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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hack your car, get 300 miles per gallon!?

Good ol' American ingenuity never ceases to amaze...
The Telegraph in London has a story about people "hacking" their hybrid automobiles (the ones that use alternating gasoline and electricity to power the car). Many are reporting some pretty outrageous mileages...
Hot-rod heirs customise cars to give 300mpg
By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
(Filed: 16/08/2005)

Owners of hybrid cars claim to be stealing a march on their makers by customising them to go even further for less fuel, in one case doing up to 300 miles per gallon.

Green-minded enthusiasts in California are turning the popular vehicles into "plug-in cars" that can be recharged using off-peak electricity from the mains.

The fuel-efficient hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic and Ford Escape, have two computer-integrated engines: a petrol and an electric one.

Both drive the wheels with the battery-powered motor charged up during braking and coasting. Unlike electric cars, they never need to be plugged in and achieve 60-72mpg, against 26-42mpg for the average car and 14-24 in a 4x4 vehicle.

Now a small but growing number of "hackers" are souping up models by reprogramming their computer and packing them with extra batteries that provide more electrical kick and burn even less fuel.

Critics say that rather than revolutionising fuel efficiency or cutting pollution, hybrid cowboys rely on coal-fired power stations for energy.

Ron Gremban, an electrical engineer and environmentalist in San Francisco, has spent £1,660 customising his Toyota Prius, fitting it with 18 electric bicycle batteries that allow the car to store extra power.

He plugs it into a domestic socket at night using power from solar panels. The extra batteries let Mr Gremban drive for 20 miles with a 50-50 mix of petrol and electricity. After the car runs out of battery it switches to the standard hybrid mode. Mr Gremban said he typically gets 96mpg. "This is a very dramatic breakthrough, especially in the sense that it relies on existing technology so we don't have to wait for any developments such as with hydrogen technology."

He was inspired to alter his car, he said, after learning that Asian Prius models had a "stealth" button enabling them to be switched to electric-only mode until they hit a certain speed.

The electronic tweaks he performed "fool the hybrid system into thinking the battery is fully charged" so it uses battery power at all speeds, rather than just during deceleration...

Cruise over here for the rest of the article.