Engineers have proven that it's possible, at least technically, to drive from coast to coast on only a gallon of gasoline.
Granted, however, the vehicle they built goes about 10 to 25 miles an hour, can only fit one compact-sized person and more closely resembles a coffin on wheels than anything found on the streets. Designed by students at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, the 3,000 mpg "Lamina" was conceived strictly as an entry into this year's Shell Eco Marathon, a worldwide competition where participants attempt to build a vehicle with the highest possible fuel efficiency. Still, much of the techniques used to boost fuel efficiency can also be applied to everyday cars.
For instance, the designers that built the supermileage Lamina say that size and weight are the two most important factors for improving the gas mileage of any particular vehicle. Consisting of an ultra-lightweight carbon fiber frame and other spare parts such as low resistance tires with BMX bike rims, a modified Honda generator and a fuel tank the size of a soda can, the car altogether weighs a mere 100 pounds.
"It's really just sizing an engine properly for your car, we don't need all that extra horsepower that people love," team member Gabriel Mountjoy told Fox News. "That is one way we can increase our efficiency and fuel economy and you don't need to invent anything, just smaller engines for decently sized cars."
While it's feels like a stretch to think how just one aspect of car design can such make such a huge difference, the reasoning is backed up by research. A recent analysis by Christopher Knittel, an economist at MIT, reveals that while improved car technology has lead to gains in fuel economy, much of it has been offset by the fact that cars on the road today have also become bigger and more powerful. From 1980 to 2006, the average curb weight of vehicles increased 26 percent, while their horsepower rose 107 percent. Had that not been the case, a typical vehicle today would boast an average mileage rating of 37 mpg.
[Learn more about Knittel's analysis and wild proposal here.]
The team also installed a 50cc engine that enables them to use a method known as "burn and coast" in which the driver runs the engine for a short time and then turns it off, letting the car coast. In the Fox News TV interview, Mountjoy explains the rationale for using the tactic:
He said: "We use the burn and coast method, so if you have to slam on your brakes when you come to a stop then you probably used too much to get to there, so that's just wasted fuel every time you put on your brakes."
Burn and coast is actually a hyper-miling concept and can also be applied when a driver is idling at a stoplight. A report on Slate.com found that if a car is left idling for more than seconds, the driver ends up using more fuel than had he turned it off and back on again. (I bet you didn't know that). And there are even some newer hybrid models come with technology that does this automatically.
So in a nutshell, lighten the load as well as your lead foot. Let it coast and put your car in neutral if you're waiting at a light.
And oh, if you do decide to drive cross country, it's still probably best to bring enough cash for visits to the pump.