With the cost of fuel going up, making the most of whatever fuel powers your car is now more important than ever.
While avoiding more expensive petrol stations is a good way to reduce the cost of filling up, you can also drive down the costs of running a car by making a few small changes to how you drive.
In this article, we’ve put together some of out top tricks to improve your car’s efficiency and cut your fuel costs.
1. Supermarkets traditionally offer cheaper fuel, but shop around
Generally, larger supermarket chains offer the lowest forecourt prices. In some areas, though, this isn’t necessarily the case as some independent petrol stations can undercut larger firms. It’s worth checking which petrol stations are the cheapest locally before you fill up. Some websites can help with displaying cheap locations for fuel, and some sat nav apps such as Waze display live prices for stations nearby and on your route.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that petrol is also generally cheaper in towns and cities compared to rural locations.
2. Drive smoothly
When driving, try to accelerate smoothly and avoid harsh throttle inputs. Of course, you should also ease off the gas where possible to help lower your fuel consumption. As a general guide, keep the revs between 1,500 and 2,500rpm (petrol engine) and 1,200 and 2,000rpm (diesel engine), but avoid labouring the engine.
Reading the road in front to stop you from having to brake unnecessarily will also improve efficiency. Braking wastes the energy used to get a car up to speed.
Some harsh braking may be inevitable, but if you’re coming up to a set of traffic lights, try to coast (leaving the car in gear) to a stop rather than braking.
You may even find that you don’t need to stop the car at all if the lights go green in time, and you won’t use as much fuel accelerating again. Do be aware of traffic behind you: if a vehicle is particularly close, it’s a good idea to show your brake lights when slowing down by lightly braking.
Gentle acceleration and avoiding unnecessary braking applies to electric cars, too. Plus, relying on regenerative braking in an electric car will also help maximise range and the lifespan of your mechanical brakes.
3. Change gears earlier
Every car will be different, but there will be a happy medium between opting for a higher gear earlier and not labouring the engine too much. Red-lining the engine won’t improve your efficiency. Try changing up a gear at 2,000rpm and see if the engine can cope with this.
Many new cars will also have a gear-shift indicator, informing you of the most economical point to change gear, or even an ‘eco’ driving mode, which dulls the response of the throttle amongst other changes, to wring the most out of each litre of fuel.
Short shifting (skipping gears such as going directly from 1st to 3rd) can also help to reduce fuel consumption.
4. Stick to the speed limit
The faster you drive, the higher your fuel consumption will be.
Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that driving on the motorway at 80mph uses around 25% more fuel than driving at 70mph. Travelling at 70mph instead of 60mph will use 9% more fuel, and an additional 5% more than driving at 50mph.
5. Check your tyre pressure
Make sure your tyres are at the correct pressure as stated in the car’s handbook (or often on a sticker on the driver’s door pillar). Underinflated tyres develop more rolling resistance than correctly inflated tyres, so you’ll have to work your engine slightly harder when there isn’t enough air in them.
An incorrectly inflated tyre will also affect your car’s braking performance and is likely to wear prematurely or unevenly, meaning you’ll need to change them more often.
6. Empty your boot and reduce drag
Remove all unnecessary equipment. Roof racks and external boxes and bicycle carriers all add weight, so detach them when they’re not needed. Extra weight means the engine has to work harder to get the car up to speed, thereby increasing fuel consumption.
They will also increase wind resistance. The same also applies to any bent bodywork or ill-fitting trim pieces. Opening your windows can also cause significant drag, so it could prove more economical to use the air conditioning to keep cool when driving at higher speeds.
7. Turn equipment off
The biggest sapping item of equipment in most modern cars is the air con. It’s great for both hot days and demisting windows in the winter, but sparing its use can see significant fuel savings over time. That said, don’t neglect it entirely. Air-conditioning systems sometimes have a tendency to develop mould or fail due to cracked seals if left unused for months on end.
The same goes for the heated rear screen, demisters and headlights – if you don’t need them, switch them off.
8. Maintain your car
Ensure your car is regularly maintained, according to its service schedule. Aside from reducing the potential for big bills further down the line, a newly serviced car with clean oil and fresh filters will run more efficiently.
9. Use cashback schemes
Lots of petrol stations and supermarkets now offer loyalty cards to encourage customers to continue filling up with them.
The schemes usually work in the same way: every time a customer buys fuel, they swipe their loyalty card and points are accumulated that can be exchanged for discounts at a later date.
If you regularly fill up at the same station or you always fill up after your food shop, signing up to a loyalty card could help you save money.
10. Go electric
If you’re in the market for a new car, you can reduce running costs by making the switch to an electric car – especially if you can charge at home.
If you’re not yet ready to go electric, you could try a petrol-hybrid. Even though diesel cars have traditionally been seen as more fuel efficient, our tests have uncovered some incredibly economical petrol-hybrid models.
But you need to choose carefully. One hybrid we’ve tested has very high emissions in our independent tests, while others also exceed their conventional counterparts for fuel consumption.
We’ve found that some plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), in particular, can come up short. This is because official figures are calculated with a full battery and don’t include our intensive motorway cycle. We test PHEVs with the battery empty, then charge it to full and run each test cycle six times or until the battery reaches 50% charge. Unless your car is plugged in every time you park, our figures give you a better idea of what to expect in real-world use.
11. Install a home charger (if you can)
Home charging isn’t possible for everyone. To be able to home charge, you’ll need off-road parking, such as a driveway or garage, and you need to be able to get power to it – not easy if you live in a flat or a busy city centre.
But if you drive an electric car and can install a charger, charging at home is almost certainly cheaper than using public chargers (unless you use free chargers – scroll down to find out more).
There will be an initial outlay, though. To buy and install a charger you’re looking at paying upwards of £500, but you’ll earn this back over time with the money saved on fuel and public charging.
12. Use free charging points
If you can’t install a charger at home, try making use of free charging points near you. Various businesses, retail parks and regular car parks offer free charging, typically for paying customers of that business or service.
A number of supermarkets also now offer free charging. Sainsbury’s, for instance, has partnered up with Pod Point.
You can use the filters on the Zap-Map website to look for free charging points (open the Filters on the left, select ‘Payment’, then ‘free to use’).
It’s worth bearing in mind that free public chargers tend to be slower (typically 7-11kW), so are more useful for topping up your battery rather than relying on it for a full charge.
If there aren’t any free chargers near you, try to avoid using rapid and ultra-rapid public chargers. They might be the fastest way to get electricity into your car, but they are also the most expensive.