How to save money on fuel

Person filling up car with fuel

If the rising price of petrol is making you feel like you might spontaneously combust, here are some fuel-saving hacks to ease the pressure at the pump.

By Steve Smethurst

Shop around

It’s always more convenient to fill up at the petrol station you pass on the way home, but do you check out the price? It’s getting more important to glance at the digital display of prices at all your local filling stations as you whizz by. Make a mental screenshot as you drive around to see which is the cheapest. Bear in mind supermarkets can be competitive on price and may fill up your points card too. Also, refuelling at a motorway service station may be ok for hungry bellies but tend to be expensive for thirsty engines.

Tyre pressure

Too much or too little of anything means things don’t work as well as they should – it’s the same for both under- and over-inflated tyres mean your fuel doesn’t take you as far as it should. If you’re take four other people and luggage on long journey, you’ll need your tyres inflated to the maximum recommended pressures to avoid using more fuel then necessary.

Lighten the load

Water bottles, golf clubs, junk you’ve been meaning to take to the tip all weigh your car down. So now’s the time to move them to the garage, shed, loft or run those errands. Every excess pound in the car contributes to your fuel economy. Keep only the important stuff like the hydraulic jack, early warning devices and any tools you might need in an emergency.

Fuel’s heavy too

Carrying on the weight theme, if you tend to make short jaunts, it might be worth running your car with the tank a quarter full and topping up often with small amounts. Fuel tanks can hold up to 100 litres, which is a significant amount of extra weight to carry around. 

Don’t be a drag

If you have a roof rack, roof bars, a bike rack or a luggage box on the roof, consider removing it unless you use it every day. All of these will create wind resistance and cause your car to use more fuel through the ‘drag’ effect. The faster you drive, the bigger the drag and the weight on your wallet. Driving with an open window also does a similar thing but we’re not suggesting you don’t get any fresh air while behind the wheel.

Pay by credit card

This approach won’t be for everyone, but some credit card companies offer cashback for spending money at filling stations. It’s an indirect way of saving, but it could be worth it if you’re able to pay off what you owe each month, otherwise any savings will be cancelled out by the interest.

Don’t idle

New cars tend to switch off the engine every time you stop. If you’ve a vehicle that doesn’t, you’ll save fuel by turning off the engine when you’re stopped for a while. It’s also worth remembering that stationary idling is an offence under Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 1.

The problem with hills

Driving up hills is bad for fuel economy, so to avoid making a mountain out of a small incline, it’s worth trying to touch your foot on the gas a little before you reach it, then easing off as you drive up. The extra momentum should be enough to get you there and minimise the need for your vehicle to use more fuel.

Dress for the weather

Blasting the air-con on warm road trip or turning up the heating on those cold morning commutes feel necessary, but it does impact on the amount of fuel you use. But as we said earlier, so does opening the windows if it’s too hot. Instead, try to wrap up or strip off (within the limits of the law, of course) for the weather as much as possible while you’re in the car.

Do all your errands in one trip 

Once a car’s engine is warm it will run at its most fuel-efficient, whereas the more you press the start button or turn the key to tick off tasks on your to-do list, the more fuel you’ll use even though the total mileage could be the same.

Change your driving style

If you hit high speeds before your engine is warm, this will waste fuel. Also, the faster an engine spins, the more fuel it uses, so shift to higher gears as soon as possible. And avoid slamming your foot on the gas and brake for same reason.

Driving smoothly key in EVs

At high speeds, fuel consumption increases – this is particularly so for electric vehicles (EVs). keeping momentum is key to efficient EV driving. So take it easy on the gas and brake pedals.

Rethink your plans

Think about whether you really need to drive. You might be able to car share, take public transport or get shopping delivered. This might not be the best option for every journey, but it could make a difference.

Finally, don’t forget about insurance

Motoring savings don’t just come from fuel economy. If you’ve got more than one car in the household it may be cheaper to buy a multi-car policy than a policy for each car. You should also make sure your policy is based on the amount of miles you drive – especially if you’re cutting back.

It’s also important to check what your cover includes – most policies have optional extras that you can add for a little more money. Make sure you’re not paying for things you don’t need.

And as some insurers provide discounts if a car is kept off the road, you could save money by parking your car overnight on your driveway or in your garage if you have one.

Most car insurance policies have a standard excess if you make a claim. You could lower your premium by choosing a higher excess although, obviously, this could be a false economy as if you have an accident, you could end up paying more.

Get the level of cover that’s right for you here.

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