Edgerton Students Build High Gas-Mileage Vehicles


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 31/2 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, 71/2-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 Dylan Counter, a sophomore, always has been into working on cars and small engines, but building a vehicle from the ground up is a new experience.

Counter 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.

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Posted by on May 1st, 2012 and filed under Techline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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