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Cars & travel.

13 September 2021

How to save fuel and other money-saving driving tips

Spending too much money on petrol or electricity? Our guide shows you how to drive efficiently, cut your fuel and charging costs and make your money go further
Jade Harding
How to choose between petrol and diesel 2

As engines produce fewer emissions and get more frugal, and cheap-to-fuel electric cars become more mainstream, our fuel economy expectations grow. 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 or battery will get you.

In this guide we've put together our top 10 quick tips to improve your car's efficiency and cut your fuel 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. Fill up your tank at the supermarket

Supermarket petrol station

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. Supermarkets came out cheaper:

  • 105.04p – supermarkets
  • 110.80p – other forecourts

Petrol is also generally cheaper in towns and cities than in rural locations. But supermarkets, even those in the countryside, are still cheaper than oil-company-owned petrol stations in cities.

See our round-up of the best and worst supermarkets

2. Avoid premium unleaded 

While there's no harm in using super unleaded, there's usually no benefit either – unless you drive a high-performance or imported car that specifically requires it. 

Some older cars will also only be able to use premium unleaded because the high ethanol content in regular fuel could cause pipes to corrode. From 2021, the proportion of ethanol in unleaded will rise to 10% to further help reduce vehicle emissions. 

5% ethanol petrol (labelled E5) will continue to be sold to cater for older cars, although likely only as high-octane super unleaded. However, this will only affect a small proportion of cars. You can use the gov.uk website to check whether your vehicle is affected

So for most drivers, given that super unleaded typically costs 10 to 15p more per litre than normal unleaded, avoiding the premium pumps is definitely going to save you money. 

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.

3. Choose a greener car 

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.

If you're not yet ready to go electric, you could try a petrol-hybrid. Even though diesel cars have traditionally been seen as more fuel efficient, our tests have uncovered some incredibly economical petrol-hybrid models. 

But you need to choose carefully. One hybrid we've tested has very high emissions in our independent tests, while others also 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.

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

4. Install a home charger (if you can)

Home charging isn't possible for everyone. To be able to home charge, you’ll need off-road parking, such as a driveway or garage, and you need to be able to get power to it – not easy if you live in a flat or a busy city centre.

But if you drive an electric car and can install a charger, charging at home is almost certainly cheaper than using public chargers (unless you use free chargers – scroll down to find out more). 

There will be an initial outlay, though. To buy and install a charger you're looking at paying between £500 and £1,200 with either the OZEV wallbox or EVHS grant applied. But with the money you'll save on fuel and public charging, you'll earn this back over time. 

Find out more about electric car charging at home

5. Use free charging points

If you can't install a charger at home, try making use of free charging points near you. Various businesses, retail parks and regular car parks offer free charging, typically for paying customers of that business or service.

A number of supermarkets also now offer free charging. Tesco, for instance, has partnered up with Volkswagen and Pod Point. 

You can use the filters on the Zap-Map website to look for free charging points (go to the 'Payment' filter, then select 'free to use').

If there aren't any free chargers near you, try to avoid using rapid and ultra-rapid public chargers. They might be the fastest way to get electricity into your car, but they are also the most expensive.

See our guide to using electric car charging points

6. Use a sat nav

Using a sat nav

If you’re travelling somewhere you’re unfamiliar with, make sure you have planned your route well to stop you from getting lost and wasting fuel. 

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.

7. Drive smoothly

Accelerate smoothly, avoid harsh throttle inputs and ease off the gas where possible to help lower your fuel consumption. As a general guide, keep the revs between 1,500 and 2,500rpm (petrol engine) and 1,200 and 2,000rpm (diesel engine). 

Reading the road in front to stop you from having to brake unnecessarily will also improve efficiency. 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. Do be aware of traffic behind you: it's safer to touch your brakes so your brake lights show if a vehicle is particularly close. 

Gentle acceleration and avoiding unnecessary braking applies to electric cars, too. Plus, relying on regenerative braking in an electric car will also help maximise range and the lifespan of your mechanical brakes. 

8. Skip gears

Every car will be different, but there will be a happy medium between opting for a higher gear earlier and not labouring the engine too much. Red-lining the engine won’t improve your efficiency. Try changing up a gear 2,000rpm earlier than you usually do to see if the engine can cope with this.

Many new cars will also have a gear-shift indicator, informing you of the most economical point to change gear. 

Short shifting – eg skipping gears such as going directly from 1st to 3rd – can also help to reduce fuel consumption. 

9. Stick to the speed limit

The faster you drive, the higher your fuel consumption will be. 

Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that driving on the motorway at 80mph uses around 25% more fuel than driving at 70mph. Travelling at 70mph instead of 60mph in an open speed limit zone will use 9% more fuel, and an additional 5% more than driving at 50mph.

10. Check tyre pressure

Checking tyre pressure on a car

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). Underinflated tyres develop more rolling resistance than correctly inflated tyres, so you’ll have to work your engine slightly harder when there isn’t enough air in them.  

An incorrectly inflated tyre is also likely to wear prematurely or unevenly, meaning you'll need to change them more often.

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

11. Empty your boot and reduce drag

Remove all unnecessary equipment. Roof racks and external boxes and bicycle carriers all add weight, so detach them when they're not needed. Extra weight means the engine has to work harder to get the car up to speed, thereby increasing fuel consumption. 

They will also increase wind resistance. The same also applies to any bent bodywork or ill-fitting trim pieces. Opening your windows can also cause significant drag, so keep them closed if you can when driving at higher speeds.

12. 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 leaving your car running and relying on the heating. 

Watch our video to find out how to de-ice your windscreen properly.

13. Turn equipment off

Car air conditioning

The biggest sapping item of equipment in most modern cars is the air con. Only use it when you really have to, which isn’t too often in this country. 

The same goes for the heated rear screen, demisters and headlights – if you don’t need them, switch them off.

14. 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 run more efficiently.

Our guide explains how to find a good garage near you.  

15. Use cashback schemes

Lots of petrol stations and supermarkets now offer loyalty cards to encourage customers to continue filling up with them. 

The schemes usually work in the same way: every time a customer buys fuel, they swipe their loyalty card and points are accumulated that can be exchanged for discounts at a later date. 

If you regularly fill up at the same station or you always fill up after your food shop, signing up to a loyalty card could help you save money. 

Not sure which car to buy next? Compare fuel costs using the fuel economy data in each one of our comprehensive car reviews


*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 focused solely on petrol due to the dramatic decrease in demand for diesel-powered cars.