Hybrid Driving Tips: Maximize MPG, Minimize Cost

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2011 Honda CR-Z

2011 Honda CR-Z

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We get to drive plenty of hybrid cars here at GreenCarReports, and naturally a combination of driving styles and road conditions play a part in the fuel economy figures we get.

Unlike with some other vehicles though, hybrids sometimes require a slightly different technique to extract the best figures.

We're not talking extreme hypermiling here--just a few simple tips that'll help you get the most from your hybrid.

Accelerating and cruising

Most hybrids are off to a pretty good start as far as saving gas is concerned. In fact, that's the whole reason they exist.

There are a few reasons for this, including engines specifically designed for efficiency over performance, electric motors to share the work--and occasionally take over altogether--and often, the use of continuously-variable transmissions, supplying only as much power is as needed in any given situation.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - production model

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It's making the most of a CVT that will net you some of the biggest benefits in hybrids.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive if you're trying to save gas, it can actually be beneficial to use a little more of it when moving away from rest. That's because pulling away uses more energy than cruising, and doing so in the all-electric mode means you're using electricity that could be put to better use cruising.

Instead, accelerate using the engine, and then back off once you've reached your desired speed. You'll use a negligible amount of gas accelerating, but you'll cruise for much longer in electric mode.

Make EV modes work for you!

To illustrate, Toyota often claims the Prius will only do up to around 25mph in EV mode. If you accelerate in EV mode, that's about right, but if you back off after accelerating normally it's possible to run in EV mode at speeds of up to 40mph. As you can imagine, that's quite a gas-saver.

Even in mild-hybrids without a full EV mode (the Honda Insight, for example), this technique can work to good effect. And the same applies to hybrids with regular automatic transmissions, like those in Hyundais, Kias and BMWs.

Of course, at very low speeds, in crawling traffic, you should accelerate gently and use as much EV mode as possible. Gasoline can be put to better use when moving, rather than when sitting still...

Try not to drive too quickly, either. Though CVTs and some modern automatics can keep the revs nice and low when cruising, you still use more gas pushing against large volumes of air at higher speeds.

Braking

2011 Honda CR-Z

2011 Honda CR-Z

Enlarge Photo
Reading the road is a great technique to use whatever you drive, but doing so in a hybrid can really save you gas. Most, if not all hybrids have a regenerative effect when backing off or braking, supplying power back to the battery.

Race around everywhere braking at the last minute, and the car won't generate much electricity. Back off early and brake gently, and you'll find your batteries constantly topped up.

At this stage, we'll advise that you always use common sense when it comes to braking. If a kid jumps out into the road in front of you, hard braking is better than conserving energy...

Use accessories sparingly

We're not suggesting you sit there sweating with the climate control off at the height of summer, or suffer a long commute without the radio to entertain, but every little bit counts if you're trying to save gas.

If your hybrid has an "eco" mode try and use it more often, as this will usually change air conditioning and accessory settings so they draw less power.

Avoid using headlights in broad daylight too. Though some cars are now switching to low-energy LEDs, older hybrids may still use halogen bulbs, that draw more current and therefore use more power. Naturally, as with the braking advice, safety should always take priority over efficiency.

Your mileage may vary

Will these techniques work all the time? Not necessarily, but they should help. We've used them in some recent tests (such as the 2013 Lexus GS 450h), and achieved figures that match--or better--official EPA estimates. We've not needed to hold up any traffic, and we've not even been driving with economy particularly in mind.

Of course, we've not covered everything here either, which is where you come in!

Got any great hybrid driving tips? Share them with us in the comments section below--and help out your fellow hybrid drivers.

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