Filling up the car is probably one of your biggest regular bills. If you spend £60 a week on petrol or diesel, for example, that adds up to £3,120 a year.
Thankfully, using less fuel – and finding cheaper fuel – isn’t difficult. Our easy-to-follow advice could you could save hundreds of pounds.
Check your tyre pressures
Admit it, it’s been a while since you checked your car’s tyre pressures. Michelin recommends you should check them at least once month and before long journeys.
Ignoring this advice could damage your tyres, and have a negative effect on the way your car handles or stops in an emergency. It will also impact your fuel consumption.
Tyres under-inflated by 15psi (1 bar) will lead to around six percent greater fuel use. That’s the equivalent of 47mpg instead of 50mpg. Most petrol stations will have a tyre inflator and some are free to use. Alternatively, you could invest in a good quality tyre pump, allowing you to check your pressures at home.
Remember, the correct tyre pressures will be listed in your car’s handbook, as well as somewhere on the car itself – often inside the fuel filler cap.
Turn off the air conditioning
At low speeds, using the air conditioning can increase fuel consumption by between five and seven percent. That’s according to Anthony Sale of the Millbrook Proving Ground. At higher speeds, air conditioning has less of an impact.
If possible, turn off the air-con when driving through town or when stuck in traffic, opening the car windows instead. When travelling on faster roads, close the windows and switch on the air conditioning, as driving with the sunroof or windows open will increase drag and thus fuel consumption.
Remember to use your air conditioning at least once a month to maintain its efficiency and avoid problems with the system.
The more your car is carrying, the harder the engine is having to work, which increases fuel use. In simple terms, if you don’t need it, don’t carry it.
This doesn’t mean you can dump your mother-in-law at the bus stop and tell her to walk, but it does mean you can remove all the rubbish piled up in the footwells and the garden waste you’ve been hauling about for the past few weeks.
You should also remove your set of golf clubs from the boot, unless of course you’re intending to bowl a few overs after work. Or whatever it is you do on a golf course.
Roof racks and roof boxes will seriously damage your car’s aerodynamic properties, rendering the hours that engineers spent in the wind tunnel well and truly wasted.
Now, we’re not saying you should leave your mountain bikes at home when heading off for a cycling holiday. And we’re also not suggesting emptying the contents of your roof box into the boot and leaving the dog at home.
However, once you’ve arrived at your destination, you should remove the roof box or anything else you plonked on the roof rack. Oh, and if possible, remove the roof rack as well.
Change up earlier
Develop a smooth driving style, accelerating gently and reading the road ahead to avoid any unnecessary braking.
Don’t let the engine labour, but aim to change up a gear at around 2,500rpm in a petrol-engined car or 2,000rpm in a diesel. If your car has a gear-shift indicator, use it.
When possible, change up into fifth or sixth gear, which should see fuel consumption drop to its lowest level. But don’t speed, because that’s illegal and it could hurt your wallet. More on this shortly.
Stop braking. No, really…
Strange as it may sound, we urge you to stop braking. Don’t worry, we haven’t taken leave of our senses, it’s just that using your brakes is seriously bad for your wealth.
However, wait, before you go careering off into a wall or the back of that Honda Jazz, hear us out…
If you can keep the car moving all the time, you’ll use less fuel. This is because the act of stopping then starting again uses more fuel than simply rolling along. Read the road ahead and anticipate the flow of traffic, especially when approaching roundabouts. Maintain a steady speed without stopping and you’ll save money over time.
Reduce your speed
Speeding is the big no-no, but not only from a legal perspective. A car travelling at 80mph will consume 10 percent more fuel than the same car travelling at 70mph. If you spend most of your time on motorways, this could turn out to be a significant chunk of money.
Of course, it’s not a simple case of the slower you drive, the less fuel you’ll consume, but there is a happy medium to be achieved. Driving at speeds of between 50mph and 60mph in fifth or sixth gear will maximise your returns. But we do appreciate you need to reach your destination at some point.
Whatever, don’t speed – a flash from a camera could result in a fine totalling the cost of a tank of fuel…
Service your car
A serviced engine is a happy engine. Well, that’s according to an oil-stained poster we saw hanging up in a garage, once upon a time.
The fact is that a well-maintained engine will run more efficiently and use less fuel. So you should really think about giving your car a long-overdue service.
Your car’s handbook will tell you when it should be serviced, and don’t ignore that helpful reminder on your dashboard. Remember to check your oil regularly and always use the correct grade for your engine. Again, consult your handbook or nearest dealer for advice.
Sounds obvious, but you should think about leaving earlier for that very important meeting. If you’ve got a deadline to meet, leave home or the office with plenty of time to spare. Not only will you avoid speeding, you may arrive an hour early, giving you time to relax and prepare for that awfully important meeting.
Similarly, if you can combine numerous trips into one journey, you’ll save fuel. Clearly that’s not possible if you have to be in Skipton one day and St Ives the next, but with some basic planning, you could be able to cut down on there number of trips you make in a single month.
Avoid driving at peak times
Nobody likes getting stuck in a jam. A congested morning commute can set you off on the wrong foot, while a stop-start journey home means added stress before you reach your front door. So, why not avoid driving during peak times?
Setting off for work 30 minutes earlier could result in you missing the jams altogether, giving you time to go for a stroll or have a relaxing coffee before you face the working day. In fact, the money you save on fuel could mean you can afford a few extra lattes every month.
If you can’t avoid the rush hour, think about buying a hybrid car, which should use less fuel in traffic than a standard diesel or petrol model. At the very least, you should consider a car with stop-start technology, which will minimise the amount of fuel you’re wasting.
Shop around for fuel
The cost of fuel can vary from retailer to retailer and it’s not uncommon to find a different set of prices in two outlets next door to each other. So it pays to shop around, although we wouldn’t recommend taking a 20-mile journey to save 1p on a litre of fuel.
A general rule is that supermarket filling stations are cheaper than branded stops such as Shell, BP, Esso and so on. And stay well away from motorway service stations – they can be hugely more expensive.
PetrolPrices.com is an excellent fuel price comparison website and smartphone app (available for Apple and Android phones). It takes data from around 8,500 petrol stations across the UK, displaying prices at nearby outlets on an interactive map.
You can also find local fuel prices via the Waze navigation app and on the Confused.com cheapest fuel price finder tool.
If you have a new car with a built-in SIM card and modern infotainment system – an Audi equipped with Audi Connect, for instance – you may not even need an app. The Audi system offers a ‘Refuel for the best price’ option, directing you the relevant petrol station via the sat-nav.
Finally, consider signing up to a supermarket or petrol station loyalty card. Points you earn can be converted into money-off vouchers.
Buy a more economical car
Some of the smallest and most economical new cars can be purchased on a PCP finance contract for less than £100 a month. If they offer something in the region of 60mpg and your current car manages half that, the maths could add up.
Work out how many miles you drive in a year and how much you’re currently spending on motoring. Then work out how much it would cost with a new car and go from there. Don’t be lured into a false economy.
If the majority of your journeys involve short trips and you have the capacity to install a home charging point, don’t rule out an electric car either For short journeys and town driving, they make a great deal of sense and electric cars have come a long way since the days of the Ford Comuta (see above).
If the sums don’t add up, stick with what you’ve got and look at ways of driving more economically.
Walk or use public transport
If all else fails, leave the car at home and go for a walk. Clearly this won’t work if you live in the country and have a 30-mile commute to contend with, but in some cases a walk or public transport could be the answer.
Alternatively, think about a car-share scheme. By pairing up with another commuter heading in the same direction, you could literally halve the cost of fuel. Hey, it worked for Peter Kay, so it can work for you…