Know Your Route

28 May , 2016  

-Tony Schaefer

So many times, when it comes to achieving higher mileage, people focus on their car and how they drive. Most times, they just assume the commute is an unavoidable variable. A predefined route that some days has good traffic while other days has bad traffic. This article will explain why the route you take and how you drive it plays as much a role as all other variables. When it comes to improving, never consider anything to be predetermined. The goal is to scrutinize everything.

Find a Mileage Friendly Route

If you happen to live in a large city, there’s a very good chance there are multiple options when it comes to the daily commute. Personally, I have three choices that I will call “Fastest”, “Easiest”, and “Hypermiling”.

“Fastest”: I have the opportunity to hop on an interstate for about ¾ of my commute. Doing so would save about ten minutes and is an attractive option when time matters. The downside is that the interstate maintains a relatively constant 70 – 80 MPH except when it comes to a screeching halt for no particular reason before slamming back up to 70 MPH. In other words, exactly the opposite of hypermiling.

“Easiest”: There is a state highway that runs is literally a straight shot from town to town. Albeit, one with multiple stoplights. Like the interstate, traffic is either racing along (though closer to 50 MPH), stopping for the red light, or accelerating Grand Prix style at the green light. It’s a multi-lane stop-and-go early-morning ball of stress. In no way do I look forward to starting or ending my day on this drive.

“Hypermiling”: This drive is 5 miles and 9 minutes (on average) longer than the “Easiest” route. This drive has longer stretches without stoplights and some stoplights are timed. It passes two schools and one nature preserve. The highest speed limit sign is 45 MPH. It is on this route that I see joggers, walkers, and the occasional wildlife. On nice days, I drive this route with my windows down enjoying the sights and sounds. All the while, the speed is conducive to attentive hypermiling and plays into the capabilities of my car.

By selecting a different route, I can not only achieve better mileage, I can choose how my day starts and ends. If you find that you arrive at work already stressed and you return home mentally ragged, do yourself a favor and seek out a more casual and hypermile-friendly route.

Memorize Your Route

Here is an analogy parents can appreciate. Let’s say your son goes to the first day of school and is presented with a difficult, lengthy exam. How would you expect him to score on that exam? Probably not very good. On the second day, he is presented with the exact same exam. Should he do better than the day before? Perhaps. Let’s pretend your son is presented with the exact same exam every day for the entire 180-day school year. You would expect him to be acing that exam with absolutely no effort, wouldn’t you?

Now what about people working an average 250 days per year? Most of them drive the exact same route every day, to AND from work. Even after all this repetition, it has been my experience that people drive their daily commutes as though it’s their very first time. Every time.

You are a human (I hope). You are preprogrammed to identify and memorize patterns. It’s what we do.

  • Does your commute have a string of fast food joints all next to each other? If so, every evening there’s a strong chance a hungry driver will stop and turn without signaling. Expect it.
  • Do you cross railroad tracks? Make a mental note of when the commuter train comes through. Don’t forget to consider school busses stopping at the tracks during the school year.
  • Timed stoplights? If you didn’t make it from one light to another yesterday, or last week, or last year then you’re not going to make it today. Stop accelerating full-bore as though you have a chance. On the other side of that coin, memorize the speed at which the light will change from red to green as you approach.
  • I have a round-about. I know exactly at what speed I can make that round-about without braking (on a clear day and dry pavement). Coupling this with how far back I let up on the accelerator allows me to coast to the round-about, pray for no cars, and roll through without once touching my brakes.

If you drive a hybrid, consider basing battery usage on drive segments. Pick up some charge during the fast segments in order to run farther on battery during the slow segments. Or vice versa: consider going deep into the battery pack if you know an upcoming faster segment will allow you to recharge. Recharging will impact the instantaneous mileage. Ignore that; it’s the average that matters.

It’s all about driving the same route every day, figuring out what works best, and repeating it.


If you have the opportunity, drive a route that returns the highest mileage. If it turns out to also be least stressful, then it’s a double-win. The only way to know which route is the most fuel-efficient is to document each pass in order to develop an average and recognize patterns. Once the best route is identified, memorize how to handle each segment with the intent of getting better with each day.


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Follow Large Vehicles (at a safe distance)

9 May , 2016  

-Tony Schaefer

First of all, I want to make it clear that this is not an article about drafting. To prove that point, let me explain what drafting is and why it’s dangerous, illegal in some places, and a really, truly, and seriously bad idea.

In auto racing, drafting is also referred to as “slipstreaming” because the goal is to ride in the slipstream of the car in front. In order to do this, the trailing car must be close enough to the leading car to stop the air from collapsing around its back. By doing this, the airflow moves around both cars as though they were one single vehicle. Since much of the effort of propelling any object goes into wind resistance, the trailing car is able to travel much more efficiently. This is shown in the following image, stolen from


Drafting is most beneficial at high speeds where wind resistance is great. This is why racecars draft and some people draft behind semi trailers on interstates. Drafting is rude because the trailing car is much too close to the leading car. It is also extremely dangerous because driving can be unpredictable and drafting leaves virtually no room for sudden movements or braking. To reiterate: don’t do it.

So What’s the Difference

Driving behind a large vehicle at a safe distance is similar to drafting only in that the vehicle in front takes the brunt of the air resistance. Unlike drafting, the trailing vehicle is following at a safe distance. The benefit to the trailing vehicle is that the lead vehicle has disturbed the air in such a way that it does not represent as much resistance to the trailing vehicle.

Notice in the illustration above that the air flow lines are drawn parallel to each other in what’s called “Laminar Flow”. Air is illustrated as strata – or sheets – of air that don’t interact with each other. This does a great job of showing that air is moving around the car, but this is not how air really flows. The goal of most automobile manufacturers is to perturb the air as little possible in order to make their car more efficient.

However, there are many not-so-efficient vehicles on the road such as delivery vehicles, semi tractor-trailers, etc. These vehicles have large flat backs and leave huge eddies of air as they travel. Anyone who has ever been standing on the side of the road when a semi tractor-trailer rolled by understand just how strong their wind currents can be. Depending on the aerodynamics of the truck and their speed, their wake can extend hundreds of feet. This is illustrated in the following image.

Semi Aerodynamics

This image is probably the best to illustrate the difference between following at a safe distance and versus drafting. Someone drafting would want to be in front of the red, disturbed air, between the truck and the first marker line. Notice how the dark blue actually curls up and towards the back of the truck? This will literally pull the trailing vehicle towards the truck’s bumper. Following at a safe distance has the trailing car behind the disturbed air, in the light blue area, almost two truck-lengths away. Even at that distance, there is benefit thanks to the disrupted air.

The Other Reason to Follow Other Vehicles

Deserved or not, hybrid drivers have a stereotype of being slow drivers. Sadly, I have seen some cases in which this reputation is strongly earned. Having said that, there are times when I am on a multilane road and I just don’t feel like driving like a bat out of Hell, acting as though commuting is a competitive sport with a trophy handed out if you get to work faster. Perhaps I only want to drive a few MPH above the speed limit and have no concern with keeping up with the general flow of traffic.

Sometimes, I come upon a delivery vehicle or lawn care truck that is driving close to the speed I prefer. In this situation, I will maintain a safe following distance and stay there. There is a very good chance – like many of my phobias – that it’s all in my head, but I like to think that rather than me being the slow car now it looks as though I’m the poor car stuck behind the slow vehicle. But I don’t care because in the end I get to drive at my desired speed. This might sound like a stretch, but I was a little relieved to see a post on an online forum in which someone asked if they were the only ones to apply this technique. Multiple people admitting to it.

At a slower speed, any benefit from perturbed air is minimal if there is any at all. The primary point in following a large slow vehicle is the benefit of not feeling as though you are being pressured to driver faster than you would prefer.


Drafting is a really stupid idea and extremely dangerous. Following large vehicles at a safe distance can reap aerodynamic benefits without risking your life. Sometimes following slower vehicles gives you the opportunity to get out of the roadway racetrack and drive at a more comfortable speed.

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Why we Hypermile

2 Apr , 2016  

-Tony Schaefer


There are many reasons to hypermile.  A while back,  some friends and I came up with about five different and distinct reasons. I’ll try to recap them (assuming I can remember them). The point is not that there is one specific reason to hypermile. Nor is it to argue that any one reason is better than the others. The point is this: any reason to improve your car’s mileage is a good reason.

Save Money

This one is pretty easy.  The less gasoline you consume, the more money you save.  The problem is perception and association.  When people go to the gas station, they complain about the cost of gasoline.  But when they are driving, they act as though gasoline is free.  The problem is that people only feel the pain of purchasing gasoline when they are actually at the station.  After that point, they quickly forget. They fail to associate the pain of buying gas with the way they drive.

Perhaps it would help if we replace gasoline with something else.  If gasoline is $2.00 per gallon and you have a 15 gallon tank, that’s $30 for a fill-up.  If you took that same $30 and purchased several gallons of milk, you might think of it a little differently.  Let’s say your child poured a large glass of milk and only drank half of it before pouring the rest down the sink. There’s a very high probability you’d get upset.  Why?  Are you concerned that the world is running out of milk cows?  Nope.  Are you worried that milk might clog the pipes?  Probably not.  What really gets you riled up is the realization that you paid real money for that milk and your kid is wasting it.

Replace “milk” with gasoline and “kid” with you. Then you will realize it is no different than when you buy a full tank of gasoline and drive in such a way as to waste much of it.  Why is wasting gasoline perfectly justifiable when wasting milk pisses you off?  There is no difference between wasting money spent on gasoline and wasting money spent on other things.  People just need to see it. provides a simple calculator. You can enter your current average MPG as “Car 1” and speculate a 5% MPG improvement as “Car 2”. This puts hard numbers right in front of you.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, burning one gallon of pure gasoline produces 19.64 pounds of Carbon Dioxide emissions. Burning one gallon of pure diesel produces 22.38 pounds.

I have to admit that I see “pounds of CO2” and have no idea what that means. Thank you, Google! The Natural Resources Defense Council does the best job, in my opinion, of making this rather abstract concept tangible. In short, filling a balloon with one pound of CO2 would swell the balloon to about two and a half feet across. That’s about 8.2 cubic feet. Compare that to a basketball, which is 9.5 inches with a volume of 0.26 cubic feet. This means burning one gallon of pure gasoline releases the equivalent of 31 basketballs of pure Carbon Dioxide.

This is why running your gasoline car in a closed garage will kill you. And quick. Here’s the rub: we all live in one giant garage. So far, its enormous size has been working in our favor. But everything (yes, everything) has its limit. Every day the average American fills up about 57 of those Carbon Dioxide balloons, emitting 467 cubic feet of CO2. You know those 10-foot moving trucks? That’s about four and a half of those. And that’s just you on just one day.

Considering all the gasoline burned in cars in the US and all over the world would create a staggeringly large number, no doubt. So let’s add to it. Large amounts of oil distilled to produce gasoline are shipped across the oceans in large tankers running huge diesel engines, they add to the total. Then there are the gasoline trucks that make deliveries to the gas stations; they add to the total.

What does all this Carbon Dioxide have to do with greenhouse gas? In case you haven’t heard, CO2 is a heat-trapping gas. When it’s in the atmosphere, it becomes the glass ceiling of a greenhouse, trapping heat in the atmosphere. Everyone knows what it feels like to walk into a greenhouse and that’s essentially what we’re doing as we pump increasing amounts of Carbon Dioxide into the air. As though that’s not bad enough, CO2 is the longest-lasting greenhouse gas, which means your great-grandkids will be affected by your tailpipe emissions.

So it’s not enough to just consider your driving habits and calculate your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. You have to consider everyone else and all the shipping and transporting that goes into making and moving your gasoline. But if we can find a way to consume less gasoline, fewer tankers would need to traverse the oceans and fewer trucks would be needed for deliveries. In the end, fewer emissions would be emitted all around.

Less Consumption and Fewer Imports (excuse my rant)

No matter who you talk to, they will all agree that it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of foreign oil we import.  The United States imports a lot of oil from countries run by regimes who use our money to fund the fighters who kill American service men and women.  The regimes themselves engage in atrocities we would never condone within our own borders.  Even though we don’t like them, considering we disagree with much of what they do, and ignoring that they fund the people who are willing to die in their quest to kill us, we continue to willingly send them more and more of our hard-earned money.

If we cannot convince Americans how to connect the dots between our gasoline addiction and our dying soldiers, then we are doomed as a country.  As long as we continue to fund both sides of the war, it will never end.

In this election year, there has been a lot of rhetoric about the need to secure our borders. A need to be more self-reliant and beholden to no one.  These people stand around pounding their chests, declaring their undying love for the United States, waving Chinese-manufactured American flags as they pledge allegiance to this once-great republic.  When they have finished their empty promises to protect the U.S. with their last dying breath, they climb into their unnecessary gas guzzling megatruck because a commercial was all it took to convince them that they aren’t manly unless they have best-in-class towing wrapped in military-grade construction, whatever that means.

So let’s set the record straight and expose the truth:

Like any drug dealer, many of the OPEC countries supplying so much of our oil have exactly one viable commodity.  Their entire livelihood relies on others continuously purchasing it.  Without the addicts purchasing their product, they would quickly go broke.  If Americans truly cared about gaining independence, if they actually wanted to undermine those who wish to cause us harm, they would realize that their addiction funds their own destruction.

Here is a page at discussing Energy and National Security:

If these chest-thumping Americans were truly serious about securing our borders, they would prove their commitment by being more concerned with how wasteful they are than how manly they appear.  If they truly wanted to undermine those who wish to destroy us, they would realize that by saving fuel, we could starve our enemies into submission.  Unfortunately, they are too brainwashed to see it and too addicted to care.

Less wear and tear on your vehicle

A huge majority of the hypermiling techniques hinge around driving in such a way that is easy on your vehicle.  For example, rather than accelerating as hard as possible, hypermiling teaches an acceleration method that doesn’t overwork the engine.  Once you have reached an acceptable cruising speed, you should let off on the accelerator to allow the engine to find its own sweet spot.  These two methods will extend the life of your engine.

Rather than racing to a stoplight, hypermiling teaches to allow coasting to naturally slow you down, or to use regenerative braking to decelerate.  People who use these techniques can see their brake pads last for many years.

Anecdotally, driving more efficiently will extend the life of your car and all its parts. This is evidenced by Prius owners who replace their brake pads after more than 100,000 miles. It’s hard – if not completely impossible – to find hard-fast evidence that efficient driving will absolutely extend the life of your car. There are simply way too many variables at play. However, there are too many people telling too many stories to disregard it.

Cleaner Air

No one with any grasp of reality would expect to be able to burn something without releasing gaseous emissions. I’ve already addressed greenhouse gas emissions, but there are other gases released. These typically stay lower in the atmosphere and form a brownish haze called smog (Smoke fog). To be clear, this has nothing to do with a gold-loving dragon in Middle Earth, but that would be awesome.

Some of the primary contributors to smog are nitrogen oxide, non-methane organic gases, carbon monoxide, various particulate matter, and formaldehyde. These are things you would never ever intentionally breathe if you had a choice. And yet, we drive vehicles that put them in our air, where we breathe them. So, I suppose, since we are the ones polluting the air we breathe, we are intentionally breathing them. It all works out.

Visually, smog makes clean air dirty. It looks bad to have a brown – or gray – haze lingering around your city. Health-wise, smog can make it difficult to breath. People who already have difficulties breathing can die from smog. Even those who are healthy should avoid smog because the gases in the air get into lungs and can coat the tiny air sacks. And just like that, people who were healthy before now fall into the “difficulty breathing” category.

Improvements in vehicle efficiencies have made great strides in reducing the emissions of smog-forming chemicals. But every little bit helps. If everyone did a little something, then together we could make a huge impact. In addition to driving more efficiently, start looking for the “Smog Rating” that is now required on all new car stickers.


Though many people tend to focus on a singular reason to drive more efficiently, there are many reasons. Regardless of anyone’s personal interest, it is in their interest to drive more efficient vehicles more efficiently.

If you find yourself trying to defend fuel-efficient driving to different people, you might want to re-read this article several times. It will give you a good starting point from which you can bring a person into the discussion and potentially help them see why fuel efficiency matters.

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