Budgeting Personal Finance

5 Secrets to Saving at the Pump

One of the most expensive relationships of your life is the one between you and your car. At best, your car can feel like a close friend, one that you trust to keep you safe and support your work — or at least your commute to get to there.

The worst-case scenario? Your car is a frenemy you just can’t shake. You’ve invested too much effort and money into the relationship to keep it running to let it go, even though you don’t really trust her to go the distance when you need her to. Sooner or later, you know you’ll end up stranded on the side of the road.

If your car’s been doing you wrong and costing you a lot of money in the process, there’s one way to take back control of your relationship with your car — and save a pile of cash in the process. It’s all about what you do behind the wheel.

Hypermiling: The Best Driving Technique You Never Learned

The more you drive, the more intimately familiar you are with fuel prices. They’re always a big new story, and you might even drive around town to get the cheapest gas when prices start to creep up.

At the end of the day, though, you don’t have any control over the geopolitical economic scene that’s behind your gas prices — shopping around for a discount of a penny or two is cool, but you won’t have much to show for your efforts at the end of the day. What you do have control over is how much fuel you allow your car to burn on any given trip.

Hypermiling is a driving technique perfected by Wayne Gerdes in a humble Honda Accord. Obsessed with getting the best possible miles per gallon out of his car, he began CleanMPG.com to bring together likeminded people who wanted to save gas and improve their personal fuel efficiency — and to evangelize his driving techniques.

At its core, hypermiling requires drivers to think way back to high school physics and apply Newton’s First Law: An object at rest tends to stay at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

The important thing for wannabe gas sippers to remember is that it takes fuel to change those laws. Want to overcome inertia and get your car moving? Press the gas pedal. Ready to slow down as you head downhill? Apply the brake — but you remember that you’ll need more gas to speed up again.

Instead of driving like most people — jackrabbit starts when the light turns green, anyone? — hypermilers do everything they can to harness their existing momentum to keep the car moving and only hit the gas when it’s absolutely necessary.

And you can learn to do it, too.

Hypermiling 101: The Basics

1. You Don’t Need a Hybrid — But It Helps
Most hypermilers drive a hybrid because they’re obsessed with fuel economy. Hybrids also help teach drivers hypermiling skills because of the way they work: The fuel engine cuts out when you quit pressing the gas, so it’s a good reminder to take your foot off the gas pedal. Likewise, you’re also rewarded with some extra battery charging when you drag out your braking over a distance — also good practice for making long, slow stops that maintain your momentum.

Still, the basic techniques of hypermiling work in a regular car, too. Wayne Gerdes regularly gets 59 mpg in a standard engine Accord — and that blows the official mpg rating of a Prius out of the water.

2. Start Slow
I mean this literally. Going from 0 to 60 in however many seconds burns a ton of gas. Your goal is to gradually get up to speed — the slower, the better. You’ll use less fuel to do so, and you’ll minimize the chance of wasting all your effort — and gas — by having to slam on the brakes unexpectedly.

Die-hard hypermilers don’t worry about the speed limit, and they blithely ignore the drivers behind them honking their horns when they’re slowly building up speed. Your tolerance may vary, but the more time you take to get up to speed, the more fuel you’ll save.

3. Stay Slow
Sunday drivers? You should be one. If you’re normally a speed demon, challenge yourself to obey the speed limit. If you’re a law-abiding citizen, try driving five miles below the speed limit. According to fueleconomy.gov, you can save about 16 cents per gallon for every five mph below the speed limit you go — no gas app can promise that!

4. Increase Your Following Distance
The flip side of slowly building your forward momentum is to jealously guard it for as long as you can, which is why the other major tenet of hypermiling is to avoid hitting the brakes for as long as possible. Once you do, you’re stuck pressing the gas again to get back up to speed.

Your best bet for keeping your foot off the brake is to increase your following distance — in all circumstances. A big gap between you and the car in front of you allows you to gently press the brake over a longer distance — your goal is to slow without stopping if at all possible. If you can avoid that complete stop, you’ll still have some momentum to use to get back up to speed instead of starting from zero with an all-gas start.

5. Coasting Is Key
If you’re stepping on the gas when you’re headed downhill, you’re doing it wrong. Coasting is the key to getting up to speed, so treat your car like you would ride your bike: Fly down hill and use that speed to help you get up the next hill without pedaling — or pushing the gas — as hard.

You can also practice coasting to a stop to save some gas. If you see a red light up ahead, take your foot off the gas. You’ll have to stop eventually anyway, so there’s no reason to waste the energy playing hurry-up-and-wait.

A final word of advice: I’m definitely not advising you to speed or break any laws in the name of hypermiling. Use your common sense and stay safe out there! Hypermiling takes some practice to get used to, but once you master the techniques on an empty back road, you’ll be ready to bring your skills into prime time. Even small changes to your driving habits can add up to big savings, so give it a try today!

How do you save money at the pump? Tell us below!

About the author

Beth Trach

Elizabeth Trach is a writer and editor living in Newburyport, MA. She also sings in a band, grows almost all her own food, and occasionally even cooks it. You can catch up on all her adventures in frugal living and extreme gardening at Port Potager.


  • The legal definition of ‘coasting’ in a motor vehicle is when moving down the highway while the power supply (engine) is mechanically disconnected) from the driveline. Such as putting an automatic transmission into neutral or depressing the clutch pedal in a standard shift vehicle, which allows the vehicle to cover some distance while the engine is at idle, burning almost no gas. I must point out that operating a motor vehicle in this state is also ILLEGAL in all 50 states. So, I suggest that you learn the meaning of the terms you choose to use before you suggest your readers use them as I don’t thinkthey will save enough money on gas to pay the fines involved when they are cought

  • This is a great idea…just stay out of the damn FAST lane while doing it!! THAT’S the reason your getting honked at…that and your texting!!

  • and it makes it impossible for very many people to get through a traffic light and the slow highway driving extends rush hour time for many others. don’t be selfish and/or holier than thou—get a bike or carpool if you must—and you will really save

  • When implimenting these techniques always be aware of the drivers around you and try to be considerate by staying in the right lane as much as possible if the traffic in the left is busy. It’s a good thing to be frugal and economical but it is selfish to be inconsiderate of others and to unfairly impose your driving technique on them, just the same as you do not want them to impose their driving methods on you.

  • the fifth one is just rude to other drivers. those folks who start slowing down half way down the block are preventing folks from being able to get over to the turn lanes in time to catch the light. other wise if they are in the slow lane ( right side) this is great.

  • I have been doing this for a long time the main thing being don’t be a speed demon and starting out slowly from a dead stop it really works to save gas and get the best gas mileage your car can get , also keep your tires at the proper pressure ,

  • Kroger has times 2 fuel points for every gift card you buy. If your going to eat out especially at fast food joints buy cards for them. They sometimes have times 4 fuel points. They have give 50 fuel points every time you fill a prescription at their pharmacy. 100 points equals $.10 off in gas up to $1 off when you use their station. Shell stations will give you .3 off if you use their station with your Kroger card.

  • If you eat at fast food chains anyway get gift cards for them at Kroger they have double fuel points added to your card each time you buy one. Sometimes they have times 4 points. These points save pennies on the dollar at their gas stations up to $1 off a gallon and at Shell stations for .3 cents off. You also get 50 points for every prescription you fill. 100 points = .10 off a gallon.

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