A Frugal Enterprise

A local Trekkie “hypermiles” to save gas and the environment



It’s understandable if the term “hypermiling” conjures up images of spacecraft traveling the galaxy at light speed, especially if the person explaining the concept to you is Dr. Willie Kai Yee. The New Paltz resident — a hypermiler himself — drives a Toyota Prius decked out to resemble a Star Trek shuttle, complete with “moon disk” hubcaps, Starfleet Command seat covers, and car-length “United Federation of Planets” decals.

Despite appearances, however, hypermiling is a 21st-century phenomenon, not a futuristic, space-age one. The term refers to a series of road-tested driving techniques motorists can use to attain the best gas mileage possible (see sidebar). Yee began hypermiling last year after discovering the practice on a Prius owners Web site. He now regularly achieves 60 miles per gallon in a car designed to get 46, and continually seeks out new techniques and routes that will help him improve his mileage. “It’s something you always want to get better at,” he says.

Yee has recently tried his hand at competing with other hypermilers. In May, the psychiatrist finished third in the Green Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, a race in which entrants compete not for the top speed, but the best gas mileage. More important to Yee than any trophy, however, is spreading the word about the environmental (and, increasingly, financial) benefits of hypermiling. “We’re in an energy crisis, and everything the politicians are telling us is going to take several years to implement,” Yee says. Hypermiling today, he says, can boost drivers toward the kind of mileage Washington and Detroit claim are eons away.

So, Earthlings: rest easy the next time you see a sleek, white, alien-looking object traversing the back roads of Ulster County. The shuttlecraft and its occupant are trying to save your planet, not obliterate it.

Drive slowly and prosper
You don’t need to speak Klingon to improve your gas mileage. Here are five easy-to-follow hypermiling tips, straight from “Commander” Willie Yee:
Slow down, especially on highways. Any speed above 60-65 miles per hour becomes less and less fuel efficient.
Accelerate slowly. Yee aims for one mile per hour per second from a dead stop.
Be aware of your surroundings. There’s no reason to put pedal to metal if you’re approaching a stop sign or red light. Ease off the gas and coast to a stop.
Keep your car well-maintained. For maximum efficiency, fill your tires to the pressure printed on the tire sidewall, not the more conservative estimate on the sticker in the driver’s front door jamb.
Avoid short trips. Those jaunts down to the corner store really mangle your mileage. Walk or bike instead, or if that’s not feasible, combine several smaller trips into one big one — a warm engine needs less gas to power up.

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