Hypermiling Without a Hybrid

By Bill Moore

Posted: 13 Sep 2009

I was pretty excited last evening as my wife and my parents drove west on U.S. 34 in western Iowa. We were return from my aunt's 80th birthday party at the Elks Club Shenandoah. The four remaining brothers and sister, along many of their children and their children's children came to honor a truly noble soul whose seen more personal tragedy in one life than anyone should have to bear.

We were driving in our newly acquired 2009 Toyota Prius and as we headed down off the bluffs onto the Missouri River bottom and the junction with Interstate 29 near Glenwood, I noticed that we'd made our best mileage to date in the car, which we've had now for just over a week: 51.2 mpg. Now that's traveling at 65 mph with four adults on board and it probably some 20 mpg better than we'd have gotten in our older Accord or in my parent's newer Kia Sonata. My father quickly calculated that during the 120 mile trip to visit his sisters and surviving brother we used just a little over 2 gallons of gasoline. He shook his head and chuckled with delight, intrigued by the Prius' fuel consumption display. This was only the second time he'd ridden in a Prius; the first time being back in 1999 when Toyota loaned me one of their early Japanese versions with right-hand drive to test for a month that stretched into four months.

Of course, I am sure there are other Prius drivers out there that have turned in significantly better numbers. I did with the new, 2010 Prius last Spring in Napa Valley, getting a not-too-shabby 68 mpg. Other media drivers did even better.

But the "fun" of sipping ever-less quantities of petroleum doesn't have to be the sole purview of hybrid car owners as the New York Times reports in Mileage Champs See the U.S.A. at 67.9 M.P.G..

John and Helen Taylor are the Guinness Book record holders for driving further on fewer tanks of fuel than anyone else. The Australian couple have made a profession out of breaking their own records. Previously, they had driven through all 48 lower-US states in their 2009 VW Jetta TDI, achieving 58.8 mpg. Now they've broken that record using an identical car, this time equipped with Goodyear Fuel Max, low-rolling-resistance tires, driving 9,505 miles at 67.9 mpg overall.

As the Times story points out, it doesn't matter so much what car the Taylor's are driving. They set similar records driving everything from "spartan subcompacts" to luxury cars. They once even got a petrol guzzling V-8 Jaguar to go 680 miles on a single tank of fuel, which translated into 32 mpg, nearly double the car's rated fuel economy.

The Taylor's bag of tricks are similar to other hyper-milers: gradual acceleration, traveling at slower speeds, typically 5-7 mph under the speed limit and one that I talked about with my father last night: coasting up to red lights instead of racing up to the intersection and then braking. He also uses a fuel economy performance display set to show moment-by-moment fuel economy, rather than the trip average, which is, of course, a standard feature on the Prius and other similar hybrids. Of course, since the TDI isn't equipped with auto stop-start, as is my Prius, Taylor has to manually turn off his engine at long red-lights, then restart it. My Prius and my 2000 Honda Insight both do this automatically.

As John Taylor pointed out to the Times reporter, "The key is patience." That's something that takes personal discipline more than electronic gadgetry and hybrid wizardry.

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