Edgerton student club designs, builds high gas-mileage vehicles
EDGERTON Although it’s decorated with flaming duct tape and its driver is equipped with a crash helmet, a harness-style seatbelt and a fire extinguisher, the main point is not how fast Edgerton High School’s super vehicle can go.
It’s all about the gas mileage.
With unleaded gasoline topping $3.90 a gallon, the high school’s Supermileage Vehicle Club could be the envy of any driver stuck with a fuel-guzzling pickup truck or SUV.
The eight-member, engineering class/student club, which is in its third year, is finishing work on two gas-powered supermileage vehicles built to compete in two fuel-efficiency competitions this spring.
One of the vehicles, a one-seat, three-wheeled model that students built last year, got 160 mpg in a competition last spring.
This year, the club has tweaked the vehicle’s fuel intake with a goal of squeezing another 10 to 20 mpg out of it, its members said. Meanwhile, the club’s finishing a new three-wheeled vehicle it’s been building all year. It’s lighter and sleeker, with a more fuel-efficient motor.
The club hopes both vehicles will blow the doors off their performance last year.
“We’re really, really excited to see how both vehicles will run, especially the new one,” said Edgerton High School senior Max Ylvisaker, who is captain of the Supermileage Vehicle Club.
Ylvisaker and the club will compete this spring in two competitions sponsored by the Wisconsin Energy Efficient Vehicle Association.
One is April 27-28 at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton and at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna. The other is May 14-15 at the legendary, four-mile Road America road course at Elkhart Lake.
The point of the competitions and the focus of the Supermileage Vehicle Club is straightforward, said Joe Mink, a technology education teacher at the high school who is the club’s mentor and instructor.
“I tell the students that I need a vehicle to get me from point A to point B safely and efficiently,” Mink said.
The tough part is actually doing it.
Edgerton’s Supermileage Vehicle Club is a fall-semester, for-credit course that morphs into a club activity in the spring. Students who take the class spend thousands of hours engineering, designing, building and rebuilding one-seat vehicles.
The project starts with a frame and wheels and gets more complex as work on the transmission, engine and steering systems comes into play. Every decision students make—from wheel type to body weight to gear ratio—must factor in friction, drag and aerodynamics.
In competitions this spring, Edgerton will face other student clubs from around the state, some with vehicles capable of running at 300 to 500 mpg.
Ylvisaker said it’s little things such as a tire rubbing on the frame or a throttle tuned too high can kill gas mileage.
“It gets down to fine, fine tuning,” he said.
Its new vehicle is unfinished, but the club is field testing revamps to last year’s vehicle.
The one-seater weighs 170 pounds. It has a boxy aluminum frame and a body made of clear Plexiglas and lightweight greenhouse siding. It’s powered by a 3 1/2 horsepower Briggs and Stratton racing engine that’s connected by a chain drive to a single rear drive wheel.
The two front wheels steer using a lever-operated, fighter jet-style steering system.
While a tennis team practiced in the background recently, the club’s driver, sophomore Wyatt Venske, took the vehicle for a practice run in the north parking lot at the high school. Venske circled parked cars, making about a dozen 100-yard loops.
The vehicle scooted at speeds up to 35 mph, but its engine killed a few times. That drew groans from club members. They’d spent several hours earlier in the week dismantling and rebuilding the carburetor.
The good news: The practice run barely put a dent in the vehicle’s tiny, 7 1/2-ounce fuel tank. Dakota Salm, a sophomore who’s in his second year on the club, estimates the vehicle could make a round trip from Edgerton to Janesville on a full tank.
“We could run like this all night,” Salm said.
The club’s taken its best ideas from last year and rolled the knowledge into designs for a new car, Ylvisaker said. The new model sits lower and has a more efficient engine, improved gearing and better brakes.
Plus, it’s 10 pounds lighter. The club cut weight by covering the vehicle with plastic boat shrink-wrap.
“We went on trial and error last year. Actually, it was more trial than error. But we’ve learned a lot, and that’s paid off with production this year,” Salm said.
Mink said Supermileage Vehicle Club requires students to draw from a knowledge base that spans academic areas including math and science. Some even pick up new skills, such as aluminum welding.
Even English composition comes into play. Because the club is funded mainly through private donations of money, equipment and materials, the club spends hours writing letters that detail their project to potential investors.
Mink said many former members have told him the club made them want to go into engineering.
“At the very least, it gets them thinking about how to conserve energy and possibly improve their own lives,” Mink said.
Club member Tyler Maratik, a sophomore, always has been into working on cars and small engines, but building a vehicle from the ground up is a new experience.
Maratik said the club’s focus on fuel efficiency has him yearning to ditch his pickup truck in favor of something that uses less gas.
“I’m definitely looking into a motorcycle, now,” he said.