Wherever you look right now there is a general air of “it has all gone a bit wrong”. Tanker drivers are talking about strike action; less than intelligent advice from the government led to a run on petrol pumps for 4 days up and down the country (but it did net them an additional £40m before the end of the financial year … hmm …); news reports suggest stations are still running out of one or more types of fuel due to demand outstripping supply; prices have risen as much as 20p/litre in some areas. Negative negative negative!
If you need your car but cannot afford the price of petrol, and fear the strike action and shortages I’m sorry to say I don’t have a magic wand to make it all better. But there are some simple things you can do to make sure you get the absolute most out of every litre you buy.
Keep it Serviced – Your vehicle is a complex piece of machinery that works at its best when well cared for. Clean out or change that air filter, give it an oil change, or drop it in a little early for that annual service. A well-serviced vehicle can improve your MPG by up to 15%.
Empty the Boot - Is your vehicle used like a secondary storage cupboard? Do you have a boot filled with ‘stuff’? Every time you accelerate your car down the road, you’re using fuel unnecessarily by having to accelerate that ‘stuff’ as well as you and the vehicle itself. Take 5 minutes today and assess what is in your car. Do you need it? Will you use it? If the answer is no, take it out.
Inflation is Good – When it comes to your tyres, anyway. Dig out the owners manual for your vehicle and find out what tyre pressures you should have, then check them. If you don’t have any method of doing this at home, next time you’re passing a Shell petrol station, dive in. They usually offer free Water & Air at every garage. If you do a lot of high milage high speed driving, consider pumping 1 PSI above the recommended level for a little bit more of an efficiency edge. Check them monthly to keep that edge.
Kill Your Speed – Speeding might hurt your pocket in obvious ways, i.e. 3 points on your license and a £60 fine in your wallet. But it hurts in less obvious ways as well. If you get caught, you lose time. An average traffic stop consumes around 30 minutes. Your insurance premium may well go up if you get points on your license, which will keep costing you for up to 4 years. But going faster also consumes more fuel as well; Slowing down and keeping to the limit will keep the police off your tail, and more miles traveled between tanks. On 70mph roads, drop into the left hand lane and cruise at 60mph instead of 70. You probably won’t get there any slower and you’ll have considerably more fuel left, too.
Drive Smoothly – Harsh acceleration drinks fuel. Harsh braking eats brakes. Cut your maintenance costs and fueling costs by anticipating further ahead than you might be accustomed to by training yourself to look to the horizon. Anticipating events that appear to be brewing ahead (traffic lights, queues, junctions etc) and laying off the accelerator 20 seconds earlier will reduce your speed, and cut the amount of petrol you burn. As an added benefit, your passengers will enjoy being in the car with you as they no longer feel like they’re in an Exocet missile.
Idle? Switch Off! – It happens, and yes it is annoying, but it doesn’t have to cost your wallet as well as your timepiece. The gates come down at the level crossing just as you approach. Kill your engine: chances are you’re going to be there for at least 5 minutes. In a modern engine, 1 minute of idling is the same as driving 1km. Save yourself 5km’s of road driving, and switch off while you wait. You’ll also help cut emissions and noise pollution at the same time.
Find Cheaper Fuel – A little forward planning goes a long way. Don’t wait until your car is complaining you’ve got less than 2 minutes to find it some fuel or it’ll dump you on the side of the motorway. While I advocate only buying 3/4 of a tank at a time (remember – extra weight costs money to shift, and fuel is heavy!), I recommend doing your homework first before pulling in to any random garage. Today, the prices range from 139.9 in my area, to 151.9 for a litre of petrol, if you can find any at all! That’s a serious ‘per litre’ difference. Sign up at PetrolPrices.com (it’s free) and you can see what stations near you are charging right now without having to waste fuel driving around.
Take Advantage - There are some handy promotions out there at the moment. Tesco is running 5p off per litre when you spend £50 on shopping. Shell have a 10p off per litre promotion when you buy selected shop products, and BP and Sainsbury’s offer Nectar points. If all else fails (or indeed, as well) be sure to pay on a cash-back credit card that you pay off every month so you at least effectively get some percentage off your total bill.
A few minutes work and modifying your driving style will save you literally hundreds of pounds over the course of a year with minimal effort, and ensure you get the maximum efficiency from your vehicle, and the most miles from your precious tank.