The next time you’re inconvenienced by a driver barely going the speed minimum, hold your tongue and pull your finger. The driver could be Wayne Gerdes, arguably the most fuel-efficient driver in the world.
Using techniques known as hypermiling, the married north suburban father of three has broken Guinness world records for fuel economy and has been courted by automakers to teach their engineers how to drive in a manner that maximizes fuel efficiency.
“The definition of hypermiling is beating the EPA in whatever you drive,” Gerdes says from his home in Wadsworth. He should know: He coined the term, and will be practicing it more rigorously when he joins his wife in the San Diego-Los Angeles nexus of maximum traffic and maximum fuel-consumption awareness.
“My wife doesn’t drive like I do,” Gerdes says. Few people do.
Gerdes founded CleanMPG, an online community launched in 2006 to help drivers raise fuel economy and lower emissions. He has made it his life’s mission to drive smarter, conserve more and waste less.
Hypermiling comes down to two essential elements: more gradual acceleration and deceleration and greater anticipatory driving. If you see a red light ahead, for example, let off the accelerator and let friction slow down the car. The technique is called smart braking, and is one small step for fuel economy.
Gerdes practices seven techniques to improve safety while practicing hypermiling, ranging from “ridge riding” to rear-view mirror vigilance. Hypermiling has been around since World War II fuel-rationing days, according to Gerdes. When AAA misrepresented hypermiling as unsafe in 2008, Gerdes wrote a rebuttal defending the practice and clarifying what it wasn’t, like rolling through stop signs.
His fuel consiousness was raised by 9/11. “I was the A-type driver,” the former nuclear-power-plant operator explains. Examining the money trail of foreign oil and the economies of terrorism practiced by Osama Bin Laden, Gerdes felt that his gas money was going to people who wanted to kill Americans.
“We still import approximately 50 percent of our daily oil needs,” Gerdes says. “Ideally, we would not import any foreign oil.”
More immediately, Gerdes sees fuel-conscious driving as an investment opportunity. If a 25-year-old driver were to average 50 mpg instead of 20 mpg, Gerdes estimates that in 30 years he would have saved more than $109,000, based on investing in average S&P returns. The point is clear: An investment in fuel savings now is an investment in a fatter bank account later.
To cite another example, Gerdes’ mother traded in her third-generation 2010 Prius last year. She paid $22,800 for it, and after three years and with 18,500 miles, sold it for $20,600. “It might have been a one-off,” Gerdes acknowledges. “But Priuses hold their value.”
That interest in resale value is shared by Gerdes' wife, who drives a Prius plug-in on her 37-mile commute in San Diego. His mom purchased a Prius V. “She gets over 50 mpg without hypermiling,” Gerdes says with pride.
His sway over the automotive world has been growing for the past few years as well. At first, he was able to stretch his Ford Ranger from an EPA-estimated 23 mpg to about 85 mpg. Then came the Honda Insight, where Gerdes averaged 92.8 mpg over the lifetime of the hybrid. The EPA estimated 53 mpg.
After that, automakers took notice of what Gerdes was promoting, and Gerdes coined the phrase that would lead to being a record holder.
In 2006, he was the first to break through the 150 mpg average in a production vehicle by getting 181 mpg in a Honda Insight hybrid at the Hybridfest MPG Challenge in Madison, Wis. By 2008, due in large part to higher-profile national challenges from Toyota and Honda, hypermiling had entered the lexicon, earning Word of the Year honors from Oxford University Press.
Traveling from Chicago to New York on a single tank of gas, Gerdes averaged 71.1 miles in a 2008 Toyota Prius. Another driver with the same challenge did not make it on one tank, and averaged only 41.6 mpg, lower than the EPA-rated 46 mpg. The other driver got to NYC an hour and a half earlier, but Gerdes was the clear winner in demonstrating that the driver has a greater impact on fuel economy than the vehicle.
“I think we’re wired to be ahead of the next guy,” Gerdes says of our competitive natures at random stoplights. “But we have to come up with a new solution to make driving a little more cooperative while at the same time saving a ton of fuel.”
Gerdes has broken records for that as well. In 2010 he got 1,445 miles on a single tank of gas in a Ford Fusion Hybrid. He’s broken records in compacts, pickup trucks, mid-size sedans, hybrid and diesels, including this summer, when Gerdes and fellow hypermiler Bob Winger broke the Guinness record for “lowest fuel consumption — 48 US states in a non-hybrid car” by achieving 77.99 mpg over 8,122 miles in a Volkswagen Passat TDI. It beat the hybrid record held by, you guessed it, Wayne Gerdes in a Kia Optima Hybrid.
On CleanMPG, Gerdes breaks down his hypermiling tips into basic fuel economy saving techniques to intermediate techniques like “rabbit timing.”
When you see a stale green light or a light change from yellow to red about a half-mile away, rabbit timing would mean that you employ smart braking so that you don’t have to brake at all and can cruise through the light when it turns green. People behind you may get upset, but Gerdes is OK with the knowledge that he has saved them fuel and money without a tick difference in time.
If he senses an annoyed driver and the gestures that go with it, he’ll look in his mirror and wave with all five fingers. “I give them a thank you wave because they worked around me and I’m glad that they did,” Gerdes says.
Gerdes isn’t trying to change people; he is simply offering an alternative to save money and reduce energy dependence no matter what car you drive. “Everybody has a driving habit and I don’t want to impose mine on anybody, but I offer them the ability to save a helluva lot of money on fuel costs,” Gerdes says.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun