In theory, hypermiling means besting any car's Environmental Protection Agency fuel efficiency estimates. Behind the wheel, it's a different approach to driving: going at or below the speed limit; accelerating slower; coasting more and using the brakes less (when safe); and timing red lights to idle as little as possible.
Anna Orlove snapped a photo of her Toyota Prius' odometer earlier this month. The occasion: She drove 777 miles on one tank of gas, slightly more than 66 miles per gallon, and it deserved to be memorialized.
"I took a photograph because I thought it was so cool," she said. "I'd like to get 75 miles per gallon, but I think it's going to be a stretch."
Orlove, a Wellesley, Mass., resident, practices hypermiling. She takes back roads on her commute, where the traffic is lighter, so she can use her own driving style as much as possible and her car's brakes much less. "Momentum is your friend" is one of her driving mottos.
In theory, hypermiling means besting any car's Environmental Protection Agency fuel efficiency estimates for hybrids, sport utility vehicles and everything in between.
Behind the wheel, it's a different approach to driving: going at or below the speed limit; accelerating slower; coasting more and using the brakes less (when safe); and timing red lights to idle as little as possible.
The techniques sound simple enough - though there are more advanced ones, such as shifting into neutral and turning the car off while coasting down a hill, and then restarting - but stopping yourself from pressing the accelerator out of habit is easier said than done.
The concept predates the current spike in gasoline prices. But judging by online discussion boards and blogs, there seem to be lots of new, interested practitioners, looking to squeeze as many miles per gallon as possible.
"Before you turn your key, you start thinking, 'How am I going to reduce my consumption?' People think it's so much (to do), but after a few months, it becomes second nature," said Wayne Gerdes, whose Web site, CleanMPG.com, has become such a popular source on hypermiling it is his full-time job.
"You're thinking about what's going on in front of you and anticipating it and planning for it, rather than reacting to it," he said. "If you can throw that switch and think three blocks out, instead of the bumper in front of you, you've made the switch."
Paul Smith, 41, a chemical engineer who works in Milford, Mass., made the switch in February, when he was unhappy his 1993 Toyota Corolla could not last a week without needing a refill.
Now he drives below 65 mph on highways, coasts to lights he thinks will turn red by the time he arrives, and turns off his ignition at red lights where he knows the timing sequence so his car does not idle. He has been tracking his miles per gallon and has gone from 32 when he started hypermiling to a peak of 44 last week.
"Now that I've attained the 39-41 miles per gallon range, I'm trying to improve my efficiency even more because I'm finding people who are getting 100 percent greater fuel efficiency than what the recommended highway standards are," Smith said.
But he and others said they do not sacrifice safety for fuel efficiency. Smith, for example, does not like to draft behind trucks, another technique.
"The trade-off between better fuel efficiency and safety - the risk-reward is poor so, no, I don't draft and I find it annoys people," he said.
For those unsure about hypermiling, an easier place to start is basic car maintenance, local mechanics said. Having the proper tire pressure - it's OK to go a couple PSI above the recommended level, they said - clean air filters and good wheel alignment are a good place to start maximizing fuel efficiency.
"If a tire is low on air, it increases rolling resistance. The more resistance, the more power you need to get the car moving and keep it moving," said Eric Boyd, owner of Boyd's Auto Service in Natick, Mass., explaining how tire pressure affects mileage.
Joe Murphy, owner of Murphy's Automotive in Framingham, Mass., said devices touting lower gas mileage are probably more gimmicky than effective.
"The engineers have the cars running as clean and efficiently as they can. Having high gas mileage is a good selling point; that's why they do that," he said. "Consumers should pay just as much attention to their maintenance, driving habits and trip-planning."
On a retro note, Ralph Borgesen, 77, of Millis, Mass., started driving his 1979 Chevrolet Chevette more to improve his gas mileage. With a new battery, fuel pump, starter and paint job, he now gets between 35 and 42 miles per gallon. He said the secret is the car's light body.
"There's no weight to them, that's why you get the mileage," he said in his driveway, showing off the Chevette. "The cars just got heavier and heavier, and it takes more gas to push the weight. If only they went the other way."
Aaron Wasserman may be reached at 508-634-7546 or email@example.com. Previous stories in this series can be found at www.metrowestdailynews.com.