“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.
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. . .
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.
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:
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.
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.”
There is no denying that one of the greatest hindrances to hypermiling is the stoplight. They force you to ruin a perfectly good head of steam and then force you to make the car accelerate from a dead stop. As mentioned in another article, it would be best to use the brakes as little as possible by timing the stoplights such that stopping is not required. Some suggestions were provided in that article but they only scratched the surface. This article aims to dig deeper and provide some suggestions and insight into dealing with various types of stoplight intersections.
NOTE: These examples are based on my experience with stoplights. There are some places were the order of progression is different from those given below. For example, in some locations, left-turn lights precede straight whereas in other places, straight precedes turns. If the lights are different where you live, then please try to work out the differences as they apply.
The Standard Stoplight
In this case, the stoplight is green and you can continue through it. But is it really that easy? How long has the light been green? If you know your route, you have a general idea how long before this light changes to yellow and then red.
If you just saw this light turn green, take your time. However, if you feel this light is “stale” or have no idea when it might change, then it might be best to accelerate through it. Sometimes it is better to burn a little gasoline speeding through a light than take the massive hit brought on by dead-stop acceleration.
Red Means Stop
Here is a typical red light.
Most people would look at this and see that the light is red and therefore, you will be required to stop. A hypermiler, on the other hand, looks at the side lights and sees they are yellow. With some luck and good timing, you should be able to coast up to the light just after it turns green. Always watch the side street for people running the yellow or red.
Bonus Points: If you are turning left at this intersection, you are most likely going to stop. Many left turn lanes are triggered only when there is a car waiting. Since this scene does not show a car, there is a good chance the “straight” light will change green while the left-turn light will stay red. If you have the option, consider continuing straight and trying your luck with the next light.
Left Turn Light
Notice that the left turn light is green and there is a car waiting to go straight.
If you are going straight through the intersection, there is no need to rush. The left-turn light is delaying the oncoming traffic. Even after the left-turn light changes to yellow and red, the oncoming traffic will have their entire turn during which time you will have the green light.
This is also important when there is a line of cars in front of you. Perhaps only ten cars can get through the light normally; when the left-turn light extends the straight light, perhaps fifteen or twenty.
Car Turning Left
Notice that the oncoming car is going straight while the car in front of you is turning left.
In a very real way, this situation is about ten seconds prior to the previous image. The car in front of you will trigger the left-turn light when your light turns green. The oncoming car is not in the left-turn lane and will sit there. You will have an extended green light to proceed at whatever rate you desire.
Red Light with an Oncoming Car Turning Left
Notice the yellow lights on the sides and the oncoming car in the left-turn lane.
As you approach this intersection, there’s simply not much you can do. The oncoming car is going to get the left-turn light and you will have an extended red.
This is the situation no one likes to see. Yellow lights as you approach the intersection. In this situation, you will stop.
Bonus points: Notice this image has the addition of a right-turn lane. If the white car is turning left, there is a strong chance you will get a right-turn light. If this is the case – and you will know this because you have memorized your route – then you should be able to slow enough to wait for the turn light and then zip through the intersection. However, you must look at the white car to make sure it is in the left turn lane. Additionally, be on the lookout for cars in front of you who do not know there is a right-turn light; they will probably come to a complete stop.
Two Lanes, Two lines of Cars, No Right Turn Light
No picture for this one. As much as I preach staying in the right lane unless passing, this is the situation in which I always get into the left lane. The reason is simple: there’s a high probability at least one of the cars in the right lane is going to turn right. This means cars will lurch forward to go through the intersection but have to slam on their brakes when someone slows to make the turn. On the contrary, every car in the left lane is going straight unless there’s a left-turn lane and some of the cars shear off to the left. Double-bonus!
I’ve presented some intersection and stoplight possibilities. There are, of course, many more. But hopefully, with these examples, you have seen how important it is to identify the condition of other lights, the position of other cars, and the conditions they might bring about. When you start to notice these things and reacting appropriately, the number of complete stops will dwindle and overall mileage will increase.
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.
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.
This is a Table of Contents page to Tony’s articles on hypermiling. You don’t necessarily have to read them in order and this page will allow you to jump around if you want. At the bottom of each article will be a link back to this page.
Group 1: Hypermiling Explained
Group 2: Hypermiling Tips
Group 3: Non-Hypermiling Fuel Saving
If you read my article on braking, you know that the best way to make an anticipated stop is to use a long, slow brake that engages active regeneration. If you haven’t read that one yet, spoilers!