I put my car’s fuel economy to the test by hypermiling — or, driving as efficiently as possible, and, thus, reducing fuel consumption. Tips for effective hypermiling include driving slowly, keeping your tires straight, and making few (if any) stops.

I’ve had to pay for my own fuel since I was 16. Pumping gas has to be the most boring way to spend money. It would be more entertaining to throw cash off a balcony and watch people scramble for it.

As terrible as it may be, sometimes you just gotta pay to play. But I always knew I could get better miles per gallon if I tried, so that’s when I decided to hypermile.

Hypermiling: (verb) Driving as efficiently as possible, and, thus reducing fuel consumption

Back in college, I had a long-distance girlfriend. That meant hours of burning fuel driving from her school to mine. It was 606 miles roundtrip. I’d been hypermiling for years at this point, but I thought I’d put my skills to the test with this sample run.

The Test Car

Who needs a Prius? The old car I used was a 1996 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight with a V6 (same engine they put in the last generation V6 Camaros). It had just broken the 300,000-mile barrier! Hazzah! The suspension creaked, she had a few oil leaks, the A/C was as cold as Vegas, but, dang, it was a good car. I also had my Eclipse but this granny-mobile was preferable for road tripping.

The Numbers to Beat

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Car Maintenance Checklist

Here’s what I did to get my car ready for the trip:

1) New spark plugs and wires
2) New K&N air filter
3) New PCV valve
4) New partial synthetic oil at factory spec of 5w 30 and filter
5) Just prior to the trip, I ran through a full tank that contained Sta-Bil Fuel Stabilizer. This stuff cleans the fuel system. I really noticed a difference after running this stuff through my 300,000-mile injectors.
6) Washed and waxed the car before the trip — to make her slippery.
7) Overfilled the tires 5 PSI

That’s it. Nothing too difficult or expensive. I just made sure basic maintenance was done and overfilled the tires.

Note: Overfilling the tires by 5 PSI will not damage the tires, but you definitely feel a difference in how your car gets to speed and how far it coasts.

Tips for Behind the Wheel (Even More Important Than Maintenance)

1) Stop-and-go traffic will kill your miles per gallon. While sitting at a light, your car gets zero miles per gallon. Just like getting a zero on a test, this will kill your average. Normally, I try to drive when traffic is low, but for this road trip, I had to drive in rush-hour traffic on the way down to Missouri. But even while going through Kansas City, I tried to never let the wheels stop turning.

2) I never let my engine warm up before leaving. It’s actually bad for an engine and terrible for fuel economy.

3) Slow and steady wins the race. I accelerated very gradually, as long as there wasn’t anyone right behind me. It’s better for the car and better for its fuel economy. Try to chill out and enjoy the ride while doing this — otherwise, you’ll go crazy waiting to get to speed.

4) Stay in the right lane. Audiobooks are great because you’re not really wasting your time by driving slowly — you’re gaining some knowledge! And, while this may slightly anger some people, I drove five miles per hour slower than the speed limit in the right lane. That way, I never really had to pass anyone. What impatient people forget is if the speed limit is 70 mph, 70 is for the passing lane — anything else goes right. Speeding is illegal even in the left lane. *Steps off soapbox*

5) Don’t scrub tires. Tires work best when pointed straight. Darting around traffic or weaving on the road makes poor use of your energy and doesn’t actually save you time. I kept the wheels as straight as possible.

6) Stop as little as possible. Cruising down the highway is great for fuel economy, but stopping at every exit for some Little Debbie cakes isn’t. Resist the temptation!

7) Coast. I drove 300 miles applying hardly any pressure to the brakes. Not only was this easy for my brake system, but it meant my fuel economy would go through the roof while coasting. Over 100 miles per gallon! That helped my mileage quite a lot. Just remember not to do it when people are right behind you.

8) Forecast. This is the most important tip: forecast. I always look ahead so I know what to expect. If a light has been green for a time, I expect it to change soon. If it turns yellow, I coast to the crosswalk. It’s funny when I see someone slam the gas all the way to the intersection and then slam the brakes.

Once I got to my girlfriend’s school, she drove us around town. On the way home, I did everything the same. Slow, steady, and with purpose.

The Results

So, what were the results of my trip?

  • EPA Estimate: 27 mpg (highway)
  • Realized MPG: 49.6 mpg (95% highway, 5% city)

I was slightly angry because if I had probably 20 more miles of highway to travel, I could have topped 50! I monitored fuel economy using the in-dash monitoring system. It’s accurate according to the tests I put it through. But because I can be overly eager to delete files, I deleted the picture I took of the dash’s fuel economy readout. I do still have a pic of it hitting 300,000 though!

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There’s also this thread I created on an Oldsmobile forum when I was 17. I was getting over 40 MPG before I was even really trying.

Hypermiling isn’t difficult. The hardest part is preparing mentally. I’ve had to learn to calm down and enjoy the ride. But the savings are worth it.