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Smarter driving

A brief guide to smarter driving, buying a fuel-efficient car and alternatives to driving


Most of us would say we spend too much on fuel. And since prices at the pumps tend to go up, the only way to spend less on filling up the car is to cut consumption. The good news is that there are three ways to use less fuel.

1) Smarter driving

Adopting ‘smarter-driving’ techniques can save fuel and save money. See checklist at the bottom of this page for examples. These techniques will also make you a safer driver and reduce wear and tear on your car. How much you save depends on how much you drive, but for average drivers it can be hundreds of pounds a year.

2) Buying a fuel-efficient car

Choosing a fuel-efficient car will help you save money and produce less emissions. But before you make your choice you should consider your requirements. What kind of journeys do you make, how many passengers do you carry and so on. Note that fuel-efficient models tend to be smaller, so they may not suit large families or be appropriate for someone who often drives long-distances.

What engine: diesel, petrol, hybrid or electric? Diesel cars are more fuel efficient and have lower CO2 emissions than the comparable petrol car. This means that a diesel car may save you money in the long term, even if the initial costs of buying the car are higher. Look out for the car fuel-economy label on new and second-hand vehicles for more information.

Hybrid cars are 25% more efficient than other cars. They achieve this by combining an electric motor with a conventional engine. The electric motor charges batteries which at times provide the sole power supply of the car.

Traditionally hybrids work best when you are driving around town, so if you mainly drive on long journeys, they may not be the best option.

Electric cars are a great way to cut CO2 emissions and reduce fuel costs. They use a rechargeable battery to power them that simply plugs in to an electricity supply and are a good option for shorter journeys and daily commutes. Government support in the form of the Plug-in Vehicle Grant is available to reduce the initial cost of buying an electric vehicle. 

New and used cars display a fuel-efficiency label which grade the car by its CO2 emissions, from ‘A’, the least, to ‘M’, the most. It also states the cost of road tax and the average cost per 12,000 miles. For fuel data of new and used cars visit www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk


The smart-driving checklist

Check your revs

When you speed up, change gear at 2000-2500rpm

Watch your speed

The most efficient speed is 45-50mph. The difference between 70mph and 85mph is 25% more fuel used

Read the road

Anticipate the road ahead to reduce over-acceleration and sharp breaking

Step off the gas

Stay in gear but take your foot off the accelerator as early as possible when approaching a red light or roundabout. This cuts fuel to the engine to almost zero

Plan your journey

A bit of preparation will help you to avoid congestion and/or road works. The Highways Agency (www.highways.gov.uk) shows incidents and roadworks on main roads

Drive off from cold

Modern cars don’t need to be warmed up: just drive off from cold

Check your tyres

Under inflated tyres increase fuel consumption and are potentially dangerous

Reduce ‘drag’

Remove roof racks, bike carriers and top-boxes if you are not using them

Switch off when you can

 If you are going to be stationary for more than a minute, switch off your engine to save fuel

Air conditioning

Use it sparingly, as it increases your fuel consumption. But on the motorway it’s better than opening a window which increases wind resistance

Invest in a satnav

Many satnavs now have features that help you avoid traffic congestion

3) Using your car less

Why use your car less? It’s obvious really. If you can cycle or walk instead of taking the car, you’ll save fuel, save money, reduce wear and tear on your car and get a bit fitter into the bargain.

Then there’s car-sharing. Sharing a journey with a friend or colleague can relieve the stress of every day commuting. You can find out more about car sharing schemes by visiting www.liftshare.com and www.blablacar.co.uk. There's also car sharing sites like www.compareandshare.com/transport that can help reduce your travel costs as well as cuttting down on emissions.

There are several websites offering route-planning options for walking (e.g. Walkit), cycling (e.g CTC) or public transport (e.g. Traveline). Sustrans (www.sustrans.org.uk) can help you find a cycling route near you and give you tips on cycling to work or school. For train travel within Europe, check out the Man in Seat 61Red Planet is a nicely designed travel planner for rail, coach and air travel within Europe.


Photo by Esa Pitkänen from flickr.com and reproduced under creative commons

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