Notes from West London · Word of the week

Word of the week: Hypermiling

Hypermiling: that’s the word I was looking for. I read something about it at least 10 years ago, some print article on a motoring page about maximizing your miles per gallon. I wouldn’t know where to look for it now. This recent piece on the Guardian website by Sam Wollaston reminded me of the word and gives a few tips about fuel efficiency.

Fuel prices in the UK are at an all-time high. Our car uses unleaded petrol, and it is now between £1.60 and £1.70 per litre at most places. A litre of diesel costs around 10p more. There may be places (motorway service stations I’m guessing) where people have already paid £2 for a litre of fuel. We are not there yet, but the cost of filling up our 14-year-old family car is getting close to £100.

This has prompted us to drive in a different way: we had started hypermiling before we came across the word in Sam Wollaston’s piece. Both my wife and I accelerate much more slowly from stationary, and drive at slower speeds in higher gears for longer distances. We have become accustomed to driving in fourth gear at around 20mph (which is the speed limit on most of our local streets) and braking as little as possible. We plan routes that offer the fewest interruptions. Most of our driving is on local streets, very little of it is on dual carriageways or motorways, so there have been times when we were getting as little as 250 miles from a tank of petrol. Now, using mostly the same streets, we are managing to get around 400 miles from the same amount of fuel. It means that we are paying about the same per mile as we were when driving less efficiently, when petrol cost around two-thirds of what it costs now.

Not everyone does this. I have become increasingly aware of people revving up at the lights, racing up the gears, and coming to a complete stop at the next set of lights, by which time we have caught up with them and feel annoyed if we have to drop down to third gear (or even second) as the lights change to green.

Recently, while doing the journeys recounted in this piece (“The Tuesday Minicab Service”), we have seen even worse driving, not just in terms of fuel efficiency. On a stretch of 20mph road near a hospital I was overtaken by some clown doing at least 50 on the wrong side of the road. He (I’m sure it was a he) pulled in just in time to avoid an oncoming ambulance and then did the same again, overtaking the vehicle in front of him (another ambulance as it happens) by accelerating to at least double the speed limit.

On a 10mph stretch, leading to the athletics club where my daughter trains, another boy racer doing at least 40mph drove almost straight at my wife while she was driving, and clipped the driver-side mirror. The plastic casing of our mirror, and his, ended up on the road. My wife stopped immediately, I got out and collected both pieces of plastic, but he was gone, completely out of sight and unable to hear any of my cursing. I was able to click the outer casing back into place, but the mirror itself was cracked and the good people of Kwik-Fit replaced it a few days later, just a minute or two of labour. It cost 40 quid, more than the amount we might have saved with several weeks’ worth of hypermiling.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. I wondered if there’s something similar going on with the motorists of West London. For every new hypermiler like me or my wife, there’s at least one nutter doing at least 50 in a 20mph zone, burning through fuel in a most inefficient way, and causing danger to all around.

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