Lords of Efficiency
In his modified Honda Civic, Andrew Johnmeyer has achieved 72 MPG.
THE LORDS OF EFFICIENCY
Seventy-two miles per gallon?! It sounds like a beautiful fantasy. Or a hybrid car. But there are people across the country getting this mileage and even more from average cars, by modifying their cars or adjusting their driving style. Meet a few of Missouri’s hypermilers and see how they drive and modify cars to boost fuel efficiency.
1994 HONDA CIVIC, 72 MPG
When asked to pull his car up a few feet for the photo above, instead of starting the car, Andrew Johnmeyer opens his door, and with one hand on the steering wheel and a foot on the pavement, he “walks” the car into position. The Fred Flintstone method is one of many driving techniques that helped Andrew get as much as 72 miles per gallon in his manual 1994 Honda Civic while living in California, before he moved back to Fayette this year.
Andrew, an avid cyclist who had been living car-free, began hypermiling when his job required him to have his own vehicle. Instead of getting on a waiting list for a new fuel-efficient hybrid in the $30,000 range, Andrew found a used car on Craigslist for $1,000 and spent another $1,500 on materials for modifications. He also spent time on the internet learning about hypermiling. He is now a moderator at www.ecomodder.com, a web site devoted to both driving technique and vehicle modification. The online community has fueled passion and friendly competition among mileage enthusiasts. Andrew placed fourth in a mileage competition in Lacey, Washington, organized by another online hypermiler.
“The first step to saving gas is to drive less,” Andrew says. Carpool, combine trips, and bike or walk as much as possible. “Next, drive smarter. Anticipate changes in traffic. Be aware of traffic lights ahead, and if you see a red light ahead, lift your foot off the gas. The idea is to maintain a constant speed and to minimize abrupt stops and starts.”
After he learned to control his lead foot, he began making modifications. One of the most useful was an air dam that covers the front of his car, which diverts air away from the front wheels. Modifications don’t have to be complicated or expensive, Andrew says. He used materials like old election signs to make a grille block and pizza pans to make smooth hubcaps.
With Missouri’s requirement for gasoline to have 10 percent ethanol, high mileage is more difficult to achieve, Andrew says, so he continues to try new modifications. Currently, he’s building a boat tail that will extend from the rear of his car, improving its aerodynamic shape even more. The ideal shape for a car is a teardrop, he says. “The teardrop shape, which is bulbous in front and tapered at the end, makes it easier for the car to push through the air,” he says.
Andrew says that many ecomodders, including himself, are former hot-rodders and car enthusiasts, only now their hobby has taken a more environmental turn. “We’re still as dedicated as ever,” Andrew says. “We’d still be doing this even if they were handing out gas for free.”
2002 SATURN, 62 MPG
An apartment manager in Kansas City, Clint Mullins has got up to 62 miles per gallon in his manual 2002 Saturn, and he saves 30 to 40 percent over what he spent on gas in pre-hypermiler days.
“When you have a car that gets 30 to 55 miles per gallon, everyone wants to take it on their long trips,” he says.
Clint learned about hypermiling from online forums where hypermilers share information and debate tactics. At www.saturnfans.com, Clint found an advanced hypermiler with the screen name CheapyBob. Clint and CheapyBob own the same car, and Clint was soon applying CheapyBob’s alterations to his Saturn.
“The first thing I bought for the car was a ScanGauge,” he says. A ScanGauge tells the driver the gas mileage at any moment. It is real-time feedback Clint uses to tailor his driving style.
Clint uses low-rolling-resistance Michelin tires inflated to the maximum pressure recommended by the manufacturer. Many hybrid cars use low-rolling-resistance tires because of their low-friction tread pattern and rubber compound. Some hypermilers inflate their tires within the tires’ recommended range but above the maximum levels recommended by their cars’ manuals. People who want to avoid this controversial practice can simply make sure their tires are inflated to the maximum recommended by the car and tire maker. “If you have low pressure in your tires, you are wasting energy,” Clint says.
Clint installed panels over his wheels and a full belly pan (a frame and a smooth aluminum skin) to improve airflow under the car. The less wind resistant the car, the better its fuel economy. “The more I do, the more I realize how ignorant I am when it comes to aerodynamics,” he says.
HOW TO GET BETTER MILEAGE
Here are a few steps anyone can take to get better mileage. Visit www.ecomodder.com or www.gassavers.org for more tips and techniques.
- Accelerate and brake slowly.
- Use cruise control at 55 to 65 mph on highways.
- Turn off the engine during any significant stop.
- Close windows when driving.
- Inflate tires to the maximum safe level.
- Remove racks when not in use.
- Avoid reverse when possible.