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How To Get The Best Mileage Out Of A Hybrid


One of the main reasons that people purchase a hybrid car is because they want the great fuel economy of an electrical motor matched with the backup and power of a petrol engine.  More and more car manufacturers are embracing hybrid technology (including plug-in hybrids) and when they promote their vehicles, one of the features that they love to highlight is the great fuel economy figures.  Who doesn’t want to save a few bucks on fuel, after all?

Then comes driving in the real world.  We all know by now that the fuel economy figures that they wave around with any car, whether it’s a hybrid, a petrol or a diesel, are all derived from test lab conditions where they don’t even pop the car in question out on a real live test track – no, indeedy, folks, they do it all in the lab where annoying things like crosswinds, slopes and the weight of the driver won’t make those L/100 km figures creep up.  Nevertheless, you still want to get the most out of your new hybrid vehicle and keep those figures as frugal as possible.

The car will do its best to keep those economy figures at their best but the biggest factor influencing the fuel economy figures of a hybrid is the way that you drive.  Here’s how:

Tip #1: Gently does it

Accelerate gently rather than roaring off and brake gently.  This keeps your engine purring or ticking over in the green zone where you can use mostly the electric motor.  What’s more, gentle braking and slowing down means that you can make the most of the regenerated braking energy, keeping the battery nicely topped up.  So ease up on the feet and tread lightly if you want to reduce your footprint (doesn’t that clichéd metaphor work nicely here!).

Tip #2: Reduce drag

In their quest for great fuel economy, the design team of any hybrid vehicle have carefully considered drag and air resistance. As anyone who’s ever ridden a bike for a reasonable trip (i.e. over 1 km) will know, air really pushes hard on anything that moves and the more drag you’ve got, the harder the engine has to work and the more energy it consumes. This means that if you don’t need that roof rack or if you don’t need the windows down, don’t do it. Keep the outer skin of the car smooth so it slides through the air almost as efficiently as a fish through water or a falcon through the air…

Tip #3: Lose some weight

Get rid of the junk in the trunk.  Here, I’m not talking about trimming down your waistline or your buttocks (although any weight reduction will make your car more fuel efficient) but all the clobber that tends to get stuffed in the baggage compartments.  Drop off that bag of old clothes to the charity shop or whatever you need to do to ensure that you’ve only got the essentials in there (you are allowed to keep a raincoat in there just in case).

These first three tips may sound familiar, as these fuel economy tips (plus other basics like making sure the tyre pressure is right) apply to any vehicle, not just a hybrid.  However, there are some other techniques that are for hybrids only.

Tip #4: Stay in the zone

Most modern hybrids, especially the ones put out by Toyota, have a handy little dashboard display so you know when the electric motor is at work and when you’re using fuel.  Keep half an eye on this – as long as the traffic is light and you can do this safely – and ease off as needed.  You may need to spend a bit of time if you’re new to driving hybrid vehicles getting familiar with your display at first.

Tip #5: Neutrality is not an option

If you’re in that familiar situation of crawling through lots of stop-start traffic, don’t be tempted to put the gear into neutral while you’re at a standstill. Your battery will start discharging, which means it may not have the oomph when you need it.  You don’t need to put it into neutral anyway, so keep your hands off that gear lever!

Tip #6: Is it necessary?

It’s easy to just pop on all the conveniences like air-con, lights and wipers just in case.  However, if it’s only a little bit warm and you’re not going too fast, how about opening the window a little to let the breeze in?  (Yes, opening the window increases drag but it only does this noticeably when you’re at higher speeds; around town, it’s probably more fuel-efficient that the air-con). If there’s fog or dew on the outside of your windows, wipe it off with that junk mail in your letterbox or a tissue before you get in the car rather than popping the wipers on.  If it’s only spitting lightly and the moisture falling on your windscreen is running or evaporating off quickly enough for it not to affect your vision, don’t bother with the wipers.  If you can see 100 m ahead of you perfectly well and you’re not in a funeral procession, you don’t really need the lights.  All these little things drain electricity from the battery, so the less you use them, the more the battery will be able to do to get you around town.  Use these conveniences only when necessary.

Tip #7 Circulate

Having your climate control on recirculate is more energy efficient than having it on free-flow, because the system doesn’t have to work as hard to get it up or down to the right temperature, which reduces drain on the battery.

Tip #8 Love summer

Even hybrid engines hate getting started on cold winter mornings. Winter also increases the need for fog lights, headlights, heaters and windscreen wipers.  It’s a little known fact that winter driving is less efficient than summer driving.  There’s not much you can do about this one apart from being aware of it.  Maybe the crafty people in your life can whip up an afghan or car rug for you so you don’t have to crank up the heater?