With petrol prices at record levels and the trend continuing upwards, drivers need to be aware of their impact on fuel consumption and make simple changes to become more fuel-efficient, writes Simon Elstow from IAM Drive & Survive
We all consider value for money and miles per gallon when we buy a car, but the answer to rising fuel prices is not just in fuel-efficient cars; it’s in the person behind the wheel. It’s time to change our driving habits.
My first tip, which may seem odd coming from a driver training organisation, is to get out of your car. It’s the shortest journeys – less than two miles – that cause the most pollution and burn fuel. A straining cold engine produces 60 per cent more pollution than a warm one. These shorter journeys are ideal for walking or cycling. If you do take the car, plan your route to avoid short regular stops. A bit of planning saves time and money. The shortest ‘cut-through’ route is not always the most economic, so experiment.
Speed humps can cause ‘slow-down, speed-up’ driving, and they are found most commonly in 20mph zones. Most drivers slow down for the hump, then accelerate, even though it should be possible to drive at a constant speed. You can cross most speed humps safely at 20mph, i.e, if you stick to the speed limit.
Sitting in traffic means you are often doing zero miles per hour so, if possible, avoid busy times and, if you are not moving and have a warm engine, turn it off.
Smoothly does it
Drive smoothly. An obvious but often overlooked tip is to get off the throttle. Hurtling down the motorway and stopping and starting abruptly puts a lot of stress on the engine and tyres and drinks petrol. Going easy on the accelerator to maintain a constant speed – with gentler starting and stopping – will save you money. You’ll also use the brakes less often, making for a safer drive. It’s a tip that works for any driver in any vehicle.
Try lifting off the accelerator earlier – practice seeing how early you can lift off the accelerator before a stop. The longer you can stay off the accelerator the more fuel you save. And try the same when in flowing traffic: in many situations drivers stay on the accelerator a little because they imagine that this is needed to keep going.
You can also experiment with a method I call ‘pulse and glide’ – test how much of a short burst of acceleration you need on a level road to be able to stay off the accelerator for the longest time. This is more efficient than simply accelerating gradually on roads with few steep uphill gradients. But keep an eye on the traffic behind you – speeding up and slowing down is unnerving for the driver close behind.
Choosing the right speed – of course within the limits – improves fuel efficiency and road safety. For example, on a straight road where the national speed limit is in force, 50mph is the optimum speed for fuel efficiency.
You’ll use more fuel starting off and braking so improving your observation, anticipation and awareness increases your safety, and again reduces the cost of fuel and maintenance. Don’t just check the car in front, check the road ahead. It helps to keep the car on the move and means you’ll be able to manoeuvre at the right speed. Set yourself a goal to see how far you can drive without stopping.
Get into the habit of accelerating gradually to the most fuel-efficient speed while looking ahead. There’s no point accelerating into a red light or traffic queue. Anticipating junctions and lights will also reduce the amount of time you are stopping with the engine still running.
Change gear as soon as possible, ideally at around 1,500 – 2,500 revs. You could also try block changing – changing up or down directly into the gear that’s right for your speed, rather than slavishly working your way through the gears.
Love your car
Check your car regularly. Properly inflated tyres alone improve fuel efficiency by between five and 10 per cent. A regular service will keep your car running efficiently. Under-serviced engines can reduce fuel economy by 10 per cent or more.
And finally, empty the boot of all that unnecessary junk and take off the roof rack and any other fittings that might create drag.
While aircon is fine to use and very economic on a long trip, adding only about 1.3 per cent to fuel consumption, it is much thirstier if it has to cool a hot, sun-soaked car on a succession of short runs – up to 10 per cent. Try to park out of the sun and open the windows for a few minutes before turning the aircon on. Around town open your windows, but when travelling at 70mph on the motorway, aircon is more efficient than the drag having the windows open creates.
And turn the aircon back off if you open the windows – aircon on and windows open is like throwing fivers onto the road.
Reversing into parking spaces means you do the fiddly bits with a warm engine rather than manoeuvring for ages with a cold, fuel drinking engine. Driving the car as soon as you start it is the quickest way to warm it up and make it efficient; de-frosting the windows by leaving the engine running is very expensive so buy a cheap scraper and save fuel.
Carry on cruising
On a good, straight road, use cruise control – on a motorway, setting it to 70mph can typically save at least 10 per cent. But turn it off on hilly roads – the car will have to use a lot of fuel to maintain the set speed up steep climbs, and control will be reduced going downhill. Change down a gear or two whether climbing or descending steeply to help the car out and drive safely. This is especially important in automatics, and on the subject of automatics, ensure they’re not on the ‘sport’ setting: this increases the revs and thus fuel usage.
Avoid dangerous driving
Slipstreaming – following a large vehicle closely to benefit from the reduced air resistance – is risky and doesn’t give a significant gain. Similarly, coasting – travelling with the car out of gear (generally rolling downhill) – causes you to lose engine braking and the ability to accelerate out of a situation and with modern fuel systems won’t save you fuel.
If you have one, set the in-car coach – the instantaneous fuel reading. This will inform you of how you are getting on with all of the above driving tips. But most importantly keep your attention on the road in front of you – there is nothing less eco-friendly than a collision, and driving safely should be your ultimate aim at all times.
Start doing these things today. They are not only good for your pocket, they are good for the environment and good for your safety.
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