Fuel saving tips from a (reformed?) lead foot


Jill performs her first “fas” in the 2011 Ford F150 without blinking.

In a 24-hour period, I’ve been pushed across a street though I wasn’t truly stalled. I’ve popped a car in neutral and flipped the ignition to accessory mode and coasted for more than 16 minutes. And I’ve crawled at 5 mph from newly green light to a freshly red one.

All in an attempt to wring every single MPG out of the 2011 Ford F-150 with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost.

All crazy stuff I wouldn’t dream of doing in Chicago.

But I have to say, I did learn a few things during the past couple days. And some of it might even be helpful in Chicago as the gas prices continue their upward climb.

When talking with the guys at CleanMPG, they like to call their brand of driving a way to out hybrid a hybrid in a non-hybrid. Many of us call this hypermiling and associate it with dangerous behavior and illegal activity. But CleanMPG stresses safety and awareness above all else, and even on the highway they (usually) stay within the legal limits — they just don’t often hit the outer edge of that limit.

During my 2-day trek with the Ford F-150 EcoBoost Challenge team, I had a crash course in fuel-efficient driving. And, while some of these techniques don’t make sense in urban driving, there are several that do.

Hypermiling — There isn’t any voodoo magic here. While there
certainly are some advanced techniques, hypermiling in general simply refers
to anything you do to get better than EPA mileage estimates.

Traffic side — This is something you can do whenever you are driving in steady highway traffic. All traffic creates a “wake” of air. So, if you stay in the right lane, and see a big truck coming up on your left, simply edge over slightly to the left in your lane after the truck passes to take advantage of the lift you get from their wind. This same theory applies to a flock of birds when they fly in a V.

Surf draft — This is another one that can be used by a novice — but only on a 3-lane highway when the truck is in the middle. While you are in the right lane, position yourself next to a truck such that you are behind it at a 3-quarter angle. In addition to being able to ride their wave of air, you create a “safety” buffer where no one can cut ahead of you and you can maintain your forward visibility.

Smart braking — While you might not be comfortable doing this in tight Chicago traffic, you probably could use this in the suburbs and certainly on the highway. Smart braking is, quite simply, being smart about when you brake. If you speed up only to slam on the brakes, you waste more fuel than if you brake early and potentially avoid stopping altogether. Think about it: 0 mph = 0 mpg … 10 mph may = 5 mpg … but that’s better than 0 mpg.

Driving with load — Doh! Get your mind out of the gutter. This is a technique you employ on hills. As you are climbing, let your speed drop to whatever minimum is comfortable for you. Whenever there’s a climb, lock your foot in place to keep the gas pedal in the same location. If you are driving 65, your speed may drop to 55 mph, but when get to the other side of hill, you’ll go right back up to speed. If you maintain a steady a load and steady pedal, you put engine in a place where it is most efficient.

Rabbit timing — Rabbits always win the race, so let them.  When they sprint past you to reach the red light first, they’ll trip the light, and by the time you get there using smart braking, you’ll sail right by them. Let the rabbit run.

Drive with a buffer — When you are in traffic, crawl along at constant 5 or 10 mph. Let space happen between you and the car in front of you. Let other cars bob and weave. They’ll be speeding up to 20 mph then stopping, while you’ll be constant. Create the buffer, crush the buffer, and when everyone else stops you don’t.

Face out — Everyone loves the pull through parking space. Who knew it would actually get you better fuel efficiency as well? You don’t have to use reverse (which wastes fuel), and it’s easier to see what’s in front than what’s behind. Best case scenario: Face out on a downhill.

NICE-on (Neutral Internal Combustion Engine on) — When you have a really good hill but perhaps a little traffic, you may not want to do a FAS (see, below). But you can get some good return on your fuel economy by popping it into neutral and coasting. You also save fuel by sitting at a light in neutral rather than drive.

FAS (Forced Auto Stop) — This is basically what a full-hybrid
does when you are in electric-only mode. In this advanced technique, you
pop the car into neutral while you are rolling at a nice clip, turn off
the ignition, then click the car into accessory mode. You would only do
something like this on a wide open road with a clear view. Steering and
braking still work, and you can click the engine back on and pop into
drive quickly if need be. You can also do a FAS while stopped at a light
or long-term impediment (like a train). I could say “Don’t try this at home” — but that comes off sounding like a joke. In all seriousness, this is a very advanced technique that even experts don’t recommend a novice try.  

If you do use some of the more advanced techniques, there are two more terms you should know:

Ridge riding — If you are driving between the min and max speed limits — or even under the flow of traffic — make sure you are a little off set to the right in the right lane so people will notice you.

Tail wag — As you are watching your rear view mirror, if someone is coming up fast and they don’t look like they’re paying attention, do a little slow shimmy to get their attention. Stay in your lane, but move the the right and the left a couple times to wake those drivers up.

With all of these techniques, the idea is to take advantage of little gifts you get and to drive for “free” when you can. Save going all-electric, you’re going to feel a pinch in the wallet with the continuing gasoline price spike. But, if you think before you crunch that gas pedal to the floor, it might pinch a little less.

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