway traffic will slow to 30 or 40 miles an hour but then after a few minutes go right back up to speed. So I’m making more of my trip at 55 mph, nonstop, than I would if I traveled half the way on the surface streets at 50 mph but stopped at red lights, slowed for a school zone, or got stuck behind a school bus.

It may also be that second-guessing the speed of various lanes somehow slows you down. Some mathematically inclined bloggers look at traffic in terms of fluid dynamics and argue that driving slower and keeping a wide space between you and the car in front of you actually forces traffic around you to flow more efficiently. True? Not knowing, I’d hesitate to state, for fear of being erroneous.

Here are the frugal driving techniques I’ve been using:

  • Try to avoid applying the brakes any more than absolutely necessary. Watch the traffic flow ahead and, when red lights start to glow, coast to decelerate. Try to reach traffic stopped at the light as it’s beginning to move, so you don’t have to start up from a dead stop.
  • Accelerate from a stop slowly. It’s a car, not a jackrabbit.
  • When starting from a dead stop, allow the car to idle forward for a second before stepping on the gas.
  • Use the cruise control to maintain speed on the freeway and on steadily moving surface streets, and use it to accelerate and decelerate. Use the “coast” and “acc” functions to slow and speed gently. Try to keep your foot off the gas pedal as much as possible. But n.b.: don’t use cruise control on an uphill grade.
  • When approaching a grade, speed up a little (stay sane about this) to build momentum; then allow the car to slow as it climbs. Use the downhill grade to get back up to your cruising speed before resuming the cruise control.
  • Never drive faster than 60 mph on an urban freeway. Try to keep your speed at around 55 mph. Stay in the slow lane and take it easy.
  • If it looks like you will have to stand for more than 30 seconds (for example, at a long stoplight, in a gas station line, at a railroad crossing), turn off the engine.

Hypermiling includes several other strategies, some of which apparently aren’t very safe. We’ll see soon enough whether the seven techniques above work to improve my Sienna’s 18 mpg performance. I’ll let you know the next time I fill up!

1 Comment left at iWeb site

Value For Your LIfe

Great post!These are some gas saving tips I haven’t seen repeated over and over again elsewhere.I always go easy on the brakes (as a result it also makes my brakes last almost twice as long as average), and we have just gotten into the habit of driving more slowly and have noticed a significant difference.I will defintiely try some of the other hypermiling techniques you mention here!

Tuesday, June 17, 200809:56 AM