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Hypermilers take gas saving to the extreme

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Hybrid
Hypermilers say you don't need a hybrid to use their tips for higher gas mileage. The most important tip they offer is to slow down, aggressive driving wastes a lot of fuel.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

From the moment Sean Welch pulls out of a parking spot his goal is to use as little gas as possible. 

"I'm pointed slightly up hill, so I'm going to roll back out of the slot," Welch said as his car moved slowly backwards, the engine off.  "I did that on purpose, it's called potential parking.  That way I don't have to use any fuel at all to back up," 

Sean Welch
Sean Welch of Coon Rapids is a hypermiler. The EPA says his car is capable of getting 50 miles to the gallon. But Welch regularly achieves well over 100 miles per gallon.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Welch, a 31-year old IT analyst from Coon Rapids, is a hypermiler.  

He drives a Honda Insight hybrid.  He's six foot five, and surprisingly fits into the aerodynamic little two seater just fine.  It's a car the EPA says can get over 50 miles to the gallon.

But Welch regularly achieves well over 100 miles per gallon, although that requires a different driving style.    After only 30 seconds on the road, he's already shut his car's engine off twice. 

"If I don't need it, I don't use it," Welch said.

Welch sticks to that mantra during a trip around the St. Cloud area.  On residential streets he coasts up to stop signs, his engine off.  Don't try this in your car because you'll lose your power brakes and power steering. 

On a rural highway he gets up to speed much slower than drivers around him. 

One motorist tailgating Welch raises her hands in frustration. He spotted her reaction in his rear view mirror, and said it's something he's used to seeing. 

Wayne Gerdes
Wayne Gerdes gives hypermiling tips to the driver of a Toyota Prius. Gerdes is credited with coining the term hypermiler.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

"What I do is watch the road.  If they have no way to get around me, I will raise the speed up to the speed limit, there's no need to obstruct traffic.  But if they can get around me, the simple fact that they want to ride my bumper to try to get me to go faster is not going to actually cause me to use fuel," Welch said.

While hypermiling may be too extreme for most drivers, the high price of gas has more people interested in learning from these thrifty motorists. 

At a recent meeting of Minnesota hypermilers in St. Cloud, Wayne Gerdes offered an in-car lesson to a driver in a Toyota Prius.  Gerdes, who's from Chicago, is credited with coining the phrase hypermiler. 

As the car rolls slowly down a highway,  Gerdes tells the driver to hug the white line on the right side of the road as other drivers zip past.  

Bruce Gregerson is driving the car, his wife Sue is in the backseat.  The Alexandria couple usually get about 45 miles to the gallon in their Prius.  At the end of the driving course they've upped that figure to 58.  

Gerdes tells the couple they could get even better gas mileage if they put more air in their squishy tires and practice his driving tips. 

Gregersens
Sue and Bruce Gregersen of Alexandria are confident they can get 70 to 80 miles per gallon by using some of the hypermiler tips they've learned.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The Gregersens said they'll do just that on their drive home. 

"We are going to do so much better now," Sue Gregersen said. 

Bruce Gregersen is confident the couple will be able to get 70 to 80 miles per gallon using the hypermiler method.

While the Gregersen's lesson was specific to their Toyota Prius, hypermilers say you don't need a hybrid to use their tips for higher gas mileage.  

First inflate your tires to the maximum pressure listed on the sidewalls.  Also replace your air filter, a dirty one can cut your gas mileage by 10 percent.  And the most important tip they offer is to slow down, aggressive driving wastes a lot of fuel. 

Some hypermilers have been criticized for certain gas saving tactics, like driving behind semi-trucks to gain an aerodynamic advantage.  Safety officials say that's dangerous and illegal.  

In additon some people see hypermilers' slow pace as a road hazard.

Sean Welch doesn't suggest drivers do anything dangerous in their pursuit of high mileage.  He recommends that hypermilers be hyper-aware of other drivers.  

But he does get the sense that because of high gas prices,  people who used to glare at him while he crawled along in the far right lane, better understand what he's trying to do. 

"When the price of fuel went up, so did the questions.  The odd looks I got started reducing when I started explaining that I'm saving well over half what I had been before I started this.  People are interested in that, it makes a big difference," Welch said. 

With that Welch coasts to a stop, his engine silent, in true hypermiler spirit.