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Money saving driving tips

By Daljinder Nagra

Spending too much money on fuel? Our guide shows you how to drive efficiently, cut your fuel costs 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 tips to improve your fuel efficiency and cut costs.

Every car we test is put through our independent lab and road tests. Only reliable cars with low running costs make it into our expert pick of the best cars.

1. Cut your fuel costs

Filling up when you get your supermarket shop will cut your fuel costs. We calculated the average price* of a litre of petrol at supermarkets versus other fuel forecourts, and supermarkets came out cheaper.

However, buying an economical car is the best way to ensure you don’t pay over the odds. A family SUV – even smaller models aimed at urban use – will more often than not have higher overall fuel consumption than a comparable hatchback model.

All of our car reviews contain independent fuel economy data for each engine we lab test. To help you choose a car that's economical, we show the engines' fuel economy. Using that month's fuel price, we show you what it will cost you to fill up a tank and how much it will cost you over a month and an entire year. 

(The cost shown is based on 10 weeks of data collection, 16 March to 18 May 2020,  from 1,500 petrol stations across the UK. We focussed solely on petrol due to the dramatic down in demand for diesel-powered cars.)

2. Choose a greener car

Traditionally, diesel cars have been seen as more fuel efficient, but our tests have uncovered some incredibly economical petrol-hybrid models. 

However, you need to choose carefully. Our tests have also uncovered one hybrid model with very high emissions. Plus some hybrids we've tested exceed their conventional counterparts for fuel consumption. 

We've found that some plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) in particular can come up short. This is because official figures are calculated with a full battery and don't include our intensive motorway cycle. We test PHEVs with the battery empty, then charge it to full and run each test cycle six times or until the battery reaches 50% charge. Unless your car is plugged in every time you park, our figures give you a better idea of what to expect in real-world use.

You can reduce your running costs by making the switch to an electric car. If you charge it at home and switch to a competitive tariff, you will save money.

We reveal the best electric cars and the best hybrid cars.

3. 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. 

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.

To find out which models and apps we recommend, see our best sat navs.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

Need new tires? Read our guide to how to choose and where to buy car tyres.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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. 

10. 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.

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