It's all in your techinque!
Learning the touch ... the feel
... of the amazing Toyota hybrid gas/electric
It's fun, and you can still drive it in a very spirited
fashion. Relax... read... a little... and begin to tenderly
motive partner's secret needs. Technician, writer, pilot, and
Prius driver, Alan Cowan
driving techniques based both in his experience driving, and
professionally maintaining Prii. Prius gas mileage technique
is really very simple: just a few steps... with your feet...
Without sacrifice to your need for speed, for assertiveness,
to a bathroom quickly, other comforts, or whatever else
you are afraid
loose, you can easily add between five
and ten miles per gallon to the already good gas mileage your Prius
gets. 'K, keep your pants on ... for a moment: we have to do a little
(read: "work") to get where we're going with this ... but
... only a little.
Prius, while tailored to look, feel, and behave more-or-less
like a non hybrid car, is in fact
an entirely different device. A few minor changes in our dance step --
our driving style -- can
be easily adopted to get you to hybrid Zen, and let you relax, one with
the machine-thing. Since these are
skills, and differ from what you are used to in 'normal' cars, a
little practice will be
required at first, but soon the techniques will become second nature
(and you'll have trouble driving your mother's Buick anymore).
This is not about tricks -- no hypermiling goo-gah
is ............... just time to drive with our own particular,
AND PROGESSIVE operation of
This is as opposed to incremental or notchy application or release of
the brake or the accelerator (throttle). This
car knows the speed
with which you push the pedals, and overrides all
hybrid's special conservation abilities if it thinks you're in an
emergency situation. This is
most important, yet simplest of the Prius Driving Tools.
- Use the brake pedal the same way you use the
We have all learned that the auto's brake pedal has a non-functional
region at the beginning of its travel;
we subconsciously push briskly through this range until we feel
resistence, and only then begin to modulate pressures. Not true in the
Prius. As soon as you touch the
pedal the regeneration ("regen") of electricity begins. The brake pedal
can be smoothly and progressively modulated even through a yellow-light
stopping maneuver once you get used to it.
- Accelerate briskly to minimize the time it
takes to get up
Not full throttle or anything,
but use perhaps half when possible, because the bad gas
mileage associated with acceleration isn't much worse if
you push hard.
So get that nasty bit over with as
soon as possible. The
"consumption" screen can be used as a training tool for this:
keep pushing harder if the instant-mileage bar doesn't go
- Know when you want to coast - and how to.
This may actually require planning
ahead a little bit, but after a
while it doesn't hurt so much. The reason this is important is that
taking your foot completely off the gas actually applies the brakes
little bit. That's fine if you're headed for the brake pedal anyhow,
but if you just want to coast down, contrary to common sense, you must
the gas pedal pushed just the tiniest
amount. As you develop the sensual relationship I propose
here, you can feel the
difference when you think about it. Now you can
utilize this feel to your benefit when you want to slow but have no
intention of using brakes. The "energy " screen can
be used as a training tool for this: when no arrows show, you
are truly coasting.
- Don't assume that all braking goes into your
batteries. It is the safest bet to consider any braking as
waste! Any excess electric power generated by stopping
(regen), once the hybrid
battery is fairly full, is spent as heat by
the radiator. (The 'consumption' screen is not conclusive: don't trust
the bastard it in this regard.) Consequently, bleeding-off
speed by coasting
technique for maximizing the use of the energy you've already spent to
get going ... than is any
- Neutral is your friend. In
the Prius it is soooo easy to forget that there even is a neutral gear!
But neutral is cool. Neutral can be selected for
true coasting, for example, instead of barely
touching the accelerator (a technique which many find difficult to suff
with or learn). But more importantly, the "creep" function --
the ability to creep along without pushing the gas, just like any non
hybrid with an automatic
transmission -- uses valuable energy for that push. At any
full-stop you can use Neutral or
remember to push the brake pedal about half way down to turn off the electric motor.
BTW, you can select D (or reverse) from N without pushing
the brake pedal at all. Important note: Regeneration / elecric braking
disabled in N: Select D for any and all braking.
- Avoid full
stops when you don't need them.
It takes extra [gasoline] energy to re-start the gas engine
("ICE"). Usually it will
turn off once you are at a full stop. The
power needed to restart the engine for acceleration can be saved every
time you can roll a little ("California stop") at otherwise potential
full-stops that will ultimately last less than a few seconds
the Prius rolling whenever you can.
Unfortunately we can't always control when and where we need
drive, but given our druthers it might help a little to know what the
Prius likes and what it doesn't. Here are some general factors that can
dramatically affect fuel efficiency.
- Cold starts at
the beginning of the trip.
The first five or eight minutes of driving, after the Prius has had a
rest of several hours or more, will give very
mileage; even worse with the heater on. Don't expect good numbers when
commuting if you live ten
minutes from work. Prii need
extensive stimulation -- daily -- to get warm, and this foreplay is
neither optional, nor can it be rushed. Once warm, many short
cool-down stops don't consume extra fuel. If you need to stop
eight stores, for example, it is better to do all them today than
saving two for tomorrow, and a few more for the day after.
- 33 to 53 MPH.
Here is our magical range. Many think that driving really slow saves
fuel, but Prii are not optimized for 15 MPH communities. If you can
route, even a mile two longer, that permits this speed range, you may
well find it worth your while. Both the onboard computers and hardware
controlling the car are set for this speed. Faster highway
isn't all that bad -- parking lots are the worst. Above about 55 for a
while and the Toyota Prius is no longer using its hybrid systems: it's
become just a really fuel-efficient gas car (47 or so for a Gen II).
- Air conditioning off.
Of course the A/C uses extra fuel, and of course we will turn it on
we like. But when in heating or fresh air modes, periodically check
the A/C button on the Climate display is not yellow: the car will
sometimes turn that one on by itself, and you have to go switch it off
if you don't need the cooling. Just
because you switched it off yesterday does not mean it didn't override
- Heating off.
Prius heater sucks gas, especially for the first ten minutes from cold,
unlike a non hybrid. Consciously and intentionally turn it off when you
don't need it, otherwise the gas engine will burn fuel just in
order to maintain some heat
for your legs. Also, if you can remember to turn off the heater when
you shut down the car, this is good: otherwise, when you re-start, if
the heater is left 'on' the engine will automatically run too long in
order to get heat for you. Best practice is to run the car from
cold at least few miles without heat, so the engine gets warm on its
own terms, and only then turn the heater on.
- A/C and Heating cost nearly 5mpg, on average. Heater less-so, after about fifteen minutes of driving.
Care and Feeding:
While these critters are perfectly happy on a diet of regular
and 5000 mile services, a few maintenance items should be kept in mind
as peculiar and especially
important, to your Prius hybrid. Be very skeptical of dealer service.
Their pompous know-it-all attitude is a deceptive cover for
(profitable) institutionalized ineptitude. Whenever possible use an
independent shop which specializes in Toyota hybrids for your
and repair needs. Here a few key maintenance items related directly
good gas mileage.
- Tires, type.
Use a top quality
rolling resistance" rating. We recommend the Michelin 'HydroEdge' at
our repair shop, Falconworks. Your
dealer will sell you the junk Goodyear which came on
the car from the factory, and make you think that's the only thing that
will fit your magical car: Toyota must have some deal with the
manufacturer - kickback or such - because that tire is far below
Toyota's otherwise high quality
standard. Have the Prius tires rotated as SELDOM as possible:
unnecessarily rotating tires is bad for gas mileage and markedly
life of the tires too.
- Tires, pressures.
Keep these as high as possible. Check them monthly. Have your shop
record and monitor tread-depths at Services (if they don't already),
them to use those to come up with the highest possible
pressure-recommendation for your driving habits, tires, and conditions.
The higher the pressure the lower the fuel consumption.
- Fuel and additives.
Hybrids seem to need fuel system cleaners a little more than
While using a brand of fuel with cleaners may be helpful, inquire with
your repair garage keeper about brands of in-tank injector-cleaners,
and frequency of use. His/her experience with your particular Prius and
your driving habits, if you
are a loyal customer, will give good basis for a recommendation.
- Motor oil.
Use only top quality semi-synthetic oil from a sealed container (no
"bulk" oil), 5w30 weight, or less. There are only 3.8 quarts of it in
your Prius engine: don't be cheap -- don't become rushed! We
found that with gentle driving there is no harm, and a little mileage
gain by using an oil blend of half 0w20 Moblie One and half 5w30
- Hybrid drive oil.
Use only top quality full-synthetic oil of the lightest grade your
mechanic recommends. Change this no less often than each 30k miles.
BEWARE: of Toyota Dealer 30, 60, and 90k miles so-called
that DO NOT include this! (neither do they air-up your spare tire!)
- Whenever the
races. I ask you to push hard on the gas
and get done with acceleration real fast, but that
hard acceleration is
bad for the gas engine when it is cold (first
eight minutes after overnight sleep), or when the hybrid
battery is low. But again, you can tell! Sensual you! You can
feel this in
partner when you hear its gas engine working unususally hard, even
know you're hardly pushing it at all. Just back off the gas
and be gentle
... for a little while ... during
recovery. Soon it should stop racing. If not,
mechanic/doctor. This is recommended for engine health -- not for Prius gas
to fake you into thinking it's not electric:
In review, here are the items you use all the time that are unique on
your hybrid. An appreciation of them helps us all to
benefit fully from this highly advanced car. For each of
these four items Toyota knew what you'd expect
it might freak you out if it behaved otherwise. We understand
- Brake pedal feel
is artificial. It should
look and feel like a gas pedal, since that's how it works.
Ultra-smooth gentle progressive application will overcome
this (and more).
- 'Engine braking' from decelleration with your foot off the
gas is actually braking, not coasting. It should
automatically go into coasting-mode when you let off the throttle: the
engine is neither running nor hooked up. Use neutral, or just
barely touch the accelerator to overcome this.
- Creep from a standstill (like with both feet on the floor)
is unnecessary. Bogus feature. There should
be no pull forward when sitting at a red light, but it
is there, and uses
fuel, and you'll
have to push the brake pedal about half way down when stopped, or
N to overcome this.
- The gas-guzzler starts up any time you accelerate more than
a little. It should
wait til you're at 3/4 throttle then kick you in the
butt. Overcome this defect with [smooth] heavy throttle as
soon as you
feel the engine sneak in.
are many parameters which need to met for the Prius to be driven in an
all-electric state. The most important of these is that the
'Electric Vehicle Mode' button has been fitted to your car.
specialist independent repair shops can do this
there are three parameters over which you have control which permit
actuation (and many more which only the on-board computers manage):
- Vehicle speed must be less than 34mph.
- Accellerator must be less than 1/4 throttle.
- Battery must be above 50% indicated.
can select EV Mode at any time, and if it is accepted by the car a
single beep will acknowledge. If it is declined a three-beep
error tone will result, and you can try again later. Once EV
has been successfully entered, if the car boots it out later on (like
if you speed up too much), you can attempt to re-enter EV Mode:
it will either accept, decline, or completely ignore your
request. No, the button is not broken. But it will
to be for the duration of the "drive cycle", that is: until Ready Mode
is exited and re-entered.
EV Mode is only beneficial to gas
mileage at the end of a trip (or to take a very short trip, like moving
the car out of the garage). Since it prevents the gas engine
running, it eliminates the possibility of it starting the minute you
reach up to hit the Power button to turn the car off, for example ... a
time when you would never need it running. Otherwise the car has no way to
when you're about to park and shut down, but the rest of the time the
hybrid control systems manage the electric car aspects of operation far
better than we mere mortals can.
I push the EV button when I
enter the parking lot, get into the neighborhood on my way home, or
about two or three minutes before I get to work. For
repositioning the car it is good too, push the EV button within seven seconds after
the Ready light comes on, and (if all parameters are met!) the gas
engine won't start, like while you move the car from the garage to street-parking.
Aerodynamic mods, like the perfectly contoured fender skirts seen above
on my Gen2, are only of benefit for fuel efficiency at continuous speeds above about 60mph.
Many devices are available, and most unquantified by testing.
I assure you that few will pay for themselves during their nomal lifespan.
As example, I find my 75mph freeway mileage with rear fender
skirts is 46.9, and 46.7 without. It'll take a whole lot of
highway miles to pay for those puppys. For most folks'
driving, the bone-stock car, driven properly, is the best bet ... even if
my Prius is prettier than yours ...If you'd like a pair, click here to order.
Most all of us enjoy being touched in a gentle
sensual way. Even those who like it rough are angered by
from their partners: Our Prius feels the same way -- dislikes
surprise contact -- and will behave compassionately when approached
with warning, respect, and rhythm no matter how hard or fast the action
needs to be. Gentle progressive release is every bit as
as is gentle approach. I know this ... so do you ...
We have some footwork to learn. A new dance. That's
So take off your
boots ... do it ... and your pants; Put on a skirt (or a
or not; turn
off the display (Display>Screen Off); move your seat
exactly one click
and enjoy life again. If you
then still aren't
100% satisfied (or are?), or have any car-question in the world, please
post to our Facebook
tips page ASAP, or drop me an email
Alan Cowan's opinions
-- expressed herein -- are not
official policy of Falconworks Land
Rover/Jaguar/Prius, Happy Hybrid Stores,
or similar. His fun new book, It Came With Oil,
about driving cars, auto repair, and repair shops, using British cars
as humorous examples, is now available everywhere.