Skip to main content
road sage

Do you own a car? Are you pathologically obsessed with fuel efficiency? Do speeds below 50 kilometres per hour give you a rush? Congratulations. You may have what it takes to be a “hypermiler.” The fun and exciting world of “driving economically and exceeding vehicle manufacturers stated efficiency by modifying driving habits and techniques” awaits you.

The term “Hypermiler” was coined in 2008 by Californian Wayne Gerdes (considered by many to be the “Father of Hypermiling”) and was dubbed “Word of the Year” by the Oxford Dictionary. Hypermiling began in the 2000s as a reaction to high fuel prices. While Gerdes may have coined the term, the practice has been around for as long as there have been automobiles. Seinfeld celebrated it in 1998 with “The Dealership” episode, in which Kramer convinces a salesman to test drive a Saab 900 to “a little place I call ‘You’ll see.’”

Hypermilers have pursued their fuel-efficient Everests for years without much attention. Recently, however, they’ve been examined in the press. The Wall Street Journal claimed that hypermiling is growing in popularity because of the proliferation of electric vehicles. It’s a way of combatting “range anxiety,” and car companies are sponsoring hypermilers to take their EVs to the edge of forever. Toyota, for instance, sponsored Gerdes to drive a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car on a two-day, 1,360-kilometre trip. He set a Guinness Book record for the longest distance travelled by a fuel-cell car without refuelling.

As expert as they are at conservation, hypermilers can be equally efficient at drawing the ire of other motorists. “The practice requires driving at a plodding pace to conserve energy, around 40 to 50 mph on a gas-powered vehicle. The efficiency sweet spot on an electric car can be agonizingly slow – sometimes below 30 mph,” wrote WSJ’s Mike Colias. “Road Rage from other travellers comes with the territory.”

This rage was expressed on Jalopnik by Jason Torchinsky, who wrote, “If you’re intensely hypermiling on public roads, you’re no better than some jerk hooning around in a Challenger with a supercharger intake popping out of the hood and revving as loud as a pair of mating elephants set on fire.”

Hypermilers, if they aren’t driving at dangerously slow speeds, are not the worst offenders on the road by a long shot. They aren’t saints either; there are other, more fuel-efficient ways to hypermile, at least for short distances. They’re called “walking,” “cycling” and “taking public transit.” These burn very little fuel and are a danger to no one. To be fair, this fact is not lost on responsible hypermilers. The No. 1 tip on Hypermiler.co.uk is “Don’t Drive.”

As hypermiling becomes more mainstream, however, we can expect to see more of the slipshod variety. That’s what happens when niche hobbies are embraced on a wide scale. The yahoos get on board. What is street racing, after all, but racing for those who lack the skill, commitment and nerve to do it at the racetrack.

Is hypermiling right for you? Well, if you like saving money, worry about climate change and are oblivious to people pouring invective at you from their automobiles, you may have what it takes.

If you are hypermile-curious, experiment. Hypermilers use techniques such as “Driving Without Braking” (DWB). Braking is bad for fuel efficiency because it decelerates the vehicle and stored momentum is lost. Hypermilers who DWB, for example, slow down before a traffic light and arrive just as it turns green. This is an old trick that’s been around for a long time. In fact, a lot of hypermiling involves tried-and-true driving habits – don’t idle your vehicle, clear out heavy clutter, drive at a steady speed, watch your tire pressure and keep your car tuned. These are all hypermiler techniques. Notice that nowhere is it recommended you drive so hypervigilantly that you endanger yourself and others.

Hypermiling may seem a little strange to the uninitiated. It’s not. For as long as there have been machines, there have been human beings pushing them to the limit. Hypermilers and Weekend Racers are two different expressions of the same impulse – to see just how far you can take your ride. One wants to see how fast and the other how long they can make it last.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.