How To

Increase Your Gas Mileage

J. Carrier For The Washington Post
Joshua Zumbrun relearned how to drive for fuel efficiency after buying his 2001 Honda hybrid. (J. Carrier For The Washington Post)

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By Joshua Zumbrun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 6, 2006

There was good news and bad news, I learned. The good news: I got a promotion. The bad news: I landed in The Post's Howard County news bureau -- a wonderful spot, but about 35 miles from my front door.

This was last summer. I didn't own a car, the job started in two weeks, gas prices were climbing, and a 70-mile commute (instead of 10 friendly minutes on the Circulator bus) was looking expensive.

The Insight, Honda's two-seater hybrid with amazing gas mileage, sounded almost too good to be true. A lot of reports said it was -- real drivers don't get the numbers Honda touts. (The Department of Energy has a useful site explaining why this is at http://www.fueleconomy.gov./ ) The cars were scarce, so I flew to Wisconsin to become the proud owner of a 2001 Honda Insight, with an estimated 57 mpg in the city, 56 on the highway.

That's where I randomly met Bradlee Fons, an enthusiast of the cars who starts spouting hybrid statistics the moment he introduces himself. He and his son Justin are part of a rare fraternity: hypermilers, people who modify their driving to improve mileage and reduce emissions.

Fons explained that you need to "relearn how to drive" in order to appreciate a hybrid's benefits. After averaging around 48 mpg on my way home -- good, but not what was advertised -- I logged onto InsightCentral.net and GreenHybrid.com, two sites Fons had recommended to learn the ins and outs of hypermiling. The sites are full of people obsessed with their mileage gauges, people who log their mileage on each tank of gas, even people who photograph the odometer and post it online to show off particularly successful runs.

Fons also suggested I talk to someone he's dubbed "America's greatest hypermiler," Wayne Gerdes. The nuclear power plant operator in Illinois ("producing electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions," Gerdes observed) averaged more than 90 mpg for more than a year driving a manual transmission Honda Insight. He was part of a team that drove a Toyota Prius for more than 1,200 miles, in two straight days of driving, on a single tank of gas, an effort that was featured in an HBO Earth Day Special "Too Hot Not to Handle."

Gerdes says he has always kept records for every vehicle he's owned. Tired of paying for gas, he started watching the way he drove in his Toyota Corolla, thinking about the physics of driving and experimenting with ways to improve mileage. "I hit 52 mpg in my Corolla and I said, 'Wow, this is pretty special. I bet there's more.' "

Turns out, there's a lot more. And the handful of driving tips that I adopted worked wonders. On a recent drive home from work, I checked the odometer as I coasted across the Key Bridge: 82 miles since leaving home that morning, or 75.6 miles per gallon.

From Georgetown to Columbia, and back -- on barely a gallon of gas.

Want to know more about hypermiling? Join Joshua Zumbrun for an online chat Monday at noon at http://www.washingtonpost.com.

Hypermiling Techniques

Hypermiling is all about making adjustments to maximize your gas mileage, and many techniques work whether you're driving a hybrid or a Hummer.

"Anybody can be a hypermiler. It doesn't matter if you're in a Dodge Durango getting 10 mpg today. You can get 15 mpg tomorrow," says Wayne Gerdes. "It's going to save fuel. And this country needs that."


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