Article,EPA,Hypermiling

It’s a Game of Averages

11 Sep , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

Many times, when discussing hypermiling techniques, someone will ask about how to approach a hill, or what to do in rush-hour traffic, or when driving in bad weather can’t be avoided. The only sane answer is, “get over it.” Let’s face it: if you are going to scrutinize every single mile or every single minute, you will go insane. That is why hypermilers talk in terms of tank averages and lifetime averages.

Tank Average

This should be your smallest unit of measurement except for the rare exception. It is only over the course of an entire tank that you can take multiple factors into consideration: morning versus evening commutes, good weather versus storms, etc.

If you wish to maintain daily logs – and for various reasons, I have suggested just that – bundle them into the tank average and then throw them away. Daily logs are for analysis and review only. For example, another article suggests keeping daily logs for the sake of identifying the best daily commute. Once these logs have served their purpose, dispose of them.

The easiest way to calculate the tank average is to divide the miles driven by the amount of gasoline used to refill the tank. However, here are some factors to consider:

  • Some cars use bladders inside the gas tank to help contain vapors. Depending on the ambient temperature, the bladders might be more or less flexible in warmer and colder conditions, respectively.   For example, the second generation Prius used a gas bladder. In the summer, almost 10 gallons of gasoline could be pumped whereas in the winter as little as 8 gallons was the maximum. The Prius fuel bladder was removed starting in 2010. This is an issue because it adds a variable when attempting to accurately calculate the amount of gasoline used during the tank.
  • There is always the debate whether the on-board calculations provided by the car are accurate enough to be used. Some people choose to perform their own calculation rather than trusting the car. Anecdotally, some people have used both and shown that over a period of time, the over/under evens out and both methods arrive at the same Lifetime Average. However, for the individual tanks, which method you use is up to you.

Lifetime Average

Of course, the granddaddy of all averages is the overall Lifetime Average. This reflects your entire driving experience with the car. Lifetime averages do not need to start when the car is brand new; it is the one-number record of you and the car working together as a team, regardless of how old the car was when you two first met.

As you can imagine, calculating the lifetime average requires that you know exactly how many miles you have driven and exactly how much gasoline you have consumed. Not just for one tank or one month or even just one year. In order to calculate an accurate lifetime average, you must have been recording accurate fuel data for the entire time you have been driving the car. Trust me: this can get tedious but it is what must be done to achieve the goal.

12-Month Rolling Average

As you drive your car year-over-year, you might become curious whether you are becoming a better hypermiler. Actually, it’s great to constantly want that feedback to spur improvement. The problem is that the Tank Averages can’t be compared one-to-one and after a while the Lifetime Average barely budges.

This is where the 12-Month Rolling Average comes in. Whereas the Lifetime Average will forever be influenced by those first few crappy tanks, the Rolling Average will eventually let them go to reflect how you’re doing now. Though you can’t throw them out completely because they are part of your historical record, they are no longer an accurate representation of your current driving ability.

Calculating the 12-Month Rolling Average requires that you go back one year (sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it?). Where it can get complicated is that the number of tanks will vary. For example, if you average a refill every other week, you cannot simply take the last 26 tanks and assume that’s a year. There will be those long-distance road trips in which you consumed a full tank in only two days. So just be careful and make sure to do the math based on the dates: sometimes 28 tanks, sometimes 32.

Conclusion

If you only keep two averages, they should be the Tank Average and the Lifetime Average. These give you a real-time feel for your hypermiling abilities and an overall view of your entire driving experience. Adding the 12-Month Rolling Average provides an updated perspective, showing how you’ve done over the past year.

 

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Article,EPA,Hypermiling

Planning Trips

5 Sep , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

In another post, we discussed how to best handle your day-to-day commute by finding a mileage-friendly route, memorizing it, and documenting how well you do. This article will address how to handle those unexpected and irregular trips. For example, running errands on the weekends.

Combine Trips

This should be obvious but I’m just throwing it out there.

Quite possibly, the silliest thing you could do is to make a bunch of little errand runs throughout the day. As long as you’re out running errands, hit all your stops in one go. Seriously, there’s not much more to write about this except to make note that the order in which you combine all your trips is important. So with that…

Go to the Farthest Destination First

It seems like the easiest and best thing: go to the closest destination and progress out until you’re at the farthest destination and then head home. However, in terms of mileage, this is the worst possible way to approach the situation. Here is the underlying reason: cars get better mileage once they are warmed up. If you string together a bunch of short drives, the engine will never have an adequate chance to properly warm up. It will always be running in an inefficient warm-up mode.

By starting with the farthest destination, the engine will have that initial chance to get completely up to temperature and start running efficiently. Then, when you head to the second stop, the engine is starting from a warm condition and is more likely to return to optimal temperature before stopping again. The same goes for all subsequent stops. The point here is that you want to give your car at least one long drive to reach optimal temperature.

As with all things, there are exceptions. The above advice works great for non-perishable errands (crafts store, hardware store, library, etc.) However, if the farthest destination is the grocery store with frozen food, you might want to plan the route so you get there last before heading home. If the farthest destination is a restaurant of the theater, you’re going to want to end there.

Consider Taking a Roundabout Route

If you are out running errands, then you’re probably pretty familiar with the area within about 5 miles of your house. With this in mind, you should have a pretty good understanding of traffic fluctuations in relation to a place, time, and day of the week.

When provided the opportunity, take a more roundabout route if it means dodging traffic situations and stoplights. Keeping clear of traffic situations could mean better constant-speed driving as will dodging the stoplights and stop signs.

Did you know that UPS drivers are routed in such a way as to minimize their number of left turns?

UPS engineers found that left-hand turns were a major drag on efficiency. Turning against traffic resulted in long waits in left-hand turn lanes that wasted time and fuel, and it also led to a disproportionate number of accidents. From 2004 to 2012, the right turn rule combined with other improvements saved around 10 million gallons of gas and reduced emissions by the equivalent of taking 5,300 cars of the road for a year.

Think about that. Not only does turning right mean that you spend less time waiting for traffic to clear, it means that you do not cross lanes of traffic as much. Turning right is much safer than turning left.

One consideration that might be a bit of a stretch is that the less-than-direct route might have better roads. In other words, find a path that avoids crappy roads. No doubt you have noticed that your car rolls better and gets better overall mileage on freshly paved, smooth roads. If provided the opportunity, define your route based on traveling on the smoothest roads. Besides, driving on rough roads just plain stinks.

All these things, when put together, might provide a more fuel-efficient route than heading directly to the destinations without any forethought.

Run your Errands when it’s Warm Outside

This concept works in combination with driving to the farthest destination first. Driving when it’s warmer outside will help your engine warm because the air rushing past the engine will be warmer. In some geologies, the morning-to-afternoon temperature swing can be several degrees. You need a sweater in the morning but have stripped down to a T-shirt by mid-afternoon.

If you like to get up and out as early as possible, that’s fine; just as long as you know that you might be taking a hit to your mileage. If you can wait a few hours, when the outside temperature is higher, you will be rewarded with better mileage. In the meantime, find other things you can do perhaps around the house or whatever.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

This is a tried-and-true mainstay of hypermiling. When we feel rushed, we tend to make bad decisions, press a little harder on the pedal, and generally compromise the hard work we’ve done so far.

So here’s what you do: as long as you’re waiting for the temperature to go up, plan your trip so that you hit the farthest destination first. Once you’re done with that, figure out how long your entire trip will take and leave on time. So you see, a bunch of these concepts fit hand-in-hand.

Conclusion

Sometimes we have to make that one-off trip to the grocery store or hardware store or whatever. But when a series of errands require that you top at multiple destinations, taking a little time to plan it all out could reward you with improved overall mileage.

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What Drives Us episode

Hypermiling in the Social Media Age

28 Aug , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

A lot of people are seemingly (or actually) addicted to Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, InstaGram, and/or whatever new social media app / website just went online while I was writing this sentence. So much time is spent (some would say ‘wasted’) electronically interacting with people, the whole concept of social media has gotten a really bad reputation. However, it can be argued that there are  beneficial facets to social media interactions and the ability to instantly engage with multiple people regardless of time and distance.

This article will discuss ways in which you can use social media and internet communities to improve your fuel economy. When possible, links are provided to online sources; this is not a promotion of one site over another. If one of your favorite online resources is missing, let us know so we can include it.

Join a Hybrid / Car / Hypermiling Community

Have you ever heard of those car clubs or motorcycle clubs who just get together once and a while to talk about their cars or motorcycles. All they do is get together, hang out, talk car, and perhaps drive around. Sounds really silly, doesn’t it? Well, congratulations: now you can do all those things online!!

Thanks to Google, online car forums are really easy to find. In the forums, you can find information about driving techniques, how to perform regular (or not-so-regular) maintenance, or speculation about upcoming models and features. Some forums are broad in their scope while others are relatively granular. But they all have one thing in common: they are all sustained by a group of individuals with mostly the same interests and concerns as you. Because of that, it is usually pretty easy to be welcomed into the community and easy to form friendships with other forum members.

Here is a list of some online forums and communities. This is clearly just a partial list:

Send us links for your favorite online community or any other community you know of.

Create / Join a Fuel Consumption Challenge

A few years ago, a couple coworkers were curious about this whole hypermiling thing. The best way to get them personally invested was to set up a competition between them. Using a relatively simple spreadsheet, we used their car’s EPA numbers to gauge how their MPG improved by implementing some basic hypermiling techniques. The entire thing was based on the honor system so there’s really no way to vouch for its accuracy, but according to their self-reporting, each were able to achieve more than 10% above their EPA ratings. It’s hard to say whether they would have achieved these results had they not been competing.

When you know your results are going to be seen by others, you will try harder. This is why a little friendly competition might give you the push to kick your efforts up a notch or two. It’s not only competition that provides the incentive to improve; sometimes simply knowing others are watching is enough.

If you join one of the online communities mentioned above, see if they have a place where people can post their fuel economy averages. Many do. If you are using a spreadsheet to monitor your mileage, consider making it available online via Google Docs, DropBox, or any other online storage service. If that’s not possible, consider creating an account at Fuelly where you can enter your tank-by-tank averages. Then you can distribute the hyperlink to your Fuelly account.

Participate in Ride Sharing Programs

While this might not improve your individual fuel economy, it will reduce your overall fuel consumption.

Check around to see if there are any local web resources where neighbors can set up a ride-sharing program. You know, a good old-fashioned carpool. For example, check out NextDoor.com to find neighbors and start a chat. Find out if anyone works near you.   The best-case scenario would be if someone lives and works near you.

If you like your coworkers, at least a few of them, find out if they live near you or between you and your job. Some days, you can pick them up; other days you can park at their place and they drive. Either way, that leg of the trip is done with one car rather than two. Word to the wise: you have to really like that person because if it gets to the point that you can no longer stand riding them or if one of you gets a promotion and now it’s awkward, you will need to cancel the carpool. Of course, you’ll still see that person at work every day.

Use Waze

Waze is a free, real-time traffic service owned by Google (or Alphabet, whatever). It is primarily used via the phone app. As people drive, Waze uses geotracking to monitor their speed to provide everyone else real-time traffic information. Drivers can also manually provide information to the system such as backed-up traffic, a traffic accident, car stopped on the road, or even where the police are hiding today.

Once the user enters their destination, Waze evaluates all its information to determine the fastest and most trouble-free route. Unfortunately, Waze cannot apply hypermiling logic to calculate the most fuel-efficient route. But by directing you around stopped traffic, the amount of time you spend idling is greatly reduced. This will save gasoline and/or battery charge.

One note about Waze: you are providing your real-time location to the Waze application. As the adage goes: if the product is free then you are the product. If this makes you a little uneasy, just skip this suggestion.

Attend Driving Clinics or Seek Help from a Hypermiling Expert

In addition to the first suggestion promoting online communities, you might want to also look into local, real life groups. As a side note, it’s funny how we now have to distinguish things as being in real life (IRL).

These groups are usually formed and populated by like-minded people. Some of the events I’ve attended have been held in parks, parking lots, even car dealerships. In some states, it’s not legal to sell cars on Sunday but it is legal to have the service center open. This means a friendly dealership might welcome a group for a meeting.

At these meetings, technical car reviews might be provided, maintenance information, and tips from other drivers. It’s usually pretty easy to find someone who is achieving really good gas mileage and who is more than willing to talk with you about improving yours. Many of the meetings I’ve attended have include “ride alongs” in which the ‘expert’ hypermiler will ride with the learner, providing advice for improvement. I’ve performed several ride-alongs; trust me: people are happy to do it. Just ask.

Search your local area for car groups. Here are two groups on MeetUp.com that might help get you started:

Conclusion

In this day and age, it should be easy to find like-minded people which whom you can discuss fuel efficiency. Whether online or in real life, working with others – and maybe even competing – will certainly give you that extra boost to improve your overall mileage.

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Article,EPA,Features,Hypermiling

Document, Document, Document

25 Jul , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

“That which is documented is measured.
That which is measured is improved.”

There are several attributes as to who originated that quote, whether it was ever actually spoken, or whether it’s a mash-up of multiple quotes. As important as is the origin, the impact it can have is equally so. Basically, it’s this: if you want to improve something, start documenting. However, documentation does not, in and of itself, result in improvement. That’s where the middle step comes in: the documentation must be measured and comparisons must be made. After all, sheets of detailed documentation would be meaningless if they were tucked into a binder and never reviewed.

What Do We Document?

The following is going to be a list of as many possible things as I can imagine. In no way am I saying that you must document it all or even that every item is important to you. It’s up to you, your priorities, and your gumption to decide how far you wish to take the whole thing.

Route Timing (with waypoints)

Sometimes, the speed of the drive is more important than the mileage. Or perhaps you’re interested in finding out exactly how much longer it takes to drive one route compared to another. Consider using a small notebook and a pencil to make note of when you pass certain intersections or other static waypoints.

Create a table on the sheet. Down the left, list all the waypoints. Along the top, list Mon, Tue, Wed, etc. or perhaps Day1, Day2, Day3. Whatever. The waypoints should be far enough to allow a measureable amount of time but close enough that the measurements aren’t a half-hour apart. For example, when I did this, my 50-minute commute had eight waypoints, mostly represented by stoplights, four-way stops, or important turns.

Some unexpected benefits to logging when you pass certain areas include knowing when the train comes, knowing the school bus routes, knowing when businesses let their employees out, etc. Sometimes it’s possible to identify something that had always been taken for granted but can be completely bypassed by adjusting your travel time.

The key to logging the travel is to be accurate to the time displayed on the clock in your car. From day to day, you might leave at approximately the same time but perhaps not exactly the same time. Don’t worry about that. Just record the time exactly as the clock shows it. After the trip, go back and figure out the time it took to travel each segment. Do not attempt to calculate the travel time until after the trip is complete. Driving is hard enough without performing math.

Don’t expect a good average for the segments until you’ve driven the same route for a full week. By that time, you will know very precisely exactly when you will be passing specific points in your drive based on when you started the drive.

Route Congestion versus Travel Time

If you have the liberty, consider driving your regular commute at different times to see how traffic patterns vary. We’re not talking about hours apart, here. But no doubt you’ve noticed that leaving home fifteen minutes later than usual results in completely different traffic characteristics.

Why would you do this? If you are going to be working on achieving good mileage, you might want to be surrounded by fewer cars. For example, it is harder to pulse and glide when you are creeping along in bumper-to-bumper congestion. On the other hand, you will have fewer opportunities to drive at the speed you want when the few cars on the road want to drive all-out as fast as possible.

The key is to find that time when there are enough cars on the road to keep everyone at a reasonable pace but not so many that it’s a parking lot. I’m not going to tell you that such a situation exists in your area, but it might and you might not know about it.

Trip MPG

The good news is that some newer cars display the trip mileage on their own. You simply need to write it down at the end of the drive. If you have an older hybrid, however, you might need to reset the trip odometer to get the mileage for just that trip. If you have a non-hybrid, you might not be able to calculate the trip MPG at all. I say that because – unless you have another way – the only way to manually measure consumption over distance is to start with a full tank and then top off the tank when the drive is over. Since we’re talking about single-trip calculations, the amount of fuel consumed will be miniscule.

Documenting the Trip MPG is nice, but by itself, only presents a part of the story. For example, yesterday your trip MPG was much higher than today. Why? Without other variables, it might be impossible to know. Which is why you might want to also consider documenting. . .

Trip Temperature

Anyone who has driven a hybrid for more than a couple years knows that the ambient temperature really does have an impact on mileage. On the surface, it is easy to see that when the temperature is lower, the mileage is also lower. However, a little digging will reveal that the engine block cools down faster in the cold air and ran more to keep warm; the battery was cold in the morning and wasn’t running as efficient; or perhaps you were cold and ran the heater. Likewise, a hot battery pack is not a happy battery pack and you are more inclined to run the A/C when the temperature is above 90F.

And so it is that with the combination of trip MPG and temperature, the mystery of why today’s mileage is different from yesterday’s might be settled with an examination of the role played by ambient temperature.

Tank MPG

Most hybrids and some newer conventional cars maintain an average MPG that the user can reset; many users reset it when they refill their gas tank. In this way, an average for the entire tank can be recorded. Another way to record the tank average is to divide the number of miles driven (per the odometer) by the amount of gasoline physically pumped into the tank. This can confirm the car’s calculations or prove it wrong. Some hybrid drivers have proven that even if the tank-to-tank calculations don’t match, they tend to even out over time. Which is to say, the car’s calculation and your manual calculation might differ for individual tanks but over multiple tanks, both methods return a very similar calculation.

Average Tank Temperature

This one is a little controversial. I didn’t think it would be, but clearly I was mistaken. When I recorded and posted my tank-to-tank averages, I would refer to weather.com for temperature readings. Here’s what I did: in a spreadsheet, enter all the high and low temperatures for each day during that particular tank; then average all the numbers. This is the value I entered as “average temperature for the tank.” Was I actually driving at the hottest or coldest points of the day, every day? No. What about the days I worked from home and didn’t actually drive; did I include those days in my calculations? Yes. Why? I simply didn’t care enough to be that precise. The end result was, as far as I was concerned, close enough.

How Do We Document?

This one is entirely up to you. File it under “try a lot of things and go with whichever one works best for you.

Personally, I record the tank averages. There is an added convenience to this: with every fill-up the gas station gives me a receipt. On that receipt is the exact amount of gasoline I pumped to which I add the car’s reported average MPG and the odometer’s recorded distance. The amount f gasoline simply adds into the “total amount of gasoline consumed”. The tank distance is primarily used to verify the overall odometer.

A friend keeps a small notepad and pencil in his glove box. He records all the pertinent information there. He never transfers the data and refers to the notepad when he wants to look up past tanks. Since I transfer my numbers into a spreadsheet, the gasoline receipt is temporary.

How Do We Use the Measurements?

Most people keep their documents because they simply want to know their own mileage. It surprises some people have quickly a problem can be detected simply by monitoring the mileage. For example, some people have been able to determine they get better mileage with one gas station versus another. Others have been able to identify a failing 12-volt battery through a drop in mileage. Of course, if a hybrid battery is starting to fail, overall mileage could be a forbearer.

My spreadsheet started simple but became more complicated in time. I started with:

  • Date
  • Tank MPG
  • Tank Miles
  • Refill Gallons
  • Tank Ave. Temp

With these four data points, I was able to create a historical trend graphic showing tanks over time compared to the average temperature for each tank. The “Tank Miles” was only because I wanted to know how many miles I could travel on a full tank of gas.

In time, I started getting curious about other calculations such as a rolling 12-month average and the Lifetime Average MPG. With the Lifetime MPG, I can use the sum of all Refill Gallons (Total Gallons) to compare my car to any other car driven the same total distance. By using their estimated MPG, it’s easy to show how much more they spend in total fuel costs.

Here is a screen capture showing one 12-month span from August 2010 to August 2011. This format shows the raw numbers and automatically generates the chart underneath. With the temperature shaded in the background, it is amazingly easy to see the direct impact temperature has on overall mileage.

Tony Prius Mileage 2010-2011

Conclusion

Whatever your intentions, without proper documentation there cannot be proper measurement and nothing will improve. Think of it this way: if you want to tell someone you get good mileage or that you drive the quickest route, or that traffic is always bunched up this time of day, be prepared for them to say, “prove it.”

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Article,Features,Hypermiling

Pulse and Glide

17 Jul , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

In this post, I will attempt to provide a simplistic overview of a hypermiling technique known as “Pulse and Glide” (P&G). Before we get started, you need to know that the application and technique for P&G is variable based on many factors such as the car, terrain, traffic, current speed limit, etc. For all those reasons, this will be an overview and not overly detailed. My concern is that if I provided any real details: 1) you would try to apply the details where they don’t fit, and 2) someone will argue the minutia of the details.

How Do You Pulse and Glide?

Many times, I compare hypermiling to riding a bicycle. This works because almost everyone knows how to ride a bike, which makes it a universal reference. Also, you most likely remember how tired you can become if you do not ride efficiently. Though neither you nor your car will get tired, you have to focus on the amount of effort being exerted; the goal is to travel farther with less effort.

The Pulse. Just like riding a bike, the intent of the pulse is to get up to speed. When accelerating from a dead stop, use a brisk acceleration: accelerate quickly but not stomp on the gas. Once you have reached a speed that is, perhaps, a little faster than the speed limit or average traffic speed, let up on the accelerator.

The Glide. Think about riding that bike. Once you have reached a decent speed, it requires only a minimal amount of effort to maintain it. In fact, depending on the situation, you might be able to coast for a long distance before needing to pedal again. In exactly the same way, the point of the glide is to “stop pedaling”.

The first and second generation Prius were exceptionally good at gliding because they had a “dead band”. This dead band is a spot in which there would be no power coming from the engine or batteries to drive the wheels and also no regeneration from the wheels to the batteries. A practiced driver could work the accelerator into that dead band and let the car roll.

Unfortunately, this type of “free wheeling” is nearly impossible in almost all modern hybrids. And so it is with modern hybrids that the glide is an attempt to reduce the energy flow to a point as low as possible.

Pulse Again. As you can imagine, after coasting for a while, you will start to slow down. Once you’ve slowed to a speed you are no longer comfortable with, pulse again. Unlike the dead-stop pulse, this time you want to use just enough acceleration to get back up to speed. Just like riding that bike, it’s not a sprint back up to speed but rather just enough.

And then you glide again. Then pulse, then glide, repeat.

Why Does it Work?

The concept is simple: the entire intent of P&G is to glide more than you pulse. The following image provides a sort-of representation starting from a dead stop, accelerating up slightly above the desired speed, gliding, pulsing, and then gliding again. As you can imagine, the farther you can glide the better. The black line in the following image might represent the average traffic flow, the speed limit, or simply the speed you want to average. Your situations will vary.

Pulse and Glide Image

It works because gliding is essentially free. It’s the pulsing that costs you. Therefore, rather than paying to constantly maintain a steady speed, you allow your speed to vary. The trick comes in making sure the pulsing uses less effort than would otherwise be used maintaining a steady speed.

Situational Considerations

  • As with all hypermiling techniques, obey all posted traffic signs and do not impede the flow of traffic for your selfish desires.
  • If you have rolling hills, that is awesome. Pulse up the hill and glide down the other side. They key is being able to gauge the most efficient time to transition from pulse to glide and vice versa.
  • One hypermiler told the funny story of being pulled over because the policemen observed he was “incapable of maintaining a steady speed” and assumed he was drunk. I didn’t say it was funny for him. He said that once he explained what he was doing, the policemen didn’t bother writing a ticket.
  • If you see a stoplight up ahead, consider modifying your pulse and glide timings to either glide into the stop or pulse a little faster to ensure catching the green light.

 

 

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