How to save fuel - the ultimate guide

How to save fuel - the ultimate guide
Drivers across Britain endured the steepest monthly rise in petrol prices for 18 years last month, RAC Fuel Watch found.

To combat May's price rises we have put together our ultimate guide on how to save fuel, and money, through more economical driving...

It is a fact that the faster you drive, the greater your fuel consumption.

Department for Transport figures state that you will use up to 9% more fuel driving at 70mph than you would at 60mph, and travelling at 80mph can use up to 25% more fuel than at 70mph.

Speed is arguably the most influential factor affecting fuel consumption, however, there are a number of other ways you can change your driving habits that will have a significant accumulated impact on the money you spend on fuel.

Guide contents

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12 petrol and diesel saving tips

The ever-fluctuating cost of fuel (monitored by our very own RAC Fuel Watch team) is a constant source of frustration for motorists, so here we have provided some of our top fuel saving tips to help you stretch as many miles to the gallon as possible.

1. Less fuel equals more fuel

If you tend to be an urban driver, only have half a tank of fuel – less weight will help fuel economy.

2. Plan your route

Consider making one round trip rather than several short trips. Once the engine is warm it will operate at its most efficient whereas several cold starts will increase fuel consumption even though the total mileage could be the same - visit the RAC Route Planner to help plan your journey in a more fuel efficient way.

3. Make sure you maintain your vehicle

Regular maintenance and servicing improves the efficiency of your vehicle. And therefore can improve your fuel consumption below is a short video on important maintenance checks you should regularly carry out.

Furthermore, car maintenance factors like the condition of your tyres and brake pads can affect the safety, overall performance and fuel economy of your car, so it is important to regularly check your tyres and know how to look after brake pads.

4. Slowest speed, highest gear

The secret to achieving a high mpg figure is driving at the lowest speed you can, in the highest possible gear.

This optimum fuel economy speed will be different for every car, but when the RAC completed its record road trip in the Audi A6 ultra, that particular car’s optimum fuel economy speed was 52mph in seventh gear on the flat.

While there is an ideal speed, road conditions and gradients don’t often allow you to do that speed so you have to improvise and learn to adjust your driving according to the road ahead, this technique is called hypermiling, which we discuss in the next section.

Generally speaking, the optimum driving speed for fuel economy is 55/56mph, which is what car manufacturers typically use to quote fuel consumption figures. However, as well as differing dependent on your vehicle, fuel economy is also dependent on a number of different factors such as tyre pressure, excess weight in the boot, presence of roof racks, driving style, etc covered in this guide.

5. Does cruise control use more fuel?

Actually, yes, if you were to use it all the time. Cruise control only aids fuel economy when driving on a constant flat surface, hence why it is usually good for motorway driving.

One of the keys to saving fuel is driving at a constant speed, cruise control can do this effectively on flat surfaces, making your driving is as fuel efficient as possible by negating unnecessary acceleration.

However, if you were to use your cruise control regularly, not on flat roads, you would encounter problems that would increase your fuel consumption.

This is because your cruise control would be slower to react to gradient changes, meaning when reaching the brow of a hill - at which point you would normally take your foot off the accelerator to maintain more of a constant speed when descending - your cruise control will keep the power on for a little longer, unable to see the gradient change in front.

Driving in this way regularly would accumulate to an increased fuel consumption.

6. Maintain momentum

In line from the above point keeping the car moving is essential to fuel economy. Obviously this depends on traffic conditions and what’s happening on the road ahead, but slowing down and having to accelerate again naturally uses more fuel.

7. Gentle right foot

Having a light right foot and ensuring all acceleration is gentle is definitely important, of course you will always have to accelerate a number of times on a journey but that doesn't mean you have to pull away like you're on the starting line of Silverstone.

8. Lighten the load

Don’t keep unnecessary items in your boot as they add weight to your vehicle, which affects fuel economy.

On average, every 50kg will increase your fuel consumption by 2%. This is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle's weight so it affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.

9. Don’t get dragged down 

Don’t leave your roof bars on because they create wind resistance and cause your car to use more fuel through the ‘drag’ effect.

Roof bars tend to weigh between 3kg to 5kg but the aerodynamic factor is greater. An empty roof rack affects fuel consumption by about 10%.

10. Keep the pressure up

Make sure your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure as indicated in your owner’s manual.

This will vary depending on the load you are carrying: if you have four passengers and luggage then you will need your tyres inflated to the maximum recommended pressures.

11. Warm engine

Consider making one round trip rather than several short trips.

Once the engine is warm it will operate at its most efficient, whereas several cold starts will increase fuel consumption even though the total mileage could be the same.

This is why the Record Road Trip team kept going almost continuously, only stopping for 20 minutes at a time.

12. Lose your cool 

Don’t use your air conditioning unless you really have to as it uses engine power and therefore increases fuel consumption.

READ MORE: Should you buy a petrol or diesel car? Facts and quiz to help you decide

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How to learn 'hypermiling'

Here are seven ways to change your driving style, using the technique of 'hypermiling' to increase your MPG.

1. Go with the flow

The easiest fuel-saving mindset to adopt? Simply making your car flow. Drive smoothly, gently using the steering, accelerator, brakes and other traffic to glide from point to point.

It not only feels ultra-luxurious, it’s also the most energy-efficient way of driving, and one that will deliver the best fuel economy.

2. Don’t just go slow

Some people think driving economically means driving slowly. So they’ll do 30mph on the motorway and crawl at walking pace up hills. Not only is this dangerous, it’s unlikely to be saving them much.

READ MORE: The best cars for saving on fuel

Conserving momentum and using it to your advantage is as important for setting good fuel consumption figures as simply not going very fast. You really don’t do very well if you only cut the speed.

3. Look well ahead

If you look well ahead, you’ll be able to spot that truck in the distance. You’ll see the traffic lights on red meaning you can ease back on the throttle and glide up to the obstruction usually as it clears.

By keeping your eyes focused on the distance, you can make the gentle adjustments early to ensure your flow is unimpeded. At times, when the traffic lights turn to green just as you drive up to them, your passenger will think wizardry is at work…

4. Remember the revs

The faster an engine spins, the more fuel it uses. So keep the revs low by changing up early.

You’ll soon see the fuel computer start to reward you. Just don’t let the engine labour, as you’ll quickly bog down and begin losing speed. Try to keep the engine speed in the ideal eco spot.

5. Be patient

How satisfying it is to come up behind that person who overtook you half an hour earlier?

We did just that – indeed, we’d actually forgotten the impatient sports car driver had roared past us until we came back across him later on at a busy intersection.

More haste doesn’t necessarily deliver more speed. If the roads are busy, trying to tear past everyone is unlikely to save you much time, if any.

6. Be clever with hills

Driving up hills destroys fuel economy. It may feel good to accelerate up them, but this is disastrous for your mpg.

Instead, try to drive them cleverly. If you spot a clear hill ahead, accelerate a little before you reach it, then ease off as you drive up. The extra momentum should be enough to minimise additional consumption.

7. Embrace the motorway

The most fuel-efficient roads in the country are not quiet extra-urban dual carriageways or 20mph city streets. They are motorways. This is where you can leave the car in top gear and gently cruise along, using minimal fuel.

You’re probably going faster from point-to-point than if you went cross-country, too. Shortest is not always greenest.

What the experts say

Professional racing driver Rebecca Jackson and motoring journalist Andrew Frankel broke a world record for the most countries visited on a single tank of fuel, so they know a thing or two about how to drive economically. Below is their expert advice.

Rebecca Jackson’s advice

“To set any kind of fuel efficiency world record you have to be looking ahead as much as possible to pre-empt oncoming hazards. This is a good general driving habit but it was absolutely crucial for us.

"It’s all about keeping moving and not losing momentum. Accelerating from being stopped is very costly in fuel consumption terms and so is going up any steep incline.

“We tried not to use the brakes as much by easing off the throttle to reduce speed. If you can keep moving slowly rather than stopping in traffic that’s good, but you do have to be conscious of not being a pain to other drivers by leaving too much of a gap behind the car in front.

“You need to listen to the engine to make sure you don’t use excessive revs but you need to use enough, so it’s a fine balance as you don’t want the car to be labouring too much either.”

Andrew Frankel’s advice

“If you are coming up to a roundabout you need to know whether you will be able to get through without slowing down too much by adjusting your speed very carefully before you enter.

“And, if you have a hill coming up you need to judge not just the gradient, but its likely duration too. If you can see it’s just a short rise it’s better to coast up, lose the speed and stay in gear rather than change down early. Each hill is therefore different and there is of course an element of guesswork.”

Watch the full record-breaking road trip video here

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