How to save money on fuel

Here's how to find cheap fuel and keep your petrol and diesel costs down

Fuel pump.Colorful petrol pump filling nozzles
(Image credit: Getty)

Motorists continue to look for ways to cut fuel costs, with petrol and diesel prices remaining stubbornly high.

While the prices have come down slightly since the record-highs seen in March - thanks partly to the 5p fuel duty cut - the cost of filling up a car is still eye-wateringly expensive. 

According to the latest figures from RAC Fuel Watch, the average price for unleaded is 161.93 pence per litre while the average price for diesel is 175.89 pence per litre.

Announcing the 5p a litre fuel duty cut in last month’s Spring Statement, the chancellor said it was only the second time in 20 years that fuel duty had been cut, and that the discount would remain in place for one year until March 2023.

However, experts criticised the cut as being merely “a drop in the ocean”. The RAC said it would save the average motorist just £3 when filling the average 55-litre family car.

The cost of fuel has been pushed up due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has destabilised oil prices worldwide. 

But it is possible to make savings on your fuel costs - we explain how.

How to find cheap fuel

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.

Use PetrolPrices.com to save 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 petrol stations daily.

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

Boost fuel efficiency to save money

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, 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 the most cost-effective.  

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

Now the weather’s getting warmer, you’re probably switching on the air conditioning in your car or opening the windows - or both!

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 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 of your next fill. 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 card pays 5% cashback on spending, (up to a maximum £100 cashback), 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 is 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 Ryan 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 your tyres.  You can find the correct tyre pressure in the car manual or on the TyreSafe website. 

“Under-inflated tyres can result in higher fuel consumption and can affect your car’s handling”, says 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 offers a free wheel alignment check.

Sue Hayward
Sue Hayward

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!

With contributions from