Exorbitant fuel prices have always left us with lean wallets and a bitter taste in our mouths, even more so now it’s been alleged oil companies have been fixing petrol prices for a decade.
Throw in rising insurance costs, a drop in the number of cars that are exempt from the congestion charge and higher road tax and you can easily see why drivers are more than a little broke. All hope is not lost, however. There are still ways you can claw back some of your hard-earned disposable income whenever you’re out on the road.
We’ve got quite a few tricks up our sleeve, so here, without further ado, are our 10 best ways to save money on fuel.
Change your driving style
The most obvious way to save fuel is to adopt a more efficient driving style. Be gentle when accelerating and never use the brake. Ever. Unless you’re about to crash. Using the brake scrubs off speed you’ve already spent money building up, so you’re better off staying off the brake and using your car’s inertia to keep rolling as long as possible. You’ll often find you don’t actually have to stop at all and can continue that momentum without having to pull away from a standstill.
Don’t bother accelerating unnecessarily, either. Improve your anticipation. Look ahead to see whether cars are braking, traffic lights are about to turn red, pedestrians are about to step out and if they are, is there any point in speeding up?
Slow down on motorways.
The faster you go, the more fuel you burn. In some cases travelling at 80mph can use up to 25 per cent more fuel than at 70mph. This is because cars in the UK tend to be geared towards the motorway speed limit, not your preferred cruising speed.
Going faster will make you feel as if you’re making good progress, but it may actually increase your overall journey time. Travelling fast on a long journey means you’ll have to stop and fill up more often. Slow and steady usually wins the race.
Drive in the right gear
Contrary to popular belief, driving in as high a gear as possible can cause your car to use more fuel. Likewise, too low a gear and you’re over-revving the engine. When climbing steep hills, it’s most efficient to let the engine rev away so you have a decent amount of torque and power without letting your car labour. Juddering or over revving is a big clue you should change up or down a gear.
Maintain a steady speed over speed bumps
Accelerating, then braking, then accelerating over speed bumps uses a lot of fuel. Maintain about 15mph, depending on bump size, and cruise on through in steady fashion. Drivers behind may try to drive up your backside to urge you on, but eventually most will take the hint and back off.
Lower speeds over bumps will cause less wear and tear on your car’s suspension and tyres, plus reduced braking should prolong the life of your brakes. Come MOT and service time, the financial rewards can be big.
Pump your tyres up
Tyres leak air over time and under inflated tyres cause more drag and use more fuel. Check your pressures and pump your tyres up to the recommended level to stop this from happening. A quick look at your tyres will tell you the recommended PSI, or pressure, level.
Most supermarkets will provide air for a modest fee, or you can buy a tyre inflator from somewhere like Halfords that plugs into a 12v cigarette lighter. Before any long journey, it’s definitely worth giving your tyres a pre-flight check.
Wind up your windows
Yes, it may be sweltering hot but having windows open makes your car less aerodynamically efficient. Rubbish aero means your car has to make more effort to move and it therefore burns more fuel than it needs to.
This advice is only sound up until a point, though. At low speeds you’re better off winding them down and turning the air con off as that will also eat into your liquid gold reserves. Use your ears. If stuff is blowing out the window and you can only hear the sound of the wind, you should probably roll them up. The same goes for convertible roofs.
Use an app
Smartphone apps such as PetrolPrice Pro will find the cheapest petrol prices in your vicinity. Some apps cost a few quid, others are free, but you’ll make your money back pretty quickly. There are also satnavs out there with a petrol price function, although these are obviously more costly.
Don’t go too crazy, though. Driving ten miles further to make a saving of one pence per litre is pointless. Where possible, tie two journeys together, particularly if one takes you past a cheapo petrol station.
Do you really need a novelty hat, a week’s worth of unwashed clothes and a rubber dinghy in the back every time you go out? No, you don’t. The less cluttered your boot is, the less weight your engine has to lug around, and that means less fuel is consumed. Even the spare wheel can go. Invest in a good tyre puncture repair kit instead.
Try to lose some weight if you yourself a little on the heavy side. An overweight family probably adds the weight of another person to the overall load. Over the course of a year, that could be more money wasted than you think.
Don’t travel with a full tank
Although filling your car up is convenient and means fewer trips to the petrol station, there are drawbacks. In a Ford Focus, which has a 55-litre tank, you’re carrying a total 55kg of weight, as 1 litre of fuel is about 1kg.
If you generally only travelled with half a tank’s worth of fuel, you’d be saving 25kg — roughly the weight of a medium-sized woman. Unless you’re travelling long distances, you’re better off keeping that tank somewhere near empty — especially if you live near a petrol station.
Buy a more efficient car
If you drive a lot, you might be better off trading in your current gas-guzzler for something a little more efficient. Modern petrol and diesel cars are becoming incredibly economical, while hybrid and electric alternatives are (glacially slowly) coming down in price.
Not everyone will benefit from an eco-friendly car, however. Sure, a car like the VW Polo BlueMotion can do an astonishing 88mpg, but it’ll cost you about £3,500 more than the standard petrol version. That sort of money can buy you about 6 months to two years worth of petrol depending on how far you drive.
Found this article useful? Check out our guide to the ten most economical cars on the road today.