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Money-saving driving tips

By Martin Pratt

Feel like you're filling up your fuel tank every five minutes? Our guide shows you how to drive efficiently and make your fuel go further.

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Fuel economy is an important stat for any new car. As engines get greener and more frugal, our expectations grow and now we expect even bulky 4x4s to return a reasonable mpg.

Fuel economy isn't all down to the car though - how you drive can have a big impact on how far a full tank will get you.

In this guide we've put together our top ten quick driving tips to improve your fuel efficiency.

To discover how the cars we recommend performed in our independent fuel economy tests, see our best cars.

How to use less fuel

1. Plan ahead

Hone your observation and anticipation skills. Plan routes before travelling and keep a close eye on the traffic ahead to avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration.

2. Use a sat nav

Sat navs, whether they are an app on your phone or a dedicated device, will show you the quickest route to your destination. They can also adjust on the fly to help you avoid traffic jams. 

Some models can even select the most economical route, and will avoid fuel-sapping obstacles such as large hills and areas with heavy stop-start traffic.

We reveal the top five sat navs of 2017.

3. Smooth driving

Accelerate smoothly, avoiding harsh throttle inputs. Ease off the gas where possible to lower fuel consumption, and use the highest gear available but without labouring the engine. As a general guide, keep the revs between 1,500 and 2,500rpm (petrol engine) and 1,200 and 2,000rpm (diesel engine). 

Skipping gears can help reduce fuel consumption.

Many new cars will have a gear-shift indicator, informing you of the most economical point to change gear. Short shifting - e.g. skipping gears such as going directly from 1st to 3rd - can also aid in reducing fuel consumption.

4. Avoid hard braking

Braking wastes the energy used to get a car up to speed. Some harsh braking is inevitable, but if you're coming up to a set of traffic lights try and coast (in gear) to a stop rather than braking. You may even find that you don't need to stop the car at all if the lights go green in time and you won't use as much fuel accelerating again.

5. Check tyre pressure

Make sure your tyres are at the correct pressure as stated in the car's handbook (or often on a sticker on the driver's door pillar). Under-inflated tyres cause drag, and can significantly reduce your car's fuel economy. An incorrectly inflated tyre is also likely to wear prematurely or unevenly, meaning you'll need to change them more often.

6. Reduce drag

Take roof racks and cycle carriers off when they’re not in use. Extra drag means your car will use up more fuel getting from A to B. The same also applies to any bent bodywork or ill-fitting trim pieces. Opening your windows can also cause significant drag, so when driving at higher speeds consider using air-conditioning instead.

7. Clean out your car

The weight of any unnecessary items in your car simply makes the engine work harder to get the car up to speed, thereby increasing fuel consumption. Ensure you only have in your car what you need for that journey.

8. Don't warm up your engine

While advice varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, it is normally preferable to drive your car gently immediately after turning it on, rather than leaving it to warm up. Not only will the engine warm up more quickly, reducing the potential for engine wear, you'll use less fuel in the process. 

If your car is iced over, use an ice-scraper or de-icing spray - rather than let your car defrost of its own accord.

9. Maintain your car

Ensure your car is regularly maintained, according to its service schedule. Aside from reducing the potential for big bills further down the line, a freshly serviced car with clean oil and fresh filters will use fuel more efficiently.

10. Choose a greener car

The biggest difference you can make to your fuel bills is to buy an economical car in the first place. Manufacturer figures provide only a rough guide - our independent tests give you a more realistic figure. To find out more, go to how we test mpg

Important factors to consider are whether you really need four-wheel-drive, as this often dents economy significantly. Depending on model, the choice between automatic and manual transmissions can also see differences in fuel economy.

Traditionally, diesel cars have been seen as more fuel efficient, but the benefit is only really apparent if you travel huge distances each year. For low-mileage drivers, or those who spend most of their time around town rather than on the motorway, a small petrol engine or hybrid car may prove cheaper to run.

Increasing numbers of drivers are making the switch to electric cars in a bid to reduce their motoring costs. With most manufacturers now offering a battery-powered vehicle of some sort, there's now a model to suit most needs. Read our guide to the Best Electric Cars for 2017, to find one that's right for you.

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