Drive smart and use 30% less fuel

An increasing number of families are being forced to cut down journeys or ditch their motors as household budgets continue to be squeezed. More than £900 is required on average just for motor insurance, tax and roadside assistance, recent figures show. However, this is nothing compared to the £2,668 a year required to fill up the car with petrol, according to the data from Skipton Financial Services. It now costs £51 a week to fuel a car, up £215 on the previous year.

Savings abound

But did you know you can get up to 30% better fuel economy from your car - and save yourself a significant sum of money - by simply changing your driving style? That's according to Rob Thring, professor of automotive engineering at Loughborough University. He argues that you can achieve this without necessarily taking longer to complete your journey. Although his tips refer to vehicles with manual transmissions, you can still achieve savings with an automatic too. "Some automatics have an economy mode; this will automatically do some of the things I have outlined," he explains, adding that some automatics now give better fuel economy than their petrol counterparts – a big change on days gone by.

Here’s how to save!

You can start saving even before you turn on the ignition, says the Prof. Ensure your vehicle is as light as possible by getting rid of any unnecessary items. A roof-rack or large roof box will only create air drag, which consumes a lot of fuel at motorway speeds. Fuel consumption, particularly in city driving, is very much dependent on vehicle weight, so ensure you also clear your boot of any items you are not going to need during the journey. Further savings can be had before you hit the road. Many motorists start their engine with the foot on the throttle or accelerator pedal, unnecessarily revving it when they should just let the vehicle’s control system handle the start-up process. And don't leave the engine idling while you round-up the kids or try to find where in the house you left your phone, advises Professor Thring. He recommends switching off and restarting the car later when you're ready to go. Some new vehicles do this automatically. As an aside, never be tempted to leave your car running unattended – something many people do in the winter to help de-ice the windscreen. You never know when you might fall victim to an opportunist thief – and there’s a good chance your insurer might deny a claim for theft on the basis that you didn’t take proper care of the vehicle.

In the city

"While stationary, particularly on an uphill slope at a red traffic light, for example, do not hold the car on the clutch. That uses extra fuel and accelerates wear on the clutch as well," cautions Professor Thring. He recommends using the handbrake or parking brake, with the gearbox in neutral and your foot off the clutch. Accelerate the vehicle very gradually with a light throttle when the lights turn green and try not to slip the clutch any more than is necessary. Slipping the clutch involves depressing and releasing the clutch to achieve some movement and is sometimes used to hold the car in position on a slope. "A slipping clutch consumes energy which comes from the fuel," explains the professor, who goes on to recommend working your way up through the gears quickly, preferably shifting before the engine rpm needle (on the instrument panel) reaches the same point as when you are driving at a steady 60 mph in the highest available gear - fifth or sixth. He also suggests driving in the highest gear you can. Generally, the lower the gear, the higher the fuel consumption, so try to move away from first, second and third as soon as you can, but at the same time, don't rush into higher gears if you are not carrying enough speed for them. You’ll know you’re on the wrong gear when the car lugs.

On the motorway

According to Professor Thring, driving faster on the motorway uses significantly more fuel without little likelihood of getting you there that much sooner, so try to limit your speed to 60mph. And do your best to keep your throttle fixed to maintain a steady speed while you’re at it, as any acceleration uses more fuel. Where the situation permits, try to drive at a steady speed behind another vehicle, preferably a large box-shaped truck. Their bulky shape breaks the air resistance and creates a slip stream of which you can take advantage. Birds figured this out long, long ago, of course – that's why they fly in a 'V’ formation flock when migrating over long distances. All except the one in front do less work, and they take it in turns to be the leader. "This driving style is called a “convoy” and can save up to 7% in fuel consumption for all the vehicles in the convoy except the first one," explains Professor Thring. "But you must maintain a safe distance and keep a close eye on their brake lights."

In the car

If you want to feel snug while driving, go ahead. Turning off the heating will not save you any fuel since it just uses waste heat from the engine, which would otherwise pour out of the vehicle via the radiator anyway. And turning off the lights "makes very little difference", according to the professor, who discourages doing so as it compromises your safety. See and be seen is the motto, and that's why most modern cars have daylight running lights. However, turning off the air conditioning "does make a significant difference, since the a/c compressor takes significant power from the engine, which makes it consume more fuel". Use the heater, not the air conditioner, if you just need to demist the car.

Maintenance

Keeping your car in tip-top form is just as important. All the actions mentioned above would be useless if your car was not in the greatest condition, so as well as servicing your car on a regular basis, try to keep your tyres up to the manufacturer's recommended pressure. He states that tyres with low pressure will result in the car consuming more fuel due to hysteresis in the rubber (this is the creation of rolling friction and resistance that in turn generates heat - making the tyres very hot). Consider also buying tyres specifically designed for fuel economy. Have your brakes checked to ensure they are not ‘binding’ (not coming fully off), urges Professor Thring: "Even a tiny amount of brake-binding can cause significant increase in fuel consumption. Also, the brakes get hotter than they should; not good!" "Following these tips should save around 30% in fuel economy compared to an aggressive driving style, depending on the vehicle," concludes Professor Thring, whose parting advice is to go for a vehicle with better fuel economy the next time you change cars to achieve even greater savings.

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