Money-saving Monday: Save on driving costs

Which? is advising motorists on how they can save money on petrol costs by filling up at a supermarket, carrying out basic car maintenance and using some lesser-known tips to minimise fuel consumption.

1. Supermarkets traditionally offer cheaper fuel, but shop around

Fuel from supermarket petrol stations is usually cheaper than branded fuel – generally working out at a few pence cheaper per litre. However, in some areas this isn’t the case, as some independent petrol stations can undercut larger firms. It is worth searching for the cheapest prices locally before you fill up. Websites such as show the cheapest locations and some sat nav apps, such as Waze, display live prices for stations nearby and on your route. It is worth making sure you have plenty of fuel before embarking on a long journey, as it normally costs significantly more at motorway service stations.

2. Use loyalty schemes

Many supermarkets and fuel retailers also offer loyalty cards. Drivers can collect points every time they fill up, which can be exchanged for cashback or discounts later on. For motorists buying fuel from the same supermarket where they shop for groceries, signing up to a loyalty scheme could save money.

Supermarkets also occasionally run offers on fuel for shoppers who spend a certain amount in store – so it is worth checking if your nearby supermarkets are running any offers before filling up.

3. Avoid premium unleaded 

While there’s no harm in using high-octane ‘super’ unleaded, there’s usually no benefit either, unless you drive a high-performance or imported car that specifically requires it. Given super unleaded typically costs 10-15p more per litre than normal unleaded, avoiding the premium pumps will save you money.

4. Drive smoothly

The way you drive has a big impact on fuel consumption. Try to accelerate smoothly, building speed gradually to prevent having to use the brakes unnecessarily. Skipping gears in a manual car (i.e. switching directly from 1st to 3rd gear) can also reduce fuel consumption.

Many new cars will also have a gear-shift indicator, informing the driver 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.

5. Keep on top of maintenance

It is also worth keeping an eye on tyre pressure. Under-inflated tyres and misaligned wheels will drag down a car’s fuel economy and can mean costly replacement tyres if left too long. Making sure cars are serviced on schedule can help drivers avoid reliability issues further down the line, plus newly serviced cars with fresh oil and clean filters run more efficiently.

6. Empty your boot and reduce drag

Driving a heavy car immediately increases fuel consumption, as the engine needs to work harder to get up to speed. Removing unnecessary items from the boot, as well as drag-causing external fixtures such as roof boxes and bike racks, will significantly improve efficiency. Driving with open windows also causes significant aerodynamic drag, so using air conditioning is better for keeping cool at higher speeds.

7. Don’t warm up your engine

While advice varies between manufacturers, in the winter months it’s normally preferable to drive immediately after starting the engine rather than leaving it running to heat up. Not only will this actually heat the engine faster, but provided you’re gentle with the throttle, it can also reduce engine wear and use less fuel. If your windscreen is misted, use the air-conditioning to quickly clear it – which is often quicker than relying on the car’s heating to kick in.

8. Stick to the speed limit

While legally you should be sticking to the speed limit anyway, research also shows that the faster you drive, the higher your fuel consumption will be. Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that driving on the motorway at 80mph uses around 25 per cent more fuel than driving at 70mph. Travelling at 70mph uses 9 per cent more fuel than driving at 60mph, and 14 per cent more than at 50mph.

9. Turn equipment off

Equipment such as air conditioning, heated seats, and windscreen heaters are big energy-sapping features in most cars. Try to use them only when necessary.

10. Use a sat nav

Try and plan routes in advance of driving, to prevent wasting fuel by going the wrong way. Most up-to-date sat nav apps can also show drivers the most economical routes and avoid fuel-sapping traffic jams.

Ele Clark, Which? Money Expert, said: 

“Every motorist will have felt the impact of soaring fuel prices over the last year. However, there are steps that drivers can take to lower their fuel consumption and spend less at the pumps.

“The best prices are often found at supermarket forecourts, but shop around before filling up to find the cheapest option. Other ways to keep fuel consumption low include changing gears early to avoid revving the engine and emptying your boot before a journey. ”


Notes to editors: 

  • Over the coming months, Which? will be highlighting free and useful money-saving advice every Monday to help consumers manage the ongoing cost of living crisis. The series will cover a range of topics, from how to save money on household bills, to childcare and travel.

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