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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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Comments (6)
  1. Well, if you stay below 55mph on the hwy, it will be the biggest factor in your fuel efficiency. Or just drive like a typical Prius driver...

    I strong disagree with writer's point on the Gas engine vs. Electric motor in acceleration. From a physics point of view, the amount of energy needed to accelerate the car is the same whether it is Electric motor or gas engine. In fact, electric motors are more efficient under load than a gas engine under load. This particular method will ONLY make sense if you assume that gas engine does the work during hard acceleration, then it gets shut off and electric motor does the rest during light acceleration or cruising. But that won't help you during hwy merges...
     
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  2. It's pretty simple Xiaolong - It takes more energy to move from rest than it does to cruise.

    It's more efficient using the gasoline engine do move from rest, and then back off to switch off the engine and use electricity to cruise, than it is to try and pull away in EV mode, using a disproportionate amount of battery power to get up to even low speeds.

    Given your apparent distaste for people driving slower than average, one might think you'd be happy we're advocating a technique that involves pulling away a little quicker than normal.

    And of course, with a car like the Volt, or any other car that drives the wheels at all times with its electric motors, then it's easier to pull away entirely in EV mode anyway.
     
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  3. Above all, we're suggesting this technique because it *works*. We've driven several hybrids between us here at GCR and in most cases (note: "most", as in "your mileage may vary") we've found it possible to get better figures by accelerating more briskly and backing off earlier.

    And of course, driven this way you don't hold up other vehicles.
     
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  4. I understand what you are trying to say. But a typical hybrid will keep the engine on at hwy speed. So, if you use engine during acceleration to hwy speed and you stay at hwy speed (> 65mph), then your electric motors aren't used to cruise anyway... (as in Plug-in Prius). Your mode only works if you drive between 0mph and 40mph. Then you get up speed ASAP, then go easy and stay around 40mph... But I would think electric motors are still more efficient for all driving conditions (except DC motor at higher speed).
     
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  5. I agree with you. The torque of the electric motors are superior to the torque in that 4 cylinder ICE, you should use the assistance of the electric motors to accelerate and leave the easy cruising to the ICE engine. Yes it takes more to energy to move from a rest, so why would I burn my gasoline?
     
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  6. Sorry, I'd best clarify: There's nothing wrong with using electric assistance to pull away, and indeed if you pull away briskly, you'll likely use this anyway.

    What I'm suggesting here is that if you want to get to a certain speed, say 30mph - it's better in something like a Prius to pull away using electricity AND gas, and then back off to go all-electric once you hit 30, than it is to try and creep away in all-electric mode from rest to 30mph.

    Not only does it mean you use less of the battery's limited energy simply pulling away from rest (and a *tiny* amount of gas), but it means you can use more of that battery energy for driving emissions-free for a longer distance. And often at a higher speed, as suggested in the 40mph example.
     
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