Jul 11 2008

Hypermiler Profile: Darin Cosgrove

Published by Benjamin Jones at 9:42 am under EcoDriving,Interview

Name: Darin Cosgrove
Occupation: Underemployed Tinkerer
Weapon of Choice: 1998 Pontiac Firefly

Much like our first profile, Darin is an icon on the forums at ecomodder.com. For months he has inspired many to stretch thew limits of their own fuel economy. He’s a pioneer of controlled testing and a believer in aero mods. Darin’s a pretty cool guy and also a great resource. This site is inspired by him and his efforts with his own site www.metroMPG.com.

When Darin first came to the ecomodding game he thought that a consistent 60 MPG would be awesome. Now that he’s posting 80 MPG tanks and 130+ MPG segments, the story has changed just a little bit. Most of Darin’s improvement is a result of driving techniques and some modifications. With his scangauge he practices nearly every driving technique known, and does so well. You can check out a brief summary of these techniques here. Aside from driving, Darin has swapped in the taller transmission from the 1.3 liter Metro/Firely/Swift and done several aero mods (most notably rear wheel skirts and grill block.

For Darin is doesn’t stop with great fuel economy; currently he is in the process of building a commuter EV (electric vehicle) out of another Metro. He and his partner in crime, Ivan, are hoping to complete the project for mere pennies (~1500USD is the goal, I think) and while it will not be a road warrior it’ll get the job done. At the time of writing the two are working on coupling the electric motor (donated from a forklift) to the Metro’s stock transmission. While progress is slow the result should be great; I’m looking forward to profiling it on this site!

Darin has certainly been instrumental to my quest for great gas mileage, and I’m glad to have access to his thoughts and postulations on a plethora of issues. This interview is a compilation of the questions that I asked Darin and those that another gassavers member, named Rick (RH77) asked a while back. So thanks to both Darin and Rick for this.

Ben: When did you begin hypermiling?
Darin: I taught defensive driving as a part-time job while I was going to
university in the early 90′s.  Part of my training for that job was to
research and present a seminar to my fellow instructors.  I picked
“economy driving”.  Proving the best way to learn is to teach, I’ve had
the bee in the bonnet ever since.

Ben: How have your goals changed?
Darin: In two ways:

First, I have a habit of resting on my laurels until someone else at GS
starts posting some amazing numbers, and that often spurs me on to
re-test myself to see if I’m fully tweaked, skill-wise and mechanically.
People like basjoos, Dan, and now Larry cause me to re-evaluate &
re-set goals on a regular basis.

Second, the more I play at this, the “smaller” my goals get – due to
diminishing returns.  I achieved the big savings early on.  I’m tickled
to see a mechanical/aero mod than nets a couple of % improvement, or a
tank average that’s a little bit higher than the last.

Ben: If you could have any car, what would it be?
Darin: One that doesn’t exist yet: a very aerodynamic plug-in hybrid.  And it
would still probably sit parked most of the time while I ride around on
my beater 10-speed bike.

Ben: What are your views on alternative fuels?
Darin: Not overly educated on the topic.  I’m on the fence with Ethanol,
because the evidence seems split on whether it’s energy positive.  Even
if it were vastly energy positive, the efficiency nut in me still
cringes at the thought that its reduced energy content is going to drop
my absolute FE numbers, which is just silly.

Ontario is going to 5% mandated ethanol in the not-too-distant future,
so I’ll have to lobby for a fudge factor at GS to compare ethanol to
non-ethanol cars.

I love the concept of WVO biodiesel.  Yes, my dream car would have a
small clean diesel as its ICE component, so I could bug the local chip
wagon guy for his used fry oil.

Ben: What motivated you to make your landmark 133MPG RT?
Darin: Landmark, eh?  Well, a number of things.  Larry’s recent performance,
first of all, made me want to test my (& the car’s) limits a little
further.  Also it made me curious what the car’s ultimate limit is
(still haven’t found it – probably won’t this year with recent autumn
temps).  Plus, I wanted to put my high numbers in context by showing the
(low) average speed I had to drive to get them.  I have a feeling people
see high numbers and go “wow!” without always being aware of the speeds

Ben: What will win, hydrogen or EV?
Darin: For me?  EV!  Not sure about everyone else.  Then again, since the
hydrogen cars are all EV technology anyway, with a fuel cell plugged in
where a good battery should go.  It’ll make doing EV conversions for
future tinkerers easy!

Ben: What are your three best driving tips?
Darin: Don’t.  Slow down.  Coast a lot or CODFISH.

Ben: How about best modifications?
Darin: Believe it or not, the single biggest gain I’ve measured so far was by
unbelting the alternator for local driving and going with solar/grid to
recharge the 12V battery.  Cruising FE is 10% higher when I do that.
Cumulatively, the 5 different aero mods I’ve tested just surpass that,
at around 12% (@ 90 km/h).

Ben: Is there an end in sight to your skyrocketing fuel economy?
Darin: See above, re: diminishing returns. :)

And now here’s a bit from Rick’s interview, we both asked the same question about Canada/US, so there you have it. Thanks again to Rick for letting me use this.

Rick: What is it for you?

Darin: No simple answer, it’s all kinds of factors: I’m a kind of minimalistic person to begin with; saving money, conserving resources; it’s a kind of game – through through gassavers it’s turned into a friendly competition (where before it was a game played against myself); obsessive compulsion; pick an answer!

More personal insight: one of my favourite non-car-related hobbies is sailing and sailboat racing.  It’s very similar to the whole gassavers mentality: making the most of a finite resource (the wind), continually using your wits to judge the situation, trim the sails and watch for opportunities in the air, current and the fleet to improve efficiency (make the boat go faster).  It’s a very similar mind-set to hypermiling a car.

As for environmentalism… it’s not a huge driving factor.  But I do tend to ride my bike more than drive locally in the summer.  Even the forkenswift project is less about making an environmental statement and more about the coolness of the idea overall and the technical challenge.   (Though I’m sure i’ll get all smug about the environmental reasons when we’re done!)

Rick: Secondly, discuss the Suzuki-Clone experience you’ve had.

Darin: These cars were always on top of the fuel economy charts, and I had actually wanted one for years.  I put off trying a suzukiclone for a number of reasons, one of which is my old accord kept ticking along for 8 years.  Also, they have a stigma – with two elements really: 1) the notion that being cheap, they must be junk.  that turned out to be untrue – it’s actually one of the most reliable used cars of the many that i’ve owned; 2) the social stigma – they’re the antithesis just about everything that’s communicated in mainstream car marketing (ie. irrational, emotion-based messages).  They’ve even been mocked on the Simpsons TV show – can you guess which character owned a Metro?  (Answer at the end).

My current suzukiclone is a true “barn find” – it was bought new by a little old lady who fell ill within the first year, and so it was parked in her family’s garage … for the next 7 years.  When I bought it last november (firefly #2), it had just 2,400 km on the odometer.

There’s no getting around the fact it’s a small car.  On the freeway, you don’t sit back and shut off the brain if it’s windy or there’s any truck traffic.  Then again, i owned a motorbike… so it’s all relative. The first time my dad saw the car, he said (and BTW, this is the single most common response to the car): “Is it safe?”  (My answer: It’s safer than a motorcycle!)

I’m used to it now.  When I drive a larger car, I’m surprised by all the “extra” mass and power people are “wasting” fuel on.  (I had this reaction driving a friend’s altima yesterday!)  If I were to take a cross-country trip, I wouldn’t hesitate to drive the blackfly.  If I could buy a smaller car, I probably would.

Rick: Maybe we could compare and contrast cultures and how we can learn from each other.

Darin: Not sure what to say here.  car-wise the big difference between us is Canadians’ affinity for smaller cars.  Maybe we’re more practical? Maybe we’ve got less disposable income.  Gas has always cost more here, due to fuel taxation.  Maybe it’s a cultural thing – we don’t have a home-grown auto industry, and the American psyche is somewhat tied to (big) detroit iron.  From the outside, I get the impression that Americans equate “small” with “foreign”, so buying big iron is in itself a kind of patriotic statement.

Thanks to Darin and Rick for this, they’re both great and I hope everyone can learn just a little bit from this. Also, check out www.metroMPG.com!

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