Improving Hybrid Car Gas Mileage - How I got over 58 mpg from my TCH

In order to help you offset the high cost of gas, I wrote an article on how you can save money on gas. In 2007, the article became very popular due to the higher cost of oil. Now we are heading back in this direction and we may eventually surpass those levels as the economy rebounds.

I took advantage of the low cost period and replaced my cars with hybrids. Most of the tips in the previous extensive article are valid for hybrid drivers as well. I highly recommend that you read them too in order to maximize your potential. Those tips will teach you how to drive with efficiency in mind.

58.2 mpg with the Toyota Camry Hybrid

In this new article, I will include more techniques that are mostly beneficial for hybrid owners. Those are additional tips that helped me push my Toyota Camry Hybrid (TCH) to get 58.2 mpg. Since this was a winter drive and fuel efficiency in hybrids is always better in summer, I expect to push this number  even higher.

Hypermiler App

Warm up period

Today’s Hybrids need a minimum engine temperature before they can shut off the engine. During this time, the timing of the engine is also different, to help the engine warm up faster. Unfortunately, this means also higher fuel consumption. Simply put, the first minutes of the drive are the worst in terms of fuel.

1. Learn to combine several short trips. Ask everyone else in the family if they need anything. Make a grocery list and learn to manage your stock, so that you have more flexibility on when to go shopping. Do not let your car cool off between trips, park in a garage if you can! Savings potential: 10% - 50%

2. Consider installing an engine block heater. This device installs to your car and pre-heats your engine block from the electrical outlet. Your hybrid will go into EV (electric vehicle) mode faster, letting you skip the warm up period. Savings potential: 5% - 40%

3. If the outside temperature drops, I (partially) block my front grille. I determine the amount of blockage empirically, trying to find the right balance by avoiding the engine fan from running (coolant temperature getting too hot) while ensuring a faster startup. I usually do not block anything above 45-50˚F (7-13˚C) and I fully block the grille below 0˚F (-18˚C). Only do this if you are comfortable blocking the grille and if you can remember removing the blockage when the outside air temperature increases. Savings potential: 0% - 15%

Front Grille of the Camry

In this image, you can see some of the foam I put between the openings of my grille in order to block about 25% of the cold air.

4. If your car computer does not show coolant temperature, get a better gauge like the Ultragauge or Scangauge. Keep your coolant temperature below 194˚F (90˚C) and remove blockage if it goes above. You can use your gauge to monitor other vitals as well, like RPM, engine temperature, and, in case of the Scangauge, even the battery level (State of Charge). Make sure they support your car. Savings potential: 0% - 15%. This can prevent damage and help you optimize your mpg strategy.

EV mode

The parallel hybrid and two-mode hybrid drive-trains have the capability to drive with battery only. Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes, and Chevrolet use this technique. The series hybrid drive-trains of Honda and Saturn have very limited or no EV mode capabilities.

5. Learn how your car gets into and out of EV mode! Savings potential: 0% - 10%
-My first generation Ford Escape Hybrid AWD takes a lot more work to enter EV mode. I have to tap the brakes slightly and the car will only go to EV below 30 mph or between 30-40 mph on a long downhill grade. If I accelerate slightly above my target speed and take the foot off the accelerator long enough, the car goes to EV without tapping the brakes.

Escape Hybrid
The Escape stays longer in EV mode. I can get decent acceleration without turning on the gas engine.
-My Toyota Camry Hybrid (TCH) very aggressively turns off the engine by comparison.
If all conditions are right (coolant, battery and catalytic converter temperature, battery charge), it will go to EV as soon as I take the foot off the gas when I am below 40mph.
Camry
The Camry does have a tendency to start the engine quicker than the Escape does. Acceleration in EV mode is abysmal.

6. Each car is different and how it behaves will have an influence on your technique.
-I usually do not coast often in EV with the Escape. It takes too much effort, during which I lose speed (the newer Escapes are better), but I coast to a stop and coast in parking lots and once I am in EV mode in a residential area, I will keep it in EV even between stops and acceleration.
-With the Toyota Camry Hybrid (TCH), I often cruise at 40 mph or less, keeping up with traffic. I simply accelerate with traffic to 40, take the foot off the gas and immediately feather it lightly. This will put the car into EV right away and lets me keep the speed at 40.

7. Watch your battery charge! Savings potential: 0% - 5%
I used to stay in EV mode as long as possible, thinking I could maximize my mileage. However, this is not always the best technique. It drains the battery, until the computer decides that it is time to recharge. Your mileage will drop during this recharge time and the car may recharge, even though the terrain would permit you to glide (gentle downhill slope) or when you need full power (passing, steep hill). Maximizing your EV range is thus not always a good technique. Consider your entire trip and look ahead for traffic patterns, road conditions, and terrain to decide when to go to EV mode and when it is best not to, even though you could.

8. I do always try to stay in EV mode as long as possible before turning the car off. When I am looking for a parking spot in a garage, or on the last mile home, I carefully coast with EV. The car will go through a warm up period when I start it anyways, which will replenish my charge. Savings potential: 1% - 2%

9. Terrain aware driving. Savings potential: 0% - 10%
At teakettle juncion

(My Escape at Teakettle Junction)
Unfortunately, car computers are not (yet) intelligent enough to know about the terrain and the traffic conditions ahead. When I am approaching a long downhill grade, I know that I can replenish my charge easily. I try to discharge the battery as much as possible before reaching the downhill grade.
Future hybrid cars will use the navigation information, combine it with terrain data, and calculate when to charge and discharge. Today, you have to do this work yourself.

10. Sometimes I keep my downhill speed just below or at 40mph in the Toyota. This way my engine is off and I charge the battery. Above 40, the engine will be on. If I do not press the gas, the computer will cut the fuel to the engine, but additional friction makes it less efficient. I only do this if the speed limit is 40mph to avoid annoying others. Savings potential: 0% - 5%

Traffic Timing and Shifting

11.   Pay attention to the traffic ahead of you. If the light has turned red, there is no need to mash the gas pedal and let your combustion engine start. Coast to the red light instead! This seems to tick off some people. Just stay calm. Savings potential: 5% - 10%

12. If the green light ahead of you is stale, it will most likely turn red before you get there. A stale light is a light that has been green for some time, with no cars entering the intersection from your side, thus not tripping the sensors. There is no need to rush if you are still far away. Start to coast instead! Savings potential: 0% - 3%

13. Use other cars to trip the traffic light sensors. I have no desire to arrive first at a red traffic light. I let other drivers race ahead and stand on the induction sensors. This will cause the traffic light to switch, hopefully before I get there. You can learn the timing of the traffic lights on your route and avoid some stops completely. Savings potential: 0% - 2%

14. Avoid jackrabbit starts, but do not stall out people behind you. It is more fuel efficient to accelerate normally, lift the foot from the gas, and feather it lightly. Either your car will go to EV mode quicker, or the CV transmission (common in hybrid cars) will go to a very high (and thus efficient) transmission ratio very quickly. Savings potential: 2% - 10%

15.   Understand how the CV transmission works! Savings potential: 5% - 10%
I can drive 70mph in the Toyota Camry Hybrid and hold a fuel efficiency of over 40mpg indefinitely on flat terrain. In warmer weather, I can get even more.
During a recent round trip between San Francisco and San Jose, I averaged 46mpg. I got up to 70mph and then I lifted the foot slightly off the accelerator. Then I feathered it just enough to keep 70mph on a flat road. The CV shifted to a very high transmission ratio and I could coast, keeping the instant mpg needle between 40 to 50mpg and the speed around 70.

16. Do not use the cruise control!
It will try to maintain 70 mph, even uphill. On overpasses, I let my speed bleed off slightly on the way up, and regain it on the way down, while keeping the instant mpg needle in the sweet spot. Savings potential: 5% - 10%

Regenerative Braking

Hybrid cars recapture energy that you lose when you break. The electric generators transform mechanical energy into electric energy that they store in the batteries. They take their mechanical energy from the rotation of the wheels, thus slowing the car down.

The power that the generator creates is equivalent to P=torque x speed, where the torque is your braking force (how hard you mash the pedal). Due to internal losses, generators aren’t the most efficient at their absolute maximum rating. Additionally, you incur electric losses due to the resistivity of the power bus. Further, batteries have a greater capacity to accept charge when they are nearly empty compared to nearly full batteries.

You do not need to remember the technical details, since I will translate them into driving recommendations for you.

Escape Battery Charge Current vs. SoC

17. Use your battery level indicator if you have one. Try to keep your battery within the sweet spot, not too full if you anticipate that you will break a few times. This maximizes your capacity to recapture all the energy you can. Burn off excess capacity by keeping your car in EV mode longer. Savings potential: 0% - 10%

18. Anticipate the traffic ahead and brake early to avoid hard braking. If you brake very hard, the “normal” brakes will engage, wasting all that energy. Even if the friction brakes don’t engage, you will generate more current and thus incur more losses in the system. Savings potential: 5% - 10%

19. Avoid full stops and try to stay in motion as much as possible. If you approach a stop light, try to slow down earlier. I hope that the light will turn before I get there. Most hybrid cars cannot capture braking energy below a certain speed (7mph for the Escape). Savings potential: 0% - 5%

Car Maintenance and Fuel

Shell gas

20. I tested expensive gasoline (top tier gas) against cheap brands on thousands of miles of road and could not notice an appreciative difference. My best mpg run so far (58.2mpg) was after a fill up at a discount super market gas station. Savings potential: 10ct/gal

21. Many people claim that synthetic oil gives you a better mileage. I believe that too, but it hurts my goal of achieving the best dollar/mileage ratio. The amount of gas you safe will not compensate for the higher cost of oil change. Choose the lowest viscosity oil with a price premium of no more than $10 above the regular oil! If your oil change intervals are longer (e.g. the Camry has 10k intervals), you can spend $20 more. Savings potential: $40

22. Inflate your tires and check them regularly. I prefer a pressure above the recommendation of the manufacturer. My Toyota calls for 32psi, yet the tires have a maximum pressure rating of 44psi. All tires should have their maximum rated pressure indicated on the side.
Inflating the tires to 40psi will give me an improved mileage, due to the reduced rolling resistance, while still staying far below the maximum ratings. Savings potential: 2% - 10%

Simple Stuff

Camry Hybrid

23. Choose a slightly different route home to see if you can improve your numbers. Don’t lose sight of the real prize, money spent. Sometimes you can find a longer route that gives you better fuel economy, but because it is longer, you will burn more gas. Savings potential: 0% - 10%

24. Keep a mileage log and notice when you get gas or what your internal gas gauge tells you. This way, you can look for patterns to identify the most efficient route. Alternate the routes ever day and evaluate your data after two months to reduce noise (temperature, abnormal congestion). Savings potential: 0% - 5%

25. I often back into a parking spot. Since you park at the end of your drive, you will normally be in EV mode, but when you drive out of your spot, you will be running the engine. Since I want to use the energy to drive forward instead of idling while backing out, I back into parking spots. Savings potential: 0% - 1%

26.   Turn off the air condition!
At city driving speeds, it is more efficient to roll down the windows while the added drag will kill your mileage during highway speeds. I try to avoid the AC as long as I can stand the heat. I park in the shade to keep the car cool. You can find more of these tips in my previous article. Savings potential: 5% - 10%

27. Slow down! Speed reduces fuel economy exponentially. Driving fast makes a surprisingly small difference in time you spend on the road, but a larger difference in fuel you pump through your engine. Savings potential: 10% - 40%

Advanced Hybrid driving techniques

Ford Escape State of Charge 

28. Many Prius owners swear by the Pulse and Glide technique. It works, but it requires work and may take some joy away from your commute.
You pulse up to a speed that is slightly above your target speed. Then you let the engine turn off, but feather the gas paddle just enough to prevent any energy from flowing from the battery or to the battery (taking your foot off the gas paddle will actually charge the battery and slowly decrease your speed).
Now you will glide to a speed lower than your target speed, essentially just rolling.
This technique is difficult to master, but can result in astonishing mileage on flat roads. You do not need to watch your gas mileage as much during a pulse. The faster you get to your target speed, the faster you can turn off the engine again. Thus it is o.k. to get “bad” mileage during the pulse, as long as the glide phase is longer. This works great on an empty stretch of country road, but it is not ideal to swim with traffic.

29. I usually adapt the Pulse and Glide technique to the terrain and to the traffic situation. Sometimes it makes more sense to stay in glide mode longer, even using battery charge to do this. After all that is what hybrid cars do best.
If I approach a traffic light a mile away, I may choose to stay in EV mode until it is time to brake. I will recapture some of the energy I used during the glide and get some more back when I accelerate with the engine on.
If I am already closer to a traffic light, I may not feather the pedal at all and let the battery charge go up faster.
In essence, this modified pulse and glide technique is just a glorified name for selectively turning the engine on and off according to the traffic situation.

30. Avoid getting too excited about other drivers! Although this is not a hybrid tactic, it still applies and it is very difficult. Others always seem to behave stupidly. They seem to be doing everything they can to upset you. If you lose your cool, you will not be in the best frame of mind to save gas. You probably will not even care. Take a deep breath and remember that your anger hurts only you and your fuel efficiency. The other driver is completely oblivious to your agony. Choose not to hurt yourself!

31. Drafting is extremely dangerous and inadvisable. It could also damage your windshield, due to stones thrown from the vehicle that you draft. I am not drafting anymore, but it works exceptionally well in hybrid cars due to their CV transmission. The reduction in drag will let the transmission shift to a very high gear ratio (higher than regular cars) and you can watch your mileage drop instantly. Some truck drivers may react very annoyed. I was able to achieve my numbers without drafting. Savings potential: 5% - 30%

32. Visit this forum:
Greenhybrid.com
where you can meet hybrid car enthusiasts with even more tricks up their sleeves.

Amazing

Thanks for all the information. This is a lot to digest, but I can't wait to get out today and try some of your tips.

Thanks for sharing. So much

Thanks for sharing. So much detailed!

interested at the car

what's the model of the car, is it toyata hybrid?

Camry Hybrid

Its a Camry Hybrid, but you can get amazing mileage with other cars too. I got 45mpg out of my 1996 Eclipse RS at some point.

Handy

I will keep these tips handy in case the gas price keeps creeping up. I think this is just a momentary glitch due to fear in the market.

Hey there, thank you, the

Hey there, thank you, the detailed information is very much appreciated here, thank you once again, appreciate it. 

Fooling Escape Hybrid engine temp sensor

Hi, I have an Escape Hybrid with a 4 kWh Enginer PHEV kit. Often I drive a short distance (2-3 miles) at low speeds (<35 mph). On these occasions I do not need the ICU at all. Do you know of a way to fool the computer into thinking that the engine is warm when it is not? That way I could drive in EV mode immediately and have the engine only come on if it is needed for extra power or speed. It is a big waste of fuel and creates a lot of unneeded pollution during the short drives since the engine is turned off as soon as it warms up. Thanks.

Keeping engine off

Not sure if this will work for the Escape Hybrid, but some Prius owners have had success with pulling the EFI fuse essentially disabling electronic fuel injection and driving on purely electric power. Others have used the built-in low speed EV mode. The Prius temperature sensor hack apparently works well for PHEV upgraded Prius, if the operator understands the risks and uses it wisely. Good luck with your efforts.Cheers,eMileage

Dangerous

I think this is outright dangerous. The Escape only goes to 30mph on electric and it really doesn't have enough power. 

Get an engine block heater to get your engine temp up quickly and let your electronics turn it off whenever it is not needed. You can also use a mechanically closing door to block the airflow, but you have to make sure it opens up when the engine gets hot enough. 

Tire Pressures

Lot's of good information in your article, however I have to comment on your Tire Pressure recommendation - do not forget that tires heat up and psi increases as you drive until it stabilizes at a hot psi. Pressuring up your tires to 40 psi is asking for a blowout as you will more than likely be above the 44 psi after a drive. I suggest you check your pressures "hot" and then adjust down from there. In addition, your tires will wear prematurely in the centre and with the cost of tires these days - any fuel savings are easily cancelled out. I recommend 3 or 4 pounds above vehicle recommended - this will still give the reduced rolling resistance and keep tire wear to a minimum, give an acceptable ride while keeping the tire well within the safe max psi range when hot. Thanks

Interesting in hybrid car

Sounds interesting, becouse I've never driven a hybrid. But once very much like to try. Thank you for this article was interesting to read. I think that in the near future I will try out a hybrid and will be happy to buy it.

Thanks for the info.

Wow!

Thanks for all the wonderful information. I'm always on the lookout for frugal living tips. When I rent vacation homes through HereStay, I get free airline reward miles that I can use on future trips, so Im already on the path to earning a free ticket. If I couple that with your tactics by renting an eco friendly car like this, I could probably save a pretty penny on fuel costs during my trip.

Thanks again for the info!

bateries

does anyone know if you can add more batteries, so that you can use ev mode longer. I really dont need the trunk that much?

Interesting information.

Interesting information. Well written, with the mileage I drive on a daily basis almost 40 miles one way they add up fast. I will try some one the tips and tricks presented here to see if I notice a change in my mpg. Thanks for the useful information.

adding batteries

Batteries are so heavy that I do not really believe that you would obtain better gas mileage my adding another battery. Simply put the battery would never pay for itself because it would increase the weight of the already heavier hybrid.

Thanks for the information!

Wow thank you for the well written article. A lot of people dont know how to save, but this explains it all! Thanks again

This is one of the most

This is one of the most comprehensive articles on fuel saving with a hybrid car that I have come across. I like that you broke down how each step could potentially save me money. When I travel from place to place, I try to map out the best route and smoothest terrain so I do not waste too much fuel going the long way. With fuel prices rising, everyone can benefit from these tips.
Chris 

Batteries warm up before stopping

I did some testing on my northern lights 2012 trip to Iceland last week. I was driving Toyota Camry Hybrid and each time I was stopping the car e.g. parking at a hotel or stopping at a museum I got the EV mode to work - meaning I let the batteries warm up before I stopped. Compared to former tests I think I saved some 2-3% by just doing this. A small trick but it works.

re: adding batteries

I have looked into this. Enginer.us offers a pack that you can add, but it is not removable and takes up too much trunk space. The car cannot recharge it, you can only charge it from the outlet. It is a great idea, but unless they come up with a system i can hoist in and out of my trunk on a per need basis, I am not going to sacrifice half of my already smaller trunk for this.

The savings aren't worth it in my opinion. 

My new car

Thank you. I am picking up my brand new Camry hybrid tomorrow and wanted to get things started off on the right foot. I will be picking up log book before I pick up car. Thank you again.

Extending EV mode speed

I had read where someone had made some modification on a Camry Hybrid that would keep the car in the EV mode upto 35 MPH where as normal would be 25 MPH. Does anyone have information on this modification?

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