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A fuel-efficient primer for the ordinary driver

The all-wheel-drive 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel that we drove from Houston to Detroit had a special wrap with fuel-efficiency tips.

Every vehicle comes with an EPA estimated fuel economy range. But, frankly, it can be really tough to hit those numbers if you aren't driving in a vacuum. Which you're not.{} Or unless you're a bona fide hypermiler who regularly gets better than estimated EPA fuel economy in your everyday driver. Which most of us aren't.

Is there a trick to this fuel-sipping thing? Well, actually there is.

After three fuel-efficiency-based drive challenges with Wayne Gerdes, the owner of the CleanMPG.com forum, I have learned the full range of tools in the hypermiler's belt. My most recent drive was from Houston, Texas, to Detroit, Mich., in an all-wheel-drive 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel in which we averaged 38.2 mpg. EPA estimates highway fuel economy at 27 mpg.

So, yeah, there's definitely a trick.

And after taking some of the more complicated, scary and sometimes illegal hypermiling techniques out of the bag, there are still things an ordinary driver can do to get the best fuel economy possible.

Stop speeding - In addition to saving you from those pricey speeding tickets, going the speed limit actually helps you get higher fuel economy. The idea is to keep your speed constant and your RPMs as low as possible. The less work your engine has to do, the more fuel-efficient it is.

Smart braking -{}The idea here is, quite simply, to be smart about when you brake. If you speed up only to slam on the brakes from stop light to stop light, 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 - 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 you get to the other side of hill, you'll go right back up to speed. If you maintain a steady pedal, you put your 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 stop-and-go traffic, crawl along at constant 5 or 10 mph rather than speeding up only to stop. 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. Remember: Even 5 mph is better than 0 mph.

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.

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.

What I like about these tips is that they require the driver to be mentally present. No texting. No talking on the phone. You must constantly watch what other cars are doing on the road and how your car is reacting to road conditions. This also means no cruise control - especially if you live in a hilly area where "driving with a load" is to your benefit.

At the end of the day, the idea is to drive more smoothly and less aggressively. Let the rabbits run and pave the way for you to glide through green lights seamlessly.

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