Hypermilers Beware, AAA Says

June 27, 2008
Gas At $4.89

Gas At $4.89

Hypermilers--as USA Today reminded us this week--are those folks who are taking fuel economy to the next level. While you and I make sure our tires are properly inflated, and we're running on the right octane, hypermilers are turning off their engines on the highway, coasting behind huge trucks, and rolling through stop signs.

That's dangerous, AAA says. Even though record gas prices mean everyone should be paying attention to fuel economy, hypermilers are putting themselves in harm's way by pushing their vehicles beyond normal driving.

"The goals of hypermiling are positive, such as eliminating aggressive driving and saving energy," Marshall L. Doney, AAA vice president, says. "Unfortunately some motorists have taken their desire to improve fuel economy to extremes with techniques that put themselves, as well as their fellow motorists, in danger."

Some of the techniques to avoid when hypermiling are the very techniques than can push fuel economy into the stratosphere. Cutting off engine power on the highway or putting a vehicle into neutral has the same effect as stop/start systems do--without the safety precaution of engaging only at very low speeds or complete stops. Turning off the engine in these circumstances can cause accidents by giving up control of power steering and brakes, AAA says.

Then there's the practice of drafting--following closely behind a much larger vehicle to take advantage of its aerodynamic drag, just like in NASCAR. Those are paid professionals wearing safety cages and helmets, not Camry sedans. Tailgating's OK on the track, but highly illegal on the road, AAA points out.

Hypermilers also overinflate their vehicle's tires to lessen rolling resistance. Doing so will boost fuel economy, but it could lead to a sudden tire problem. Blowouts are much more likely to happen when the tire's overstressed, AAA adds.

Their advice? The traditional fuel economy savers:

  • Accelerate smoothly and evenly, avoiding "jackrabbit" starts

  • Maintain a steady speed and/or use cruise control

  • Look ahead to avoid changes in speed due to traffic

  • Use the right oil to keep your engine operating at high efficiency
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