Hypermiling | Get More Miles From Your Next Road Trip

Hypermilers are the ultralight backpackers of the road, chasing marginal gains to get maximum mileage from their vehicle. Here’s how to boost your mpg ahead of your next road trip.

4th August 2023 | Words by Dave Hamilton

They say adventure begins where the road ends. But if you’re planning a hiking or backpacking trip in one of the more remote parts of the UK, there’ll probably be plenty of road miles to drive first, in order to get to your start point. Similarly, if you’re dreaming of taking an epic road trip like Scotland’s famous North Coast 500, you’ll inevitably be spending plenty of time behind the wheel.

Though few adventurers tend to think about this initial stage of the journey, it makes sense to try and drive efficiently whilst you’re en route. Taking this ethos to the extreme is known as hypermiling – the art of driving to get the maximum fuel efficiency out of a vehicle. It works, too. Hypermilers can often achieve mpg (miles per gallon) figures way beyond those stated by the vehicle manufacturer.

There are multiple advantages to hypermiling. Firstly, it is a more environmentally friendly approach to driving. After all, the more we reduce fuel consumption, the less pollution we emit per mile driven (not just CO2, but also NOx). Secondly, with the spiralling cost of living, cutting the cost of a journey, especially on those long-distance trips, can make a real difference to the money in your pocket. It might even be the difference between being able to afford a trip to the Lakes or the Cairngorms rather than having to spend a weekend at home. Seems worth it, right?

Hypermiling car driving on carriageway

Hypermiling History

The term ‘hypermiling’ was first coined by Wayne Gerdes, editor and chief of the website cleanmpg.com, way back in 2004. Wayne wanted to make a distinction between someone who got ‘good mileage’ and someone who really pushed the manufacturer’s stated mpg to the limit.

Much like a dedicated ultralight backpacker might choose a frameless rucksack, a minimalist single-skin shelter and a superlight sleep system for those marginal gains, a hypermiler will continuously search for ways they can squeeze more miles out of their fuel tank – or increasingly, more life out of their EV’s battery.

Best Cars for Hypermiling

If you’re in the market for a new car, it’s worth paying attention to mpg figures. With a quoted mpg of 72.2mpg, the Peugeot 208 BlueHDi 100 is currently one of the best new cars for fuel economy, closely followed by the Citroen C3. Buying used? Two surprising cars come out on top for fuel economy in the second-hand car category – another Peugeot 208, this time the 2015 1.6-litre BlueHDi model. Next up is the diesel-powered Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer 2.0 CTDi. And when it comes to EVs, the two best performing electric cars for miles per kWh – basically, the battery equivalent of mpg – are the Tesla Model 3 and the Renault Megane E-Tech. Unfortunately, neither of these vehicles are cheap. The Fiat 500e or the Renault Zoe are somewhat more affordable alternatives that are still pretty efficient.

Basics of Hypermiling

Red car taking a scenic route blue skies

1. The Car

The first step to getting better mpg is to make sure your car is in good working order. Get it serviced and make sure the tyres are inflated to the right psi for your carrying load. Under-inflated tyres will cause drag. Tyres that are 25 per cent under-inflated will cost you 2-3 per cent in fuel efficiency. Tyres that are 50% under not only significantly increase the chance of an accident, but they also lose as much as 10% efficiency. On the flipside, over-inflated tyres are dangerous to drive on, as they increase the risk of a blowout.

When it comes to engine oil, thinner oils are better suited to the calm, hypermile style of driving rather than stop-start city traffic. A 5w30 grade oil flows through the engine more easily compared to a thicker, more viscous oil, which creates drag as it flows through the moving parts. In turn, this means that energy is being converted to heat rather than motion and the engine isn’t working as efficiently as it could be. If in doubt, talk to your mechanic next time you take the car in for a service or MOT and they will be able to advise.

Next, remove all excess weight from the car. Clear the boot/trunk of everything but the essentials. A hardcore hypermiler might even go as far as to remove the spare tyre or the rear seats before setting off on a long journey. However, it’s probably best to take the middle ground – stick to the sensible rather than being too radical, at least to start with. Leave important items such as first aid kid, maps, jacks and the spare tyre, but take off unneeded roof boxes or roof racks and rails. Empty out your glove compartment and door pockets, leaving only the essentials. If camping, try to keep your total weight down as much as possible – take a lightweight tent, superlight sleeping bag and ultralight aluminium or titanium cooking gear.

To really save on fuel, most hypermilers turn the air con off and keep the windows closed. If it’s a hot day, take off excess layers before reaching for the air con switch. If you do have to turn it on, hit the button to recirculate air inside the car rather than continually cooling fresh air from outside.

Man driving car

2. The Driver

Consider the energy needed to get a car up to 60 mph. Now consider how much of that energy is lost every time you touch the brake pedal. Exactly – so, ideally you want to avoid braking as much as possible. That doesn’t mean pulling out at junctions or jumping red lights: it refers to reducing or eliminating needless braking, allowing the car to naturally slow whenever required.

Driving without braking

Judging the road ahead will reduce the need to brake; if a traffic light is red then take your foot off the accelerator to slow down. Nine times out of ten it will change to green before you get there. Even if it stays red, you have not used extra acceleration simply to get to the lights. Roundabouts require a similar technique. Slow right down on your approach by taking your foot off the accelerator. If you can clearly see that nothing is coming, simply glide across.

When in traffic, give the car in front plenty of space, so that if they slow down or stop, you should have sufficient distance to let them do so without having to brake. If your sat nav gives you a choice of routes, pick the one with the fewest number of junctions, stop signs and traffic lights – even if it is marginally longer.

Low revs, smooth driving

The harder an engine has to work, the more fuel it uses. So, keep an eye on that rev counter and keep it as low as you can, ideally around 2,000 rpm. Think ‘smooth as a chauffeur’ rather than ‘fast and furious’. Switch up to the highest gear suitable as soon as you can and try to reduce the load on the engine. Most cars reach maximum fuel efficiency between 45 and 55 mph, with some rising to a little over 60 mph. If your car has a modern dashboard read-out, use it to monitor your real time mpg and find the speed on the flat where this reads at its highest.

Hills should be approached just as a road cyclist would approach them. Accelerate downhill and let momentum pull you uphill as much as you can before touching that gas pedal. If the road is flat, you can use cruise control to maintain your optimum speed – but turn it off when you are approaching a hill.

Slow and steady

Hypermiling requires more concentration on the road. In time it can become an almost mindful approach to driving, rather than merely getting from A to B in the shortest time possible. And whilst the more extreme elements of hypermiling might not be for everyone, even adopting one or two of the techniques will reduce fuel consumption.

Woman driving a van

Five tips for your next road trip

  1. Brake as little as possible – a good hyper-miler will be concentrating on the road ahead, aiming to predict what other drivers are doing. 
  2. Correctly inflate your tyres – driving with under-inflated tyres is not only dangerous, but can cost you up to 10% in fuel economy.  
  3. Shed excess weight – whilst we don’t suggest you get rid of anything that might jeopardise your safety, clean out your car and pack only what you need for your adventures. 
  4. Time your journeys – tailbacks and stop-start traffic are the kiss of death to a hypermiler. Try to avoid rush-hour traffic, like the morning rush between 7am and 9am or post-work commutes between 5pm and 7pm. 
  5. Turn off the air con– keep the windows up and your air con off. Just wear a T-shirt in the car to avoid overheating, and if you must have the air con on, recirculate air inside the car rather than continually cooling fresh air from outside. 

Dave Hamilton is a photographer, forager and explorer of historic sites and natural places. A father of two boys, he writes for BBC WildlifeCountryfile, andWalk magazines.

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