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Top 10 driving hacks to save fuel

Top 10 driving hacks to save fuel

Erin Baker
Written by  Erin Baker
6 min read
Updated: 20 Dec 2023

Cars can be a huge drain of your finances. Read on for handy tips on how to save money on your fuel bill.

Cars are a hefty drain on monthly budgets, as they aren’t discretionary purchases for most people: they provide much-needed daily transport to get between home, work, the shops, schools and downtime activities. With 90 per cent of us paying for our cars on a monthly finance deal rather than buying them outright, the cost of insurance, servicing, tyres and, most significantly, fuel, have become all too apparent as we navigate the rising cost of living.

There are, however, steps you can take to mitigate how much petrol, diesel or electricity, your car uses, and its cost. Here’s a round-up of the most effective tips.

1. Lighten the load

More weight means more energy is required to move your car. It sounds obvious but ask 10 friends (and your partner) how many of them regularly clear out their car’s footwells and the boot of the accumulated detritus of daily living, and you’ll be surprised. So, this weekend, liberate the car from anything you haven’t touched for the last month. And that includes door bins, centre console and the glovebox.

2. Stop the drag

The biggest offender when it comes to energy inefficiency is aerodynamics. Cars that can’t cut through the air will use more fuel to overcome the extra drag. The two biggest causes here are roof boxes and under-inflated tyres. If you only use your roof box once or twice a year for family staycations, make sure you remove it the day you empty it. Just because it’s lighter, doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant: it will be acting like a breeze block on your roof. Ditto under-inflated tyres, because the softer they are, the more contact they have with the ground, meaning the car has to work harder to roll them along. So, keep a good eye on pressures, especially in cold weather.

3. Plan your fuel stop

It’s easy, when you’re anxious about traffic on a long journey, to set off in a rush and rely on filling up when you stop for something to eat en route. The problem is that for most of us, that stop will be at a motorway service station. Demand dictates that these filling stations normally charge a much higher price for petrol and diesel than a local forecourt. The difference for a tank could end up being more than a tenner. Ouch. So, it’s worth filling up near home first.

4. Plan your charging stop

Same rules apply for electric-car drivers, unsurprisingly. Motorway charging stations can cost drivers as much as 75p per kilowatt hour, partly because motorways always charge the most, and partly because bigger services tend to offer the rapid and ultra rapid charging points. These are great if you want a 20-minute burst, as opposed to 45 minutes at a slower charger, but not great for your wallet: at that rate, a full charge could cost you around £90: the same price as petrol and diesel.

5. Charge your battery overnight

The best way to save a lot of money on charging your electric car is to get a home electric car charger if you can afford one, and then switch your energy supply at home to a tariff with an off-peak setting. For most, this applies midnight - 4.30am, during which time energy costs fall from about 24p per kWh to 6p per kWh. A vast saving that means 200 miles charge will cost you under a fiver.

6. Keep your plug-in hybrid charged

Discipline is key if you are a plug-in hybrid owner. You must keep that battery charged, otherwise you are using your engine to lug around the huge weight of an empty battery on top of moving the car, meaning your fuel usage will rise massively. In that instance, you’d be better off reverting to a normal petrol-engine car. So, use it or lose it.

7. Work out if you really need diesel or petrol

Many people don’t give their engine’s fuel choice much thought when buying a car. However, petrol and diesel work in different ways. Petrol is way cheaper than diesel at the pumps, but petrol engines burn their fuel quicker than diesel, meaning you don’t get as many miles per gallon. But the huge price difference means that, unless you are doing high annual mileages, you are unlikely to recoup the higher cost of diesel during your three-year finance deal (also: short runs from cold are not great for diesel, and you may end up with a clogged particulate filter).

8. Four wheels better?

If you’re buying an SUV (as most of us now do), find out beforehand if it has four-wheel drive, two-wheel drive or variable four-wheel drive, and consider what you need when you’re buying a new car. Very few of us need four-wheel drive (winter tyres are normally better for grip) and lugging round a 4x4 drive system uses a lot of fuel. Switch to two-wheel drive for better efficiency or, if you think you do sometimes need four powered wheels, find something that only engages the second pair when it senses lost grip: this is called variable, or part-time, four-wheel drive.

9. Do you need a car that big?

When was the last time you test drove a hatchback or a small estate? You might be pleasantly surprised at the leg room and boot space. Most young families can fit quite comfortably into a standard hatchback, so ask yourself if you need that SUV, or whether you’d rather claw back some budget by trading it in for something smaller. They are not the most aerodynamically designed cars (see point 2 above), and the bigger the car, the heavier it is, generally speaking (see point 1).

10. Driving style

Last but very much not least, consider your driving style. Do you blast away from the lights, and accelerate right up until the moment you brake? Highly inefficient: go to the back of the class (ditto in electric cars where you should always make best use of the regenerative braking modes to recoup that brake energy that would otherwise be lost). Looking down the road, feathering the throttle, easing off it rather than going straight for the brakes, can claw you back those miles per gallon. Smoother driving can also save you money on your insurance premium, as many providers will now measure your driving via apps or telemetrics (fitting a small tracking device to your vehicle) then discount your premium if they feel you’re a safe and considerate driver. That’s a double win!