• May 12th 2011 at 2:55PM
  • 32
Who Says A Huge Truck Can't Get 30+ MPG?

Of course, if you fill the tank this much, you'll likely spill a bit of fuel. Automotive engineers prepare for situations like this and build in tiny holes right at the fill spout that drains through a stainless tube onto the ground. Gerdes said he puts a collection tub under this spout so that when he tries to save fuel, he doesn't instead pollute the ground. The important thing is to know that you're starting with a completely full tank (which can then be contrasted with how much fuel goes in on the last fill-up). The other component here is an accurate distance gauge. Before each headline-grabbing road trip, Gerdes and his crew make sure to compare the on-board odometer to 100-miles' worth of markers distance markers along the side of the road. With these two numbers in hand, Gerdes sets off, sometime pushing the truck to the best spot in the parking lot so that, once you've started the engine, you're instantly ready to move. It's as if wasting gasoline offends him – and why shouldn't it? There are free miles just laying everywhere, like in the slope of a parking lot, and most people just leave them sitting there.

Pushing a vehicle into position is just one more trick hypermilers can use to decrease the amount of fuel they need to burn to go anywhere. Hanging with hypermilers introduces you to a bewildering array of new terminology to describe these tricks: FAS (a Forced Auto-Stop, described above), NICE-on (Neutral, ICE on – like a FAS, but with the engine running), and Driving With Load, a key idea: you want to keep the engine at a constant, efficient rate while letting your speed vary (one journalist who participated in the Challenge before me, Jill Ciminillo of Chicago Now, has created a longer list for the uninitiated). One thing Gerdes does not recommend is drafting behind a truck, as that's a bit too dangerous.

2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost MPG Challenge

Gerdes uses all these terms fluently, and his CleanMPG friends know what he's talking about when he does. They don't always agree with him on the forums, but on this trip, Gerdes was in charge, directing them from the F-150's passenger seat just as he directed me. I learned one lesson the time we came a railroad crossing at the bottom of a slight hill. We had been running parallel to a train for a mile or two, talking about how geeky some train fans can be (takes one to know one, right guys?) when we saw the flashing red lights down a ways indicating that the train was about to get in our way. "Shoot," Gerdes said, directing the driver at that moment to shift into M and then downshift into first gear. This made zero sense to me. We were going to have to stop anyway, right? So wouldn't this be one of the rare times when it's okay to step on the brakes? Of course not. There is never a good time to step on the brakes (well, almost never).

See, the trick – again – is to understand exactly how the vehicle you are driving works. In Ford's F-150 XLT with the 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6, that means knowing that the fuel cut comes at around 1,100 rpm. Oh, and it also means understanding what the fuel cut is.

2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost MPG Challenge2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost MPG Challenge

Fuel cut is the point at which the engine will still use the vehicle's momentum to keep the engine turning over. Every internal combustion engine (except those with auto stop-start or an electric motor) wants to make sure that it continues to spin, otherwise it will stop running. (If you've ever driven a manual and stepped on the brakes without first stepping on the clutch, you know what we mean.) When the engine rpm drops below a certain point (in this case, 1,100 rpm), the car will send a bit of fuel through the injectors to keep everything humming along. This can be a complete waste if you're a hypermiler, because there is another way to keep the engine spinning: downshifting and fuel cut.

Thanks to the transmission, you can use the rotation of the wheels to spin the engine. If you downshift at a higher speed, the engine will spin faster (i.e., at higher rpm) as it slows down the vehicle – neatly preventing the computer from turning the injectors back on again while slowing down. This technique is called smart braking, and any time you're moving without burning fuel, it's called fuel cut.

2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost MPG Challenge

Compare this to what happens when you step on the brake pedal during a normal stop in an automatic transmission-equipped vehicle: the torque converter unlocks and then all you have is the fluid coupling. This means that the drive wheels are spinning independently of the engine and the rpm number drops. Stepping on the brake pedal simply converts momentum to waste heat while still burning fuel. No one wants that.

As it turns out, the flashing red lights were for a stoplight, not a railroad crossing. But this turned into a teachable moment, one of hundreds for me along the journey. Gerdes knows that not everyone is willing to do stuff like this to cross the country in a heavy pickup truck using just over two tanks, saying, "That's us, that's not everybody."

So, how did we – the novice journalists and experienced CleanMPG members together – do? Overall, the 7,120-pound F-150 with people and gear managed 32.281 mpg over 2,468.7 miles. The Ford Fiesta chase car, similarly loaded and achieved, got 63.5 mpg. That pretty much confirms it: there are extra mpg laying around everywhere, you just need to know where to find them.

2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost MPG Challenge

We asked Ford about some of these driving tricks, and this is the official, vetted response:

First, we have to make it very clear that Ford does not recommend or endorse turning off the engine and coasting as a method to improve fuel economy.

We can tell you how the F-150 will behave in the unlikely event the engine should stall.

(1) The F-150 retains full braking power for a limited number of applications of the brake pedal, enabling the driver to bring the vehicle to safe stop as normal.
(2) The electric power assisted steering system remains active but not at 100 percent assist.

There could be instances where braking and steering efforts are affected. For instance, coasting down a long mountain road with the engine off could reduce voltage in the battery and affect the EPAS [
Electric Power Assist Steering]. Also, the vaccum that powers the brakes would be depleted after several applications of the pedal.

And finally: We recommend filling the tank as per the instructions in the owner's manual
.

Again, we should make it clear that no one should attempt maneuvers like this without proper oversight, training and an understanding of the risks. Clear? Good.

***

One last thing: During a food stop in Sallisaw, OK, I asked the CleanMPG group to chat about the truck, hypermiling in general and how they deal with people who honk at them for driving slowly. Listen in:




(Download here. 16 minutes, 4 MB). You can also get more information on the journey over at CleanMPG or searching for #F150Challenge on Twitter. These guys know how to use social media.

clean mpg forum users
Left to right: Mike Sefton, Wayne Gerdes, Chris Bernius, Andrew McGuckin, Bob Winger, Mike Sirach


Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG

  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG
  • Ford F-150 Ecoboost Challenge Road Trip with CleanMPG


Our travel and lodging for this trip were provided by CleanMPG.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 32 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      There's at least 2 techniques here that are fine if you're trying a one shot challenge, but are headbanging stupid on a regular basis. First is packing the vapor space over the tank with fuel instead of using the auto-shutoff. This is a wonderful way to get raw fuel into the carbon filter on the emissions system, clotting it with fuel. The second is engine braking in a lower gear through an automatic transmission to kill the fuel flow. While common in a manual, in an automatic you end up dissipating an enormous amount of energy through the transmission, and it's really not designed to do that. Sure, these techniques save you on gas, but you'll pay it back in repairs to the other systems multiple times over. And, if pushing the vehicle manually is acceptable to increase mileage, why not just get a horse. Vern
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've wondered what techniques are applicable without turning off the motor and what could you achieve with that one change? One thing I've tried is killing the motor in a gear (manual trans, 1991 S-10) and then I can floor the accelerator to minimize pumping losses. It would be nice if you could have the throttle open when you want it, engine off, but the throttle-by-wire stuff probably doesn't do that. For me, I'd be coasting to a stoplight with lots of traffic, typically. Sometimes I get to start the truck by just turning back on the key, no starter needed if rolling fast enough.
      Rotation
      • 4 Years Ago
      Pointless.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Cool! I never rode a Norton with a featherweight frame but I bet it would have been a winner. Always did like those featherbed frames though and MotoElectra sure did a beautiful job building that one.
      Noz
      • 4 Years Ago
      This goes beyond rights POLO... If some guy wants to sit at home and get drunk in his living room, that's HIS problem..but if that same person gets behind the wheel, now it's EVERYONE'S problem. It's not about just paying for the fuel...it's about polluting our surroundings. The more these people use, the more it affects everyone else. If they lived in a bubble and only they were affected, I'd say you are 100% right....it then is their right to kill themselves if they choose to. But consuming more resources at the expense of others is no one's right.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 4 Years Ago
      the reason the world doesn't change over night is because people choose not to do anything and many like you defend that. that's why I am negative. through no fault of mine, indeed to my great credit.
      tantareanujellob
      • 4 Years Ago
      Drivers who turn off the engine are reckless and should be tickted like any speeder or red light runner.
      Sgt Beavis
      • 3 Years Ago
      A very timely article for me. On Monday I bought a 2012 F-150 SuperCrew FX2 with the 5 liter. I thought about getting the EcoBoost V6, but it is now a $1000 option. I typically telecommute, so I won't be putting enough miles on it to justify the extra cost. I will definitely be looking to do some of the less radical techniques to improve mileage. What they did here was very impressive.
      Chris M
      • 4 Years Ago
      Filling up the way he did probably saturated the fuel vapor recovery system, not a good thing for proper operation of the vehicle, and could have paradoxically threw off his fuel economy measurements.
      Nick
      • 4 Years Ago
      I used to FAS my cars too for minutes at a time, but heard it wasn't good for the motor/transmission....right?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I appreciate this article, but not some of the comments. I drive an '04 Chevy Tracker. Driven normally, it gets about 21 mpg. I can't afford a Prius or a Volt, and I do like to have 4WD around here, so it's what I've got. But with the hypermiling tricks I'm able (and brave enough...not sure I'd turn the key off just yet!) to pull, I can get 24 and up to 26 on my longer trips. I read the entire article and no where in there is it billing the F-150 as some out-of-the-box planet saving, hippie-hugging friend of the trees. The article is about taking an inherently -inefficient- vehicle and showing that even against those odds you can pull some pretty nice mileage. Dan, I don't know you, but I know people like you. You are not endearing and you do not draw anybody to your cause. If anything, people like you make me want to go and just burn buckets of gasoline for the hell of it, maybe throw some plastic bottles on the fire, just out of spite. Are you really going to sit there and bitch instead of hoping that people, whatever their vehicular circumstance, would want to make the best of their mileage and their gas dollar?
        Marcopolo
        • 4 Years Ago
        Oh dear, Brian.I wish I could tell you that as you get to know DF, he improves. Sadly, that's just not the case. If anything he deteriorates into madness. But your commonsense endeavours to derive the best mileage possible, from your four wheel drive, are most welcome and heartening. Well done!
        dellrio
        • 8 Months Ago
        I completely agree with you Brian on all of your points. You should Give the FAS a try, its really exciting, I managed to get 41 MPG on a 400 mile trip in my 2006 Scion XB using a bunch of these techniques including the FAS, just be careful and practice the technique when there are no cars around, dont forget to shift to neutral first.
      Noz
      • 4 Years Ago
      You're right...they are out showing people they can make a difference but come on....wouldn't it be more logical to show people to USE less and drive SMALLER cars? The innate fear people in this country have about driving smaller vehicles than required is absurd. How about showing people that just because they have freaking kids, they don't need land barges? Just because they need to haul something twice a year, they don't need an 8 passenger SUV to take work everyday while stuck in traffic? It's THAT sort of stuff they need to be teaching people...not "you can save money while driving a barge."
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X