How to save money on petrol and diesel

A round-up of tips and advice on how you can spend less money on fuel.

Make your car more fuel-efficient

  • Keep your tyres inflated – Fuel efficiency improvement: Up to 3%

Lower tyre pressure increases the drag on a car, meaning you need more fuel, so regularly check the pressures are correct and your car needs less oomph to keep it moving.

  • Declutter your car – Fuel efficiency improvement: Up to 2%

The lighter your car is, the less effort it needs to accelerate. By decluttering, clearing out junk from the boot, and not carrying unnecessary weight, you can save more.

On average, every extra 50kg you ride around with ups your petrol by 2% – and this could be even more in smaller cars.

  • Take your roof rack off – Fuel efficiency improvement: Up to 10%

A roof rack, even unused, adds wind resistance to a car, increasing drag and making the engine work harder. The RAC estimates a roof rack can affect fuel consumption by a whopping 10%. If you don’t need it, take it off, along with anything else inefficient. Even closing the windows will make the car run slightly more efficiently.

  • Turn off air-con at lower speeds – Fuel efficiency improvement: Up to 10%

Newer cars are getting better on this, but air-conditioning still uses an incredible amount of fuel – so make sure it’s turned off unless you really need it.

The general consensus is it’s more efficient to drive with the windows down and the air-con off at lower speeds, but at higher speeds it’s better to use the air-con and keep windows up due to the extra drag caused by having windows down. At motorway speeds air-con can affect fuel consumption by about 3 to 4%, whereas it can be up to 10% in stop and start traffic.

If you’re not using your air-con, it’s worth turning it on once in a while as not using it can mean it stops working. Also, don’t keep the engine running. Drive off as soon as you start up and switch off the engine as soon as you reach your destination. Turn your engine off where possible, eg, in traffic or during big delays on motorways.

  • Don’t fill it to the top – Fuel efficiency improvement: Up to 1%

Fuel is heavy, so by filling the car up you’re adding quite a weight. The less fuel your car has in it, the more efficiently it drives. If you fill up slightly more often and put less in (to 1/2 or 3/4 full), it’ll make the car run more efficiently.

But don’t be tempted to run the fuel too low – winter driving uses more fuel, so you’ll cover fewer miles per litre.

Drive more efficiently

You can drive the same distance in the same car, without slowing down, but using far less fuel. This is the biggest single factor effecting your fuel costs, and in some cases people find they save 30% when they change driving habits. The key is to drive smoothly.

The accelerator is a money pump – accelerate gradually without over-revving. Speed up smoothly. If you press harder on the pedal, more fuel will flow – but you can reach the same speed using much less power. As a rough rule, stay under 3,000 revs. Plus, if you think about it, if you accelerate too quickly, chances are you’ll then have to brake hard, which isn’t exactly efficient.

Change up a gear sooner. Always drive in the highest gear possible without labouring the engine. So change up much earlier than feels natural – it will take some pace out of your acceleration, but as that’s our first tip it isn’t a bad thing. If you have a fuel efficiency display, you’ll be surprised how immediate an impact this has.

Think about road position. All the other tips require you to be alert and aware of your road position. This helps you plan ahead and move gradually. It also means that more efficient driving is also safer driving.

The brake is a money burner. Where safe, allow yourself to slow naturally. When you press the brake you are effectively converting the energy you’ve paid to put into the car into heat. Instead if you can slow naturally you’re using all the stored energy most efficiently. Good road positioning is crucial for this.

Listen to the noise of your engine. If you hear sharp acceleration and the screech of the brakes you know you’re doing it wrong. Imagine driving from traffic light to traffic light doing that. The person behind who speeds up and slows down more slowly will still be behind you at the next light, they’ll just have spent far less getting there.

Keep moving if you can. The most expensive metre you drive is always the first one when you start. It takes huge energy to get a car going. So if you can roll gradually up to a traffic light as it changes from red to green, without stopping, it is more efficient than stopping and restarting

Coasting in neutral may feel cheaper but it’s dangerous. While putting the car into neutral and coasting may feel like you’re using less fuel, it’s dangerous, don’t do it. You always need access to the accelerator to avoid unexpected hazards. Plus cars can handle far worse on sharp corners when in neutral.

Just being conscious of this, and your road position, should massively increase how far you can drive on a tank of petrol. It’s estimated someone who averages 35 miles per gallon could reach 40mpg by driving better, a near-15% saving.

Find the cheapest petrol or diesel prices

Cheap petrol and diesel drive more efficiently The easiest way to find the cheapest forecourt in your area for petrol, diesel, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas, used for heating and cooking as well as vehicles) and more is by comparing prices using a nifty free tool.

Go to website PetrolPrices.com and after registering, enter your postcode and tell it how far you’re willing to travel (five, 10 or 25 miles). It’ll list that day’s cheapest petrol stations in your area (it says prices are updated every weekday around noon, though we’ve seen the odd result that’s a few days old) and covers around 8,000 of the 8,500 forecourts across the UK.

PetrolPrices.com allows you to do 20 free searches a month, which should be enough unless you’re doing some serious mileage. But an alternative if you need more is a similar Confused.com tool – it covers slightly fewer petrol stations and is only updated once a week, but you can get up to 20 searches a week with a free account.

Other filling-up tips

There are several other ways to cut the cost of petrol and diesel:

  • Always fill up at least 50 miles before your tank’s dry

Then there’s no panic and you’ve enough time to get to a cheaper petrol station. Leave it longer and you’ll fill up at the next one you see, so you won’t be focused on price.

This is slightly offset by the fact that a lighter car uses less fuel. But with 50 miles of fuel left, the difference is tiny.

  • Only use ‘better fuel’ if your car can cope

Many petrol stations sell ‘high performance’ fuels, yet there’s little or no performance difference for most non-performance cars. So only fill up with the super-fuels if you’ve a sports car or you’ve been specifically advised your car will actually use the petrol correctly.

The AA says that for most other cars, high performance fuels are too pricey for regular use. But if you’re keen, it suggests using a high performance fuel every third or fourth tank full to keep the engine clean and efficient, then revert to normal fuel.

  • Fill up at night?

Talk of filling up at night getting you more is a slight urban myth, as the differences are minuscule – pennies at best. Petrol pumps are calibrated by volume, so fill up at night when it’s cold and you get a tiny, tiny extra bit.

  • Don’t try to put more in after the clunk

Filling up your tank to the top isn’t great as it adds weight to the car (see how to make your car more fuel-efficient). But if you must, don’t keep going after the petrol nozzle ‘clunks’. If you do, you’re overfilling.

  • Fill up at busy petrol stations

These stations buy more fuel and can take advantage of falling prices. “The big petrol stations have deliveries every day so they can change the price,” Arthur Renshaw, of petrol station analyst Catalist Experian said, “But a small petrol station in a village may have a delivery every couple of weeks.”

  • Choose a big station

Stations buy their fuel on the wholesale market. Just as in any other negotiation, the big buyers are better able to strike a deal.

  • Look for a cluster of stations –

When several stations are close together, they are more likely to cut prices to tempt drivers in. “If you are in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, you have much less competition than in the centre of Manchester,” said Renshaw.

  • Play the supermarket game

Supermarkets are competing on fuel prices along with everything else. When you’re shopping, keep an eye out for vouchers offering petrol discounts. But be aware of the overall cost. “That is one way to get prices down below £1, but you do need to buy a lot of food to get that result,” PetrolPrices.com owner Peter Zaborszky said.

  • Stop by provincial towns –

Airports, motorways, expensive cities and rural areas have the highest charges, according to PetrolPrices.com analysis. “The golden path is down the middle where rent is cheap,” Zaborszky explained.

  • But don’t forget.

The savings could vanish if you are specifically driving a long distance to fill up. Do your maths first and wherever possible find the cheapest place thats on a route you regularly travel.

Pay using a cashback credit card

Cashback credit cards pay you back each time you spend on the card.

They are a great way to shave down the cost of fuel, but ALWAYS be sure to set up a direct debit to repay the card IN FULL each month, so you never pay interest, which would outstrip any gain.

Each time you apply for one of these cards, you’ll be credit-checked by the lenders. Multiple applications in a short period can impact your future ability to get credit.

Share the driving to cut your petrol costs

An easy way to cut petrol costs is to drive less! One option is to share lifts to work with friends. There are a few sites that connect people doing the same journey.

Liftshare

Register your details on Liftshare and enter the journey you’d like to share. Then check its search results for matching commuters, it also lets you search for potential matches before registering.

The site’s been going since 1998. It reckons a typical daily commuter sharing a journey can save around £1,000/year. You’ll also find a nifty savings calculator to help work out how much your journey costs, plus how much you could save by sharing with others.

BlaBlaCar

Founded in France in 2006, BlaBlaCar came to the UK in 2011 and has 40 million members. It lets you search for potential matches without registering, but you’ll need to register for free via Facebook or email if you want to contact a driver or offer a lift.

Anything to watch for?

  • Be safe

The sites store details securely, but when it comes to travelling it’s important to be vigilant. Arrange to meet for the first time in a public place, let friends or relatives know what you’re doing and check their ID to ensure they are who they say they are.

  • Taking passengers shouldn’t affect insurance

If you’re giving a lift to someone and asking for a contribution towards petrol costs, the Association of British Insurers says that provided there’s no element of profit, your car insurance is unlikely to be affected.

However, to be completely sure, check with your insuarnce provider first.

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