You never quite know what Wayne Gerdes has up his sleeve. The man who coined the term hypermiling is always looking for adventurous ways to prove that anyone – even you... yes, you – can eke out more miles per gallon just by changing the way you drive. Saying that is easy. Proving it by going on outlandish cross-country drives is hard. But for Gerdes and his team of fuel economy fiends over at CleanMPG, hard is half the fun.

Our latest adventure appeared, at first glance, to be nearly impossible.

Which is why we always answer the phone when Gerdes calls. He likes to take journalists along on his drives, not only to try teach us how to hypermile but also to prove that we can be taught. The first time I 'helped' him and his team was when we got over 30 miles per gallon in a 2011 Ford F-150 XLT with the EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6. The EPA rated that truck with at just 16 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. So, we'll count that trip as a success.

Next up was a cross-country drive last fall in a trio of Audi TDI vehicles to prove that you don't need to drive extra slow to beat the EPA numbers. In fact, we made it from Los Angeles to New York City in just over 46 hours, cramped but not cranky. We had once again proven that how you drive is hugely important to your fuel usage.

Our latest adventure appeared, at first glance, to be nearly impossible. The EPA says that the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel we would be driving gets just 22 combined mpg (19 city and 27 highway). Gerdes' idea was to drive it as far north from Houston, TX towards Detroit, MI as we could go on one tank. The day before we left, our itinerary got an extra stop. Instead of taking one of the official Shell Eco-marathon prototype vehicles to Detroit, it was decided to bring the winning diesel-powered prototype from the just-finished event to The Henry Ford Museum, where it had been arranged the car would be displayed. The winning car was built by a small team (just four students) from Sullivan High School in Sullivan, IN, who managed to beat a number of college teams with a score of 1,899.32 mpg. That target would be a bit out of reach for the Ram, but could we get 1,000 miles from the tank? Since the truck has a 26 gallon tank (officially, anyway), that would mean the EPA says we could only go 702 miles, assuming all highway driving. Could we make up 300 miles with careful driving? That spells both challenge and fun.

ram 1500 hypermile drive

The truck in question was a 2014 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited Edition 4x4 with Crew Cab decked out with all sorts of luxury features to reach a $58,015 price tag. That means it had the customer preferred package that adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 20-inch wheels with chrome inserts and a pair of Ramboxes. Most importantly, for our mileage purposes, it had a 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Gerdes spent some time testing the truck out before we got to Houston for the annual Shell Eco-marathon Americas (Shell was the fuel sponsor for the drive). The drive route was determined, in part, by the fact that the event is moving to Detroit next year, and Gerdes thought it would be a cool idea to drive one of the high-efficiency vehicles from the event's current home to the new home. That also meant that the truck would be loaded down with all of our gear, this wacky prototype vehicle and four people (we were also joined by Keith Griffin ‏and Jill Ciminillo‏). This would not be a hypermiling challenge that we would meet by stripping out weight.

From his tests, Gerdes discovered there are two ways to get the 1500 to perform at its most efficient. He knows that the trick is to find the zone where the engine is in its highest gear with the vehicle moving at the slowest possible speed before downshifting. Turns out, in the 1500, this is at about 52 miles per hour, depending on circumstances, but it's a narrow band before the powertrain wants to downshift.

There is a 3-4 mpg difference between seventh and eighth gear at highway speeds.

So, to keep the truck in eighth gear, there are two options. When going uphill, never let your speed drop below 47-48 mph, because that's roughly where the transmission wants to shift back into seventh gear. If you keep pressure on the pedal and the truck moving at at least that speed, it'll stay in eighth, the most efficient gear. It's hard to do without gunning the engine, but possible. When you're on the flats, you can get up to 55 mph or so and then take your foot off the gas, let the engine go into "fuel cut" (Gerdes' shorthand for deceleration fuel cut off, or DFCO) and then slowly reapply pressure on the pedal. You can see the tachometer drop down to 1,250 rpm as eighth gear is engaged and you know your fuel efficiency just went up. This works because the engine thinks you are trying to get to 62-63 mph where it would normally shift into eighth, and so it does the shift early with DFCO. Gerdes says he estimates there is a 3-4 mpg difference between seventh and eighth gear at any highway speed, so fighting with the transmission for 1,000 miles is worth it.

There's another automatic system in the 1500 that helps with fuel economy that we had to struggle to activate. I'm talking about the automatic aero suspension, which activates when you keep the truck between 62 and 66 mpg for over 20 seconds or drive faster than 66 mph. Once turned on, the system lowers the vehicle by 0.6 inches, making you a bit more slippery as you push aside the air. When you drop below 30 miles per hour (or keep it between 35 and 30 for more than twenty seconds), the auto-aero mode raises the body back up.

ram 1500 hypermile drive

The trouble is, getting up to 62 mph meant spending more energy than we wanted.

The trouble is, getting up to 62 mph meant spending more energy than we wanted, but Ram spokesman Nick Cappa said that the default speeds where the system turns on or off are right for most drivers. "We take into consideration the benefit of the aero dynamics and the comfort of having the extra suspension travel," he said. "It was a long process of study to find the most appropriate numbers. If traffic slows to 35 mph and then speeds back up to 55 mph, we keep the truck in aero so not to over cycle the system, give too much driver input and fully capitalize on the mode. We could have programmed any speed." Ram also didn't want to add a manual override button for aero mode because, he said, "We don't want to limit suspension travel at low speeds in case the driver slows down for construction, bumps or a dirt road" and because "the aero benefit is marginal at lower speeds." So, when necessary, we got up to speed, let the truck drop down and then cruised as best we could at 52 mph or so.

That's obviously much slower than US highway traffic is used to going, so we used a technique called ridge riding (being a bit off-center in the lane). This has a fuel efficiency benefit on wet roads because the raised center of the lane is a bit dryer than the sides, but on the dry Texas highway, we did this to signal to the semi-truck drivers that we're driving a bit differently than other vehicles. Our bright yellow Shell wrap made us easy to see, and being off-kilter just drew a bit more attention to ourselves. Ironically, that wrap included some of Shell's smarter driving tips, which included "use cruise control." That might help others, but it would have been detrimental for our efforts. We also drove with intention, letting our blinkers flash for a good five seconds before we changed lanes so that drivers around us know we're moving. Yes, some people honked out their anger, but we just kept on trucking and doing our thing.

This included lots of delicious food stops (Lambert's Cafe, home of the throwed rolls, was a highlight) and, finally, our arrival at Sullivan High School early one morning. We arrived just in time for a school assembly, where the mayor declared it to be "Supermileage Team Day" in town. He said the school's victory was what the community was all about and said that, "great things can happen, even here in Sullivan." The kids loved being interviewed by the local media, saying later that they felt like rock stars.



The tricks we used to really get our high mpg numbers are things anyone can do.

In the end, here's how our Ram 1500 math worked out. The goal was 1,000 miles on the tank. While the official tank size is 26 gallons, Gerdes was able to pack over 28 gallons in, using a number of tricks (filling it up to the brim by burping all of the air out of the fuel system), so we had around 70 more miles than your average driver would on a 'full' tank. So, 1,000 miles divided by 28 gallons is 35.7 mpg. But wait, there's more. The in-dash display on a Jeep Grand Cherokee Gerdes drove a while back was 2 mpg 'optimistic,' so he assumed the 1500 was about the same. That meant that our target displayed mpg level would be at least 37.7 mpg, Gerdes thought. Not easy.

When we filled up in Houston (a process that took about two hours, including a Shell photo shoot) the odometer read 2,402 and the the on-board computer said we had 671 miles to empty. Thanks to a lot of careful driving the odometer read 3,443 miles when the "distance to empty" finally changed from 10 miles left to "fuel low." At the point where other drivers would be freaking out, Gerdes stayed calm behind the wheel, confident that his calculations would get us the dozen or so miles to where he knew there was a Shell diesel station. In the end, we drove 1,041 odometer miles and used 27.537 gallons, with the display reading 38.1 mpg. Given the inaccuracy of vehicle odometers, those numbers don't totally equal out, but the point is that we were able to once again destroy the EPA estimates for fuel economy. And we did it with a 1,899-mpg vehicle in the truck bed. One that we safely delivered to an automotive museum in Detroit, where it will sit and inspire more students and green drivers.

ram 1500 hypermile drive

Yes, we did things that normal people don't do, but that doesn't really matter for the larger story: you, too, can go more miles per gallon. Because here's the thing: you don't need to fill every air pocket in the fuel system with diesel to hypermile the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. In fact, it's better if you don't, since the baffles are there to prevent fuel vapors from escaping into the atmosphere. Overfilling is just something Gerdes does to make sure the mpg numbers he reports to the world are absolutely accurate. The tricks we used to really get our high mpg numbers are things anyone can do. The short version is to pay close attention to how you drive and you'll arrive with fuel to spare.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 58 Comments
      jeff
      • 7 Months Ago
      Drive an economy car and don't buy a 2 1/2 ton truck for running around in town. If you want to be a big truck guy, you pay to play.
        jtav2002
        • 7 Months Ago
        @jeff
        Not everyone wants to have a separate truck and a separate commuter car. My truck gets me to the office during the week and is towing the boat, etc. on the weekend. I have better things to spend my money on than a whole second vehicle, insurance, registration just to say I don't drive a full size truck to the office.
      sp33dklz
      • 7 Months Ago
      Congratulations. You've achieved less fuel mileage than a late 80's CRX. Go back to the drawing board and make it lighter.
        JaredN
        • 7 Months Ago
        @sp33dklz
        As soon as your '80s CRX can carry 4 people and tow a 5k trailer, then you might be making a valid comparison. Until then, you're simply a moron.
        MichaelS
        • 7 Months Ago
        @sp33dklz
        But that 80's CRX could not have carried 4 people, plus all that gear AND the prototype vehicle they hauled while doing this test.
        PUNKem733
        • 7 Months Ago
        @sp33dklz
        There is no way someone would be stupid enough to compare a full size truck to a tin can from almost 30 years ago. Nope I refuse to believe it.
          mitytitywhitey
          • 7 Months Ago
          @PUNKem733
          Dan Frederiksen. How we all hate that mentally ill person.
          danfred311
          • 7 Months Ago
          @PUNKem733
          "full size" how I hate that mentally ill term.
      Joey McClary
      • 7 Months Ago
      How many people know this isn't the first attempt by Dodge to use a diesel in their half-ton trucks?
        reattadudes
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Joey McClary
        Dodge also offered a Mitsubishi 6 cylinder non-turbo in 1978-1979 Dodge half ton trucks and vans. less than 1,000 were sold. saw one here in Arizona about two years ago.
      danfred311
      • 7 Months Ago
      Exclusive? so that numbskull murica vehicle must be green then! like fok it is!
      Avinash Machado
      • 7 Months Ago
      Cool.
      Justin Espinosa
      • 7 Months Ago
      This encourages me to drive slow now!
      JonZeke
      • 7 Months Ago
      Considering thats what my DD Golf TDI gets on a commute I'd say thats mighty impressive from such a big brute! I'd love to have a truck like this as a daily driver, seems now I just need a bigger garage.
      LemmysOnTheRoad
      • 7 Months Ago
      Lamberts! Damn that makes me want a roll.
      trill.trill
      • 7 Months Ago
      "Yes, some people honked out their anger... " I bet they did. Sounds like you were driving in the same manner that the very elderly and the incredibly intoxicated drive; off the side of the road and slow to respond to what your blinker is saying you will do. "...but we just kept on trucking and doing our thing." Your "thing" is dangerous and inconsiderate.
      sheepszies
      • 7 Months Ago
      I got an ML350 Bluetec to 37 mpg on a round trip (saw up to 43 mpg before the toll) from Westchester County to JFK (50-60 miles rt) drive without breaking a sweat. I'm not saying 38.1 mpg is bad for a ram. I'm just saying I bet I could beat it if I tried really hard.
        Julio B
        • 7 Months Ago
        @sheepszies
        Someone has a real need to post how good they are on the interwebz!
          sheepszies
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Julio B
          Or maybe just a need to post about how good the diesel engine is. Drive one.
        mitytitywhitey
        • 7 Months Ago
        @sheepszies
        Did you see the part where the Ram was carrying another vehicle?
      Neez
      • 7 Months Ago
      Simple software changes would have helped the hiper milers. They could incorporate it into the display options. 1. Allow for mostly true manual mode on the transmission, where you can keep it in 8th gear until you reach an absolute rock bottom RPM before it requires you to shift. 2. Allow the air ride suspension to start earlier, they could have a setting in the display that goes down as far as 45mph or something like that.
      JaredN
      • 7 Months Ago
      I got stuck behind a guy in a Corvette hypermiling -- pulse and glide -- in the middle of rush hour.
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