All The Illegal And/Or Crazy Things Wayne Gerdes Did To Impress Mother Jones

gerdes

It’s the stuff of public-relations nightmares: A self-styled “professional driver” takes a payment as high as $18,000 from a major automaker to break the law and endanger other drivers on the American road. Normally this sort of thing doesn’t happen, which is why you never heard about Alex Roy’s Cross-Country Record, Sponsored By BMW. In the case of Wayne Gerdes, however, it appears that just such a thing has happened. Volkswagen paid Gerdes to use his “special techniques” in the service of getting an unreasonably high and possibly dangerous fuel-economy number.

Did Gerdes adequately disclose his payment? It’s hard to say. He’s very close to functionally illiterate. The fumbling, incoherent manner in which he writes makes it hard to say whether he was deliberately misleading the public or simply accidentally misleading them. In conversations on Facebook, he honestly seems to believe that if you use the hashtag “#spon” on a Twitter post linking to one of his blogposts then there’s no further need to disclose cash payments that he accepted when writing said blogpost. Reading his cack-handed attempts to intimidate and threaten my brother and Mark Stevenson reveals a depth of stupidity and disconnected thinking rarely seen outside the worst of YouTube comments.

There is one aspect of Gerdes’ behavior, however, that doesn’t appear to be up for much debate: his dangerous and potentially illegal driving, as described by Mother Jones magazine.


Gerdes was profiled in article that is, by turns, fawning and contemptuous, but the real gems are hidden in the description of his “hypermile run”:

he speed limit is 55, and most of the traffic is zipping past at 75 or so, but Wayne hovers around 50 mph. He’s riding the white line on the right side of the right-hand lane. “Why are you doing that?” I ask from the backseat. “It’s called ridge-riding,” he explains, using another term he’s invented… “Buckle up tight, because this is the death turn,” says Wayne. Death turn? We’re moving at 50 mph. Wayne turns off the engine. He’s bearing down on the exit, and as he turns the wheel sharply to the right, the tires squeal—which is what happens when you take a 25 mph turn going 50. Cathy, Terry’s wife, who is sitting next to me in the backseat, grabs my leg. I grab the door handle…

Just imagine you’re a jury hearing a lawsuit against Wayne for causing a fatality or other serious accident on the road, and you hear about his gleeful “death turn” approach.

We glide for over a mile with the engine off, past a gas station, right at a green light, through another green light

This is unconscionably dangerous, particularly in cars that have power steering and brakes, like the Accord described. Could you swerve or brake to avoid a child during a mile-long engine-off glide?

He starts the truck—well, gets it rolling—by releasing the emergency brake and putting the gearshift in neutral before jumping out and pushing the 3,330-pound vehicle down his sloping driveway with the engine off. He jumps in and, without braking, turns right, swerves around a dead skunk in the road, and then takes a left turn—again without braking—to a stop sign.

This is occurring in a suburban neighborhood that’s presumably full of children.

As we’re driving out of the parking lot, Wayne comes to the top of a small hill and tells me he’s doing a fas. “What?” I ask. “That’s a forced auto stop,” he says, which is putting the car in neutral, turning off the engine, and gliding. It’s illegal in some states—with the engine off, you can lose your power brakes after a few pumps, and with older cars, you can lose your power steering—but it’s a favorite driving tool of many hypermilers… Wayne loves acronyms almost as much as he loves FE (that’s fuel economy). d-fas is a “draft-assisted fas,” which means fasing while you’re tailgating an 18-wheeler to reduce air resistance.

I remember doing a “d-fas” once, seventeen years ago, trying to get my YZF600 to a gas station on an empty tank. Of course, I wasn’t earning $18,000 from Yamaha doing it, and I wasn’t bragging about “$50,000 in consulting” the way Wayne’s been bragging. Speaking of bragging: here’s Wayne, discussing his “three grand slams in a game” hypermiling feat:

“I was going about 70 miles per hour catching up with a truck, in the late evening, and I had a tail wind. I went into a d-fas, down the bowl over the top of a hill, and I coasted almost three and a half miles. It ended at 40 miles per hour…. It was a once-in-a-lifetime. I’ll probably never experience it again. The hypermiling gods were with me.”

I’m not aware of any road where you can legally do both 70 and 40 miles per hour. But the money shot is coming up; it’s time for Wayne to play chicken with a semi.

At one point in our drive, Wayne approaches a truck to ride its draft. The wind whipping around the semi buffets the Insight, which weighs just 1,800 pounds. I offer Wayne some cashews, and as he takes a handful, his foot comes off the pedal slightly and the Insight drifts a few car lengths back. A black Infiniti suv squeezes between us and the truck. Wayne rides its butt. The Infiniti moves back into the left lane and zips away. “We pressured him so we could get our target back.” I offer him more cashews, but he declines. “I have to pay attention,” he says. He creeps back toward the truck. We’re at two car lengths…. Wayne takes a call from some friends in another car…. One car length…. I thump an imaginary brake pedal with my foot, just like my mother used to do while riding with me. Wayne, not a touchy-feely guy, puts his hand on my leg to reassure me.

So he’s one car length back from a semi-trailer with his hand on a guy’s leg. Let’s do some math. At 65 mph, you cover fifteen feet in sixteen-hundredths of a second. The average reaction time for humans is 0.25 seconds to a visual stimulus, 0.17 for an audio stimulus. Driving an Insight one car length away from a semi-trailer, Wayne is essentially driving blind. If the semi steps on his brakes hard, Wayne will hit him and kill his passenger and possibly himself. I’m not sure that’s really considered a loss — who would miss this mook? — but at that point he’s freed a driverless car to swerve and bash around the freeway. That’s how multiple-fatality accidents occur.

Of course, if breaking laws on your own time disqualified you from being an automotive journalist, virtually nobody would be able to take the job. If breaking laws in a press car disqualified you from being an automotive journalist, very few people could keep the job. Do you think that the people who are handed keys to a Z06 or an Aston Vanquish for the weekend always hold it at the speed limit or below?

The difference is when an automaker specifically pays a “journalist” to break the law. Wayne’s unorthodox techniques wouldn’t stand up in court. If he kills a family dicking around on the freeway at 40mph or doing a “D-fas” behind a truck that then stops short and turns his Passat or whatever into an unguided child-murdering missile, the liability won’t stop with Gerdes. It will attach to everybody who wrote a check: the tire manufacturers, the fuel manufacturers, and the auto manufacturer. It’s an ambulance-chaser’s dream.

My advice to the automakers who are planning to give Mr. Gerdes $50,000 in the next two years for feats of illegal hypermiling? Better put a little extra cash in your legal rainy-day fund. And if you have children who live in Wayne’s world, make sure they know to stay out of the way of the crazy man pushing his perfectly functional Ford Ranger down a hill at them, okay?

42 Replies to “All The Illegal And/Or Crazy Things Wayne Gerdes Did To Impress Mother Jones

  1. everybodyhatesscott

    This seems dumber than your maximum street speed articles and those got a lot of pushback.

    Reply
  2. DeadWeight

    When is Volkswagen going to weigh in on their culpability for putting peoples’ lives at risk by monetarily sponsoring this form of epic, reckless endangerment?

    Unbelievable.

    Reply
      • DeadWeight

        Ronnie, that would be great.

        Also, I’m sure you were already planning on it, but if not, bring quotes from the writer of the Mother Jones article.

        Thanks, Ronnie.

        Reply
  3. -Nate-Nate

    Whew ~

    I remember in the 1970’s , drafting Semi’s out on the Interstate _after_ asking them permission on the CB Radio….

    It was a nervous experience , something I don’t really like doing .

    This guy is a twit .

    -Nate

    Reply
    • VolandoBajo

      I used to ride a motorcycle a good bit in my twenties, and used to hang in a college bar which had a lot of other motorcycle riders as clientele.

      One of them was the son of a high ranking state official, which is neither here nor there. But presumably he might have inherited a few IQ points. Nevertheless, he used to tailgate semis on his motorcycle, actually extending his feet in front of his front wheel and placing them on the semi’s rear bumper.

      It scared me to think about then, and still does today.

      Needless to say, I didn’t try to pick up any two-wheeling tips from him.

      I can’t imagine a more suicidal thing you could do on flat ground on a motorcycle.

      Reply
      • -Nate-Nate

        ” I can’t imagine a more suicidal thing you could do on flat ground on a motorcycle.”

        Foolish things I’ve done :

        Riding an underpowered Motocyle over the California ‘ Grapevine ‘ and getting in close to the left rear of a Caltrans truck to draft ~ I made damn sure I could see him in his mirror and he saw me ~ he looked at me for a moment then shrugged , I was able to zizz over the hill easily , that pokey old slow Moto only exceeded 60 MPH on a dead flat with no wind .

        Had he made any unhappy look or indication , I would have backed off and rattled over the hill @ 45 MPH but I wanted to get to Porterville and not dwadle .

        Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done but I did have a partial forward view and the truck driver knew I was there ~ if he’da tapped his brakes to flash the lights I’da broken off immediately .

        It wasn’t safe by any means but it worked .

        -Nate

        Reply
    • Felis Concolor

      The only time I attempted drafting a trailer to increase range occurred during the same trip where I learned I hate digital bar graph fuel gauges. What looked like more than enough to make the hop from Grand Junction to Green River ended up with me parking an old Chevy Beretta underneath exit 193 to allow its owner a shady napping spot while I owned my mistake and fetched fuel from the Shell station just a few miles west of our location.

      The greatest hazard was walking back across the median after the nice trucker gave me a short lift back from the station. The soils away from the roadbed out there are so soft you need snowshoes to keep from sinking up to your calves, making for a surprisingly hard slog over that distance. A friend from UT’s central valley explained it as a phenomenon of undisturbed soils after heavy rains: apparently the soils will float apart slightly, then dry in a very fine grained lattice with lots of air between the particles.

      Reply
  4. VicMik

    Hypermiling is a dumb sport.

    You might as well be drifting through your subdivision…hitting the rev limiter in second gear…at least the brakes would work

    Reply
  5. MrFixit1599

    The Mythbusters actually tested this, and they found out, IIRC, that being that close to the back of the semi was worse than if you were further back for fuel economy. I don’t recall what the optimum distance was, but it sure as hell wasn’t one car length.

    Reply
  6. Shocktastic

    I won’t claim to be an expert in Toyota Prius hypermiling. What I do know is on most cars with hydraulic power steering & brakes that turning off the engine meant a finite amount of system boost before controls became heavy & wooden. Do the electrically assisted replacements to the hydraulic stuff work with the key in acc? Perhaps I’m divulging my ignorance by “key in acc” does a Prius even have a key?

    Reply
    • jz78817

      with hydraulic power steering, the assist disappears the instant the engine stops running. if your power brakes are run from the power steering pump (hydroboost) it has an accumulator which gives you 2-3 presses of the brake pedal before assist goes away. same for vacuum brake assist; the brake booster retains enough vacuum for 2-3 pedal presses.

      Reply
    • sabotenfighter

      Prius hasn’t been available with a key since the second gen. Though the Prius Aqua/C is available with a key in some markets. You can completely turn the hybrid system off by holding the power switch down for a few seconds or pressing it a few times in quick succession, but I don’t believe you can bump it down to ACC or IG when you are over a certain speed. Also, getting it to restart from either of those modes, you have to have the brake pedal depressed and the vehicle speed below a couple km/h.

      Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Oh yeah, he was a real lion in his private Facebook group. Then he whined that anybody who wasn’t his friend should be removed from that group.

      Reply
      • -Nate-Nate

        ” Oh yeah, he was a real lion in his private Facebook group. Then he whined that anybody who wasn’t his friend should be removed from that group.”

        I think that’s belled being a ‘ keyboard cowboy ‘ , non ? .

        I’m still waiting for the numerous @$$hats to show up at my front door . I’m easy to find if any of them were serious .

        -Nate

        Reply
  7. galactagog

    what a complete dumbass

    Driving like that ( and even worse: encouraging driving techniques like this ) is reckless and dangerous

    I believe there was a fatality around here, when someone was pushing their truck down a hill in neutral and “jumping in” like that. They slipped, missed the jump, and the driverless truck careened into a vehicle/people

    Reply
    • Shocktastic

      After reading your comment I read the story again and was aghast. Weighing the potential savings vs the cost of a pelvis fracture = no return on investment. I’ve seen three people with the rollover injuries from trying to push start cars on hills unassisted and the luckiest one only needed 5 units of un-crossmatched blood.

      Reply
    • jz78817

      you’ll wait forever. people like him will hide in their little private group and moan about all of those meanies.

      Reply
  8. tifoso

    So he ekes out extra mpg’s driving with an obsessions that can be classified as a mental disorder. This is his raison d’étre that people give him money for? I’m not totally unsympathetic to niche obsessions,after all I frequent this site. But this guy should give his head a shake and find something else to do.

    Reply
  9. Ronnie Schreiber

    I’ll sometimes shut off the engine and coast to a red light if I’m running on fumes, but in those cases I’m traveling in a straight line so a lack of power steering isn’t an issue, and there’s plenty of vacuum boost in the brake servo to come to a stop. I’ll also do a manual stop-start if I’m sitting at a red light for more than a few seconds and I’m concerned about running out of gasoline.

    Interestingly, after the Toyota unintended acceleration issue came up, when I’d get a press car with push button start, I’d take the time to learn how to shut off the engine while moving, just in case.

    Reply
  10. Shocktastic

    Related question but almost off-topic: does shifting to neutral with an automatic transmission reduce brake wear when approaching an intersection? My 15 year old brought this up after coming home from drivers ed. I taught him that an automatic transmission requires the engine to be running when a car is in neutral to prevent transmission overheating (after he suggested I turn off the engine to coast down a mountain pass).

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      If anything, I think shifting to neutral increases brake wear. Torque converter automatics do have a mild braking effect.

      Reply
      • rpn453

        Yeah, at higher speeds, the engine braking is an advantage. But at lower speeds, the engine is contributing some power. So if brake wear is a critical factor, then there would be a point during deceleration where it would be beneficial to disengage the transmission.

        But it’s not. Brake pads are cheap and the difference in wear is practically insignificant. Just keep your vision far enough ahead to minimize brake use in the first place.

        Reply
  11. Charles

    The car can stop and corner exactly as hard with the power brakes and steering disabled, provided the driver puts sufficient force on the controls.

    He has, however, lost ABS.

    Reply
    • jz78817

      problem there is that a power steering system has a different gear ratio than a manual steering gear would; so a power system that’s lost assist is a LOT harder to turn.

      Reply
      • rpn453

        Still, it shouldn’t be difficult for a grown man to steer an unassisted car at anything above parking lot speeds. For compact FWD cars with slow steering racks like nineties Civics, it’s not even difficult to turn the wheel when stationary with the engine off.

        My buddy even drove his 3/4-ton Dodge Cummins without power steering for a few days, though he really had to lean on it when he was parking.

        Reply
  12. rpn453

    Hard to believe that one could save enough money by drafting semis to pay for the stone chips and cracked windshields.

    Reply
  13. pbr

    Reminds me of an early-90s Chevy dually I had the displeasure of maintaining and driving for a while. It was the shop truck for a small indy car repair shop I worked in and had the unpleasant habits of tossing cooling fans into the radiator every few thousand miles. Skinflint biz owner kept making us put fits-all generic Chinese parts from PepBoys on it, with repeatable results. I did it his way once, then did it right, or at least as right as not buying a better truck permitted, with by Gol’ GM GoodWrench parts when the inevitable happened. He was pissed about the near-as-dammit $500 bill for radiator, fan and fan clutch, but it never tossed that fan. Instead that insufferable POS truck repaid me by seizing an alternator on I-40 at about 75MPH. Towing an enclosed trialer. At midnight. In the winter. After a long string of other goat-rodeo tricks that day.

    Topical b/c on that series of GM pickups, the brake and steering boost were hydraulic. Driven off, you guessed it, the fan belt. Which survived about 1.2sec longer than the alternator. Somehow there was nothing to avoid or run into, but between that episode and the aforementioned goat rodeo I reckon I used 3 of my nine lives that day, and none of them were even any fun.

    Reply
    • jz78817

      Was he actually putting cheap flex fans on that thing? Those goddamn things should have been banned before they even started using them.

      Reply
      • pbr

        No, they weren’t flex fans, the problem was that the PepBoys fits-all fan clutches had slots in the back of the fan clutch for the studs holding it to the flange pressed onto the water pump shaft instead of holes. I guess this was done so one fan/clutch assembly would fit a few different water pump flanges. Even with high-grade studs and nuts, eventually the studs would splay, followed closely by the fan ejecting and tearing up the radiator. The GoodWrench part had holes, only, on the correct bolt circle to mate to the water pump drive flange and they supported the same studs without any drama.

        I forget what year the truck was, maybe ’89? ’92? Dunno, but it was one of the first GM big-blocks that had serpentine accessory drive. Doubtless by the time I was working on in the late 90s there were aftermarket solutions, too.

        Reply
  14. Pingback: Electrek Loonyland: After the Referrals Scandal Goes International, Fred Lambert Doubles Down – Electric Cars Tips

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *