Drive down car fuel costs and cut your carbon dioxide footprint

11 September 2018
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Moneywise’s top tips on how to cut your fuel consumption – it’s easier than you think.

Whether you use your car as a runaround or for your daily commute, you’ll want to get the maximum mileage for your money. 

We are bombarded with ways to reduce our energy consumption in the home, alongside the subsequent financial and environmental benefits.

But how often do we hear about ways to save money and carbon dioxide (CO2) – a major cause of global warming – on the second most expensive purchase in our household, the car?

Our love affair with cars has been ongoing for decades.

According to the government’s vehicle licensing statistics, at the end of March 2018 (the latest figures available at the time of writing), there were 37.9 million vehicles licensed for use on roads in Great Britain.

Meanwhile, the government’s National Travel Survey in 2018 found the average car driver in England covered around 6,580 miles last year.

We spend around £777 on fuel annually, based on the average petrol price of £1.20 a litre (using figures from motoring organisation the AA in March 2018). This fuel expenditure results in a CO2 imprint of about 1,550 kg (based on one of the most popular premium cars on our roads, according to the car buying and selling site RAC Cars – the BMW 3 series saloon or touring model).

In fact, EU statistics estimate that driving accounts for around 12% of worldwide CO2 emissions.

But with some thought and effort, when we drive we can reduce our fuel usage, keep a lot more money in our pockets and collectively make a positive difference on reducing our CO2 imprint. Here’s how.

Driving accounts for about 12% of the world’s CO2 output

Car engine

Leave the car at home

I bet you didn’t know that just under 24% of car journeys in England are for distances of under one mile (1.6km), according to the government’s National Travel Survey 2018.

So why not walk or cycle instead? According to NHS Choices, adults aged 19 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, which can be cycling or brisk walking. Ditching your car for just one mile a day, twice a day, will also save you around £40 in fuel over a year, and reduces your annual CO2 imprint by about 76kg.

Work at home

If your job and your company allow it, try working from home at least once a week. This is good in so many ways; more family time, extra time in bed, quiet concentration time, and, of course, no travelling.

The possible savings if you could avoid a 31-mile (50km) round trip once a week could be as high as £140 and 275kg in CO2 a year.

Car share

Did you watch the BBC1 comedy series Peter Kay’s Car Share? Not only was it great TV, but it also had an important underlying environmental message. More people sharing car journeys lowers our individual CO2 imprints and reduces costs for everyone.

If you share a 12-mile (20km) round trip to work five times a week with a friend, it will save each person in the car around £3 a week and in a 45-week working year that’s a significant saving of £140 and 275kg of CO2.

You can use sites such as BlaBlacar.co.uk, GoCarShare.com and Liftshare.com to find people who live near you to carpool your journeys with.

Check the fuel efficiency of your car

If you have a car that was made in the past few years, you can check its fuel consumption data at Fuel-Economy.co.uk.

If you discover that your car guzzles fuel, you may want to consider swapping it for a more fuel-efficient model.

Sharing a 12-mile round trip drive to work saves you £140 and 275kg of CO2 a year

However, a smaller car doesn’t necessarily always equate to better fuel efficiency. According to car buying publication What Car?’s ‘True Mpg’ (miles per gallon) ratings for 2018, the 10 most efficient small cars achieve 50.3 to 57.8mpg. In comparison, the 10 most efficient family cars have an mpg of 47.2 to 56.3, while the 10 most fuel-efficient SUVs have an mpg of 45.6 to 59.6.

It’s also worth noting that diesel cars emit other harmful gases, nitrogen oxides (NOx), which were responsible for 38,000 deaths worldwide in 2015, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. So measures to improve fuel efficiency may even help to save lives.

Take care of your car

Service your car annually. Looking after your vehicle can help improve your mpg by up to 4%.

On top of that, using the correct type of oil can improve your fuel efficiency by an extra 2%.

Overall, this could add up to as much as £47 saved and a reduction of 93kg of CO2 a year.

Family in car

A few quick checks before you set off

Before you set off on a journey, there are a few quick checks you can make to increase the efficiency of your car. These may seem trivial, but every little helps.

You can save on fuel by making sure your tyres are at the correct pressure. Under-inflated tyres create more rolling resistance and so use more fuel; according to Fuel-Economy.co.uk, doing this could improve your fuel efficiency by up to 3%.

Also remove any unnecessary weight from the boot of your car; losing 45kg can improve your fuel economy by around 2%, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

If only I had known this when I worked in the rail industry. At that time, I carried lots of heavy tools and equipment around in the car to meetings all over the UK. But my laziness and ignorance of leaving the kit in the car over the weekend was costing me money every time I went for a drive. If I drove 93 miles (150km) each weekend without my tools in the back, I could have saved £10 a year and 19kg in CO2.

Plus, how often do you see a car with a roof rack or a top box sitting at the local supermarket? I bet that roof accessory has been attached to the car since the owner’s last holiday. That could be days, weeks or even a year. An car without a roof rack is more aerodynamic, using less fuel and, by definition, pumping out less CO2. This could save you up to 25% of your fuel consumption, according to the Money Advice Service.

Drive down fuel costs on the road

Now you are sat behind the wheel, you can reduce fuel consumption and CO2 output by 20% if you accelerate and decelerate gently.

Keep the engine revs low and change gear as soon as possible without labouring the engine – try changing at an engine speed of around 2,000 rpm (revolutions per minute) in a diesel car or around 2,500 rpm in a petrol car.

And how many of us fancy ourselves as a bit of a Lewis Hamilton? Maybe you won’t be as keen when you check the horrendous increase in fuel consumption as you increase speed. Driving at 70 mph uses up to 10% more fuel than at 60 mph, and up to 15% more than at 50 mph. If you are a complete revhead and drive at 85 mph, your car will consume 40% more fuel than if you travel at 55 mph. So, not only are you breaking the law, but you are breaking your own bank as well, and seriously increasing your CO2 imprint.

If you think you’ll be at a standstill in traffic for more than about 10 to 15 seconds, reduce your fuel consumption by switching off your engine. It also helps reduce air pollution.

Wheel

Remember to use your gears too. A vehicle travelling at 37 mph in third gear uses 25% more fuel than it would at the same speed in fifth gear. Use the right gear for the speed you are travelling. Unfortunately, some people seem to forget that there are more gears after third.

You can also coast – putting the gears in neutral and letting the engine revs drop (if it is safe to do so) – when going down hills and approaching red lights.

Take care how you use air conditioning. Having the aircon on puts an extra load on the engine, says the RAC, which means you will use more fuel. However, you should also try to keep windows and sun roofs closed. This reduces wind resistance, which can save on fuel consumption.

Driving at 70mph uses 15% more fuel than at 50mph

Monitor your fuel economy

Even if you’re not a fan of spreadsheets, keeping track of your fuel economy is a good idea. A simple way to do this is to check how many miles (or km) you can cover with a full tank of fuel – especially if you have consistent journeys, such as travelling to work.

Jot these figures down and you’ll soon see if making the changes mentioned in this article will have a positive effect on your mpg.

Alternatively, many cars now have a dashboard reading that shows your mpg even as you drive. So you can use this to check the effect of over-accelerating and find the optimum speed for fuel economy.

Tony Whittingham is director of EcoFrenzy.com, a non-commercial not-for-profit organisation that helps you save money and the environment in everyday life by minimising waste, pollution and carbon dioxide output.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

A good article but coasting is not a safe practice to encourageRule 122 Highway CodeCoasting. This term describes a vehicle travelling in neutral or with the clutch pressed down. It can reduce driver control because engine braking is eliminated vehicle speed downhill will increase quickly increased use of the footbrake can reduce its effectiveness steering response will be affected, particularly on bends and corners it may be more difficult to select the appropriate gear when needed.Alternatively, especially with modern fuel injection systems, releasing the accelerator will cut the supply of fuel.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What does one do about people who sit in their parked cars and leave the engine running?

In reply to by Colin (not verified)

Totally agree with Colin: plus do not put your car into 5th gear at 37mph, otherwise not only will the car labour (increasing mpg) but you have less control of your vehicle. At the most you can use 4th, using 5th gear for driving distances where it is obvious you are unlikely to need to slow down. For a better approach to improving fuel economy AND improving your driving, take the RoSPA or IAM driving test...much of it is common sense!

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