How to save money on fuel

Fuel prices may be about to go up again, but there are ways you can save money on the cost of driving

Diesel, super unleaded and unleaded fuel pumps
(Image credit: Getty images)

Just as petrol and diesel prices crept down, another increase could be on its way as the world’s biggest oil producing companies cut production. Here’s how to keep your fuel costs as low as possible

The cost of filling up your car has been falling of late. The latest ‘fuel watch’ data from the RAC found that the average price of a litre of unleaded petrol is now around 162.43 pence, while a litre of diesel costs around 80.28 pence.

This is vastly more expensive than motorists would have had to pay a year ago ‒ back in October 2021, for example, a litre of petrol or diesel would have set you back 136.92 pence or 139.78 pence respectively.

But the fall in petrol prices might not last for long as oil supplier Opec [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] group, which includes countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia, said they would cut oil production by two million barrels per day. This is the biggest cut in oil production since the pandemic in 2020 and will have a knock-on effect on motorists, with prices going up again at the pumps. 

Their decision to ‘stabilise’ prices could have a knock-on effect on motorists, pushing prices back up. 

The news follows an unfortunate time, as prices were starting to come down slightly. Since 1 June, petrol prices have fallen 10% and 3% fall in the price paid at the pump. 

With prices still high compared to what drivers have paid in the recent past, and the continued pressure on household budgets due to the cost of living crisis, it’s crucial for all drivers to take whatever steps they can to make savings when filling up.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to reduce your fuel costs, as we explain.

FIND THE CHEAPEST PETROL AND DIESEL

Forget wasting time along with precious fuel driving the streets to track down the cheapest petrol station, websites and apps can help you pay less for fuel.

Take a look at our sister site GoCompare and use the tool to help you find the best petrol or diesel prices in your area (opens in new tab). Simply enter your postcode and the fuel type you’re buying to find the best price. 

You can also try PetrolPrices.com (opens in new tab) for the best price, which claims to save motorists about £226 a year on petrol and £158 on diesel - based on filling up with 40 litres of fuel a week. You can choose between a five and 20 mile radius, while pump prices are checked across 8,490 UK forecourts daily.

If you’re a member of the AA (opens in new tab), you can download its app that highlights the cheapest petrol and diesel locally if you enter your location.

AVOID PREMIUM UNLEADED 

Not all unleaded is the same, at least when it comes to the price. You’ll pay significantly more to fill your motor up with premium or super unleaded, so by switching to normal unleaded you could make a real saving.

For example, according to the RAC data the average cost of a litre of super unleaded today is 175.26 pence, compared to 162.59 pence for traditional leaded. For a typical 55 litre car, that’s the difference between paying £96 to fill up and £89. Over time, that saving will really add up.

Ultimately, most of the time you would notice a difference between normal unleaded and super unleaded is if you happen to drive a high-performance car.

SAVE MONEY BY BEING MORE FUEL EFFICIENT 

Many of us have bulky items in the boot of our car, such as a pram, sports equipment or even bags of things to take to the charity shop. However, you can save on fuel costs by clearing out your car. 

Ryan Fulthorpe, GoCompare’s motoring expert, says: “Your car burns more fuel the more weight it carries, so remove the roof rack and empty the boot."

According to the Energy Saving Trust (opens in new tab), a roof box adds 39% to a car’s fuel consumption when driving at 75mph, while a large roof rack can add about 16%.

And instead of making several short trips in one day, combining them in one mini road trip can save cash, according to the RAC’s Simon Williams.

“Once the engine is warm, it will operate at its most efficient, whereas several cold starts will increase fuel consumption, even though the total mileage could be the same”.

Also, use the automatic stop/start function - if your car has one - so it isn’t left idling unnecessarily in traffic. This improves fuel efficiency and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. If you don’t have an auto stop/start, just switch the engine off when the vehicle isn’t moving.

IMPROVE YOUR DRIVING TO USE LESS FUEL 

Many of us develop driving habits over the years that may not be very cost-effective. 

RAC's Simon Williams says: “The best tip for fuel-efficient driving is getting rid of the heavy right-foot habit because that leads to filling up far more frequently and spending far more at the pumps than is necessary. 

“There is no one driving speed that is optimum for fuel economy, but gentle acceleration and deceleration, and keeping a consistent speed within the speed limit makes for fuel-efficient and safe driving."

GET THE BALANCE RIGHT BETWEEN AIR CON AND OPENING WINDOWS 

When the weather’s warm, do you prefer to switch on the air conditioning or open the windows? Or do you sometimes mix and match?

While you should always avoid doing both at the same time, you should also think carefully about air con versus windows as they affect fuel consumption (and therefore your wallet) in different ways.

Generally speaking, it’s more efficient to open windows rather than use air conditioning when travelling at lower speeds, up to around 30mph. At faster speeds, air con is normally more economical due to the additional drag caused by open windows.

CASH IN WITH LOYALTY CARDS AND CASHBACK 

Fuel can be cheaper at supermarket forecourts compared to petrol stations owned by oil companies. You can make extra savings by using a supermarket loyalty card.

With the Tesco Clubcard (opens in new tab) scheme you can earn one point for every £2 spent on Tesco fuel. For every 150 points, you’ll get £1.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers, which you can use to cut the cost when you next fill up (or on your grocery shopping). And you can get a point for every £3 spent at Esso stations, providing they’ve got a Tesco Express shop.

With Nectar cards, you get one point on every litre of fuel at Sainsbury’s filling stations.

Other petrol stations have loyalty schemes - Shell Go+, BPme Rewards and Texaco Star Rewards - so if there’s one you use regularly, consider signing up.

You can also get cashback on fuel. The American Express Platinum Cashback Everyday (opens in new tab) card pays 5% cashback on spending, up to a maximum of £100, over the first three months, and then up to 1%. 

REFUEL WHEN IT’S COOL TO CUT COSTS 

“It might sound odd but filling up first thing in the morning can save money,” says GoCompare’s Ryan Fulthorpe. 

“Petrol and diesel are dense when it’s cooler and less dense when the temperature increases, and as fuel pumps only measure the volume of fuel, not the density, it might well be worth timing your garage stop. 

“Filling up in warmer weather could mean that the gallon you’ve put in your tank might not be a full gallon after all."

MAINTAIN YOUR MOTOR 

“Taking good care of your car will pay dividends when it comes to fuel consumption”, says Fulthorpe. “Change the air filter regularly, ensure your fuel cap has a good seal, and check and change the oil, as well as getting your fuel injectors cleaned." 

Engine oil levels are important for your vehicle to run smoothly: check your oil with the dipstick when the engine is cool, and top up if needed.

Having a valid MOT is a legal requirement to keep your vehicle on the road, however a service isn’t, and may seem an unnecessary expense if money is tight.

“Having your car serviced regularly can save you money in the long-run”, says Luke Bosdet, the AA’s fuel price spokesperson, “as minor wear and tear that need attention can be reported early."

CHECK YOUR TYRES 

Even if you don’t rate your skills as a car mechanic, it’s easy enough to check the air pressure of your tyres.  You can find the correct tyre pressure in the car manual or on the TyreSafe website. Your car may also alert you with a warning if it thinks the tyre pressure is incorrect.

If you don’t have a pressure gauge or tyre pump at home, many fuel stations offer an air pump. You may need to pay a small amount, like £1, to check and inflate the tyres.

“Under-inflated tyres can result in higher fuel consumption and can affect your car’s handling”, says AA's Luke Bosdet. “Hitting a kerb after losing control can result in tyre damage at best as an average tyre will cost you around £80."

“When checking your tyres, make sure the tread is above the legal limit (1.6mm) all the way around the tyre. Using the outer rim of a 20p coin to measure between the tread is a handy tip."

You should also check the wheel alignment. This helps ensure the tyre spins evenly around the axle, reducing rolling resistance with the road and improving the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Kwik Fit (opens in new tab) offers a free wheel alignment check.

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Sue Hayward
contributor

Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound.  Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!

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