Top 10 tips for improving fuel efficiency
According to RAC FuelWatch, petrol and diesel costs are rising across the globe, with prices at the pump peaking this year. UK prices for both petrol and diesel have now crossed over the £1.50 mark – an increase of 10% since July 2023.
If you’re keen to keep your driving costs down, here are 10 top tips that will help you improve your car’s fuel efficiency.
- 1. Maintain proper tyre pressure
- 2. Lighten your load
- 3. Use air conditioning sparingly
- 4. Maintain steady speed
- 5. Smooth acceleration and gentle breaking
- 6. Use your gears effectively
- 7. Service and maintain your car
- 8. Minimise idling time
- 9. Avoid coasting
- 10. Consider buying a hybrid
1. Maintain proper tyre pressure
Maintaining proper tyre pressure will help to extend the life of your tyres, improve vehicle safety, and improve your car’s fuel efficiency.
If the tyre pressure on your car is too low, it can have a negative impact on your car’s steering, cause greater tyre wear, increase the chances of tyre blowouts, and reduce fuel economy. It is recommended that you check your tyre pressure regularly – and especially before long journeys.
2. Lighten your load
Every 50kg weight inside your car increases its fuel consumption by around 2%. So, if you’re driving around with heavy loads in your car, it might be costing you more than you think.
If you have a roof rack that you’re not regularly using, you should consider removing it. Alongside weight, roof racks tend to create drag on your car – which also increases fuel consumption.
3. Use air conditioning sparingly
Vehicle air conditioning uses a lot of energy to deliver cool air into your car’s cabin. It is a complicated system, relying upon a compressor with a refrigerant section. As fresh air enters the system, it is pushed through a thermal expansion valve and transformed into a vapour. This then passes through evaporation coils to be dispensed as pleasantly chilled air through the vents.
The in-built compressor in your car’s air-con requires energy to operate, which can potentially increase your fuel consumption by up to 10%.
To save fuel consumption, wait until the air conditioning system has sufficiently cooled your car to a more pleasant temperature – then either decrease the flow rate, adjust the temperature, or even turn off the air conditioning entirely.
4. Maintain a steady speed
Driving at high speed decreases fuel economy. This is due to tyre-rolling resistance and air resistance. It is therefore beneficial if a driver can avoid high speeds and maintain an average overall speed. This can be achieved by planning journeys and selecting the most suitable routes.
Using cruise control on the motorway can help drivers maintain a constant speed. Accelerating and braking gently and gradually, and reading the road ahead can improve the fuel economy of your vehicle by 15%–30% at motorway speeds, and 10%–40% in stop-and-go traffic. Going too fast or too slow can significantly impact fuel efficiency.
5. Smooth acceleration and gentle breaking
The harder you push your engine, the more fuel is consumed. Accelerating gradually means less engine strain and less fuel used. Driving at constant, steady speeds and avoiding heavy traffic will save you fuel.
Though it obviously isn’t always possible to plan journeys and avoid obstacles and congestion, stop-start trips are very fuel-inefficient. Avoid excessive revving of your accelerator to maintain lower Revolutions Per Minute (RPMs) – which are more fuel-efficient.
6. Use your gears effectively
To maximise fuel efficiency, it’s crucial to always select the appropriate gear. Caution must be exercised to avoid excessive engine revving, and you should also ensure you do not strain the engine by choosing a gear that is too low for the current speed and terrain.
In general, for petrol vehicles, the most economical operating range falls between 1500 and 2500 RPM. Therefore, the goal should be to shift up to the next gear whenever you exceed the upper limit of this range. In the case of diesel vehicles, this optimal range is typically between 1300 and 2000 RPM.
7. Service and maintain your car
Maintaining your vehicle’s mechanical condition plays a pivotal role in optimising fuel efficiency. A well-serviced car, with regular maintenance, utilising appropriate components, fluids, and lubricants, will operate much more efficiently.
Poor wheel alignment – commonly referred to as ‘tracking’ – also has a huge impact on fuel economy. Even minor road imperfections, like potholes, can throw your wheel alignment off balance, which will make your car much less efficient.
Avoid stop-and-go traffic during rush hour whenever possible, as it can strain your engine and lead to increased fuel consumption.
8. Minimise idling time
When your car is stationary but with the engine running, it is referred to as ‘idling’. When this happens, you’re essentially achieving a fuel efficiency of zero miles per gallon – i.e. fuel is being consumed, but your vehicle isn’t in motion.
So, whether you’re waiting to pick up a friend or defrosting your car, it’s advisable to switch off the engine if you want to conserve fuel. Modern cars equipped with ‘stop/start’ tech contribute to fuel savings by automatically shutting off the engine when the vehicle is not in motion. If your car is equipped with this feature, keeping it activated is the most effective strategy for enhancing fuel economy.
9. Avoid coasting
Many drivers, especially older drivers, firmly believe that shifting a vehicle into neutral when descending a slope or coming to a halt reduces fuel consumption due to the lower RPM.
However, this is a common misconception – and very inaccurate when it comes to modern vehicles. The most fuel-efficient approach is simply to keep the car in gear and bring it to a stop without overloading the engine. If you do this, no fuel is consumed.
This is because the engine employs the driveline to maintain its rotation without the need for fuel. In fact, the car’s computer system intelligently discontinues fuel injection into the engine during such moments. It’s a clever mechanism that not only conserves fuel but also enhances safety. Therefore, it’s advisable to leave the car in gear for these situations.
10. Consider buying a hybrid
If you want to improve your fuel efficiency and can afford to do so, it might be worth buying a hybrid vehicle. These are an increasingly cost-effective choice, enabling you to partially or entirely cover your journey using electric power.
There are three distinct hybrid types: mild, full, and plug-in hybrids, each operating differently, but helping you curb fuel usage.
Carmakers continue to introduce hybrid models, some of which can now be purchased new for under £10,000. Used models can be picked up for a fraction of this price. With the 2035 electrical switchover looming, now could be a good time to transition to an electrified vehicle.
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