Keeping your vehicle moving whenever possible can definitely help you get better gas mileage, and consequently improve the status of your family and household budget. We’re talking here about an element of hypermiling, which is all about how to save gas money and exceed your car’s EPA MPG, or miles per gallon, rating.
Sitting still at red lights = ZERO MPG! Every second you sit still with your car idling means you’re getting no miles per gallon at all. Gas disappearing into your engine at zero MPG is a total waste of money. We’re discussing here some ways you can minimize the time you spend motionless at stop lights. This is about answering your question, “How can I improve mileage?”
Take your foot off the throttle or turn off the cruise control as soon as you see a light ahead of you turn yellow, or you see brake lights go on ahead of you. Go into coast mode as quickly as you can. You gain nothing, and lose a lot, by speeding up to a red light and slamming on your brakes. This wastes both gas and brake linings — literally burning money two ways!
Anticipate a light changing as you approach it. If you see that the light has been green for a while, you can expect it to turn yellow shortly. Anticipation can mean less gas used and allows you to get your foot off the gas pedal faster.
If your car is relatively new, seriously consider turning off your engine when you get to a full stop at a red light. With new cars, the computer control of gas flow during starting no longer means that a large amount of gas is used to start the engine.
Unfortunately, this is not true of older vehicles or those with carburetors — with these vehicles you’re probably better off letting the engine run. Be careful using this technique if you’re ever uncertain that your engine will immediately start up when the light turns green. (I would never do this with my car, which tends to be unreliable, but with my truck, I would).
Keep moving at all times — especially in congestion. Constant vigilance is the key to this element of hypermiling. As was discussed in the section above, every time you stop you waste gas. Anything you can do to keep your vehicle rolling instead of braking and stopping, will save gas and money.
If traffic is completely stopped ahead of you, there is not much you can do except, as we mentioned above, take your foot off the gas pedal as quickly as possible. On the other hand if traffic is only starting to become congested, you have several options to consider:
1. Is it possible to change lanes — moving into one that has either not stopped yet or that you know will probably keep moving more dependably than other lanes? Highway engineering experts tell us that when traffic is congested, the outside freeway lanes typically move more freely than the inside lanes. Seems paradoxical, but it’s true! I’m always amazed at the number of people who are stopped in those lanes as I keep moving past them in the outside lanes, sometimes for a half to three-quarters of a mile farther before I have to stop.
2. Could you take a different route that avoids the area ahead — a route that you know is less congested at certain times of day than your regular route? It’s surprising how many drivers know about better and faster routes but simply don’t take advantage of them. Get creative here. If you’re not sure whether a different route might be faster, try it out. If it’s not faster or doesn’t have fewer stop lights — you only wasted one trip to find out! But if it does prove to be better, you now “own” an alternate route you can use in the future. Collect as many of these alternate routes as you can to use whenever congestion happens at different spots along your normal route.
3. Can you make an earlier turn to avoid the left-hand turn lane at a slow-to-change light ahead? There are several left-turn light locations where I regularly drive where it’s possible to turn left one block early, at an intersection where there is no signal, thereby avoiding having to wait at the upcoming light. I can turn one block early and go down one block, then turn right and come up to the street I would have turned onto where there’s just a stop sign where I’ll turn left. That often saves me a lot of time, especially time I don’t spend sitting with my engine running waiting for the left-turn signal. Become aware of these locations where you regularly drive and you’ll find yourself moving along more quickly and more smoothly, making fewer stops.
This is not a definitive list of every possible solution to traffic congestion problems and to the goal of keeping your vehicle moving. It should give you ideas, however, of the type of thought processes you must constantly use to make your hypermiling efforts a success. Consider this a challenge: to find ways to do a little better every day. The prize for winning is real — more money in your pocket, all of which helps to improve your personal finances and protects your precious family financial resources!