Monday 25 April 2022

Driving efficiency

Fuel prices have increased dramatically over the last few months, with an increase in the UK of around 20p per-litre compared to this time last year, adding to the very real threat of fuel poverty for many.

You don’t need us to tell you that factors affecting fuel prices are complex, with global crude prices, retailer margins, duties and taxes and – as we see now – the pressures of cross-border conflicts, all affecting cost.

But not everything cost related is outside our control. We may not have a say in how much we pay for our fuel, but we do have a say in how much we use. Efficiency may not be something that crosses many people's minds when driving, but it should be. Efficient driving techniques can be easily implemented by any driver or biker, and not only can they lower fuel consumption, but they can reduce vehicle wear and tear, improve driving skills, increase self-awareness and awareness of other road users, and help you to better understand how a vehicle and its systems work.

Most of you will have heard the term Hypermiling, driving a vehicle using techniques for ultimate fuel efficiency. You'll also likely have heard stories of extreme hypermiling feats, such as driving over 1000 miles on one tank of fuel. While obtaining that level of efficiency requires a Zen-like application of will, technique, and a little science, there are plenty of things we can apply to our own driving without first having to retreat to a Buddhist monastery for a few years. They can even make driving more fun, and bring a new awareness of your driving habits, good and bad.

We have a handful of tips that aim to improve your fuel economy, with the helpful side effect of improving your driving techniques at the same time. Let’s look a five simple steps all drivers can take to improve driving efficiency, lower fuel bills, and reduce carbon emissions. If you really want to improve your driving efficiency, check out The Efficient Drivers Handbook, beneath the tips below, for your one-stop pocket-sized guide to efficient driving.

To drive or not to drive; that is the question

"To drive," that is the answer! Sorted.

Okay, just kidding. We may want to get behind the wheel or handlebars at every opportunity, but the single most effective way to save fuel is – duh! – to not drive or bike. So, also sorted.

Well, okay; maybe not. We’d be the last people to preach leaving the car at home, or suggest you manhandle that old sofa to the recycling plant on your bicycle, but we do recommend planning every journey, and not driving if it’s not necessary. If you simply need tinned beans from the grocer at the end of the block, you should probably leave the Humvee at home and take Shanks’s pony instead. You’ll save wear and tear on your beloved chariot, if nothing else. 


Driving habits aside, probably the most important aspect of ensuring your vehicle is running efficiently is keeping it properly maintained. Never skimp on servicing, visual checks for tyres and components, and regular fluid checks, always topping-up as needed. One rarely checked major component that can reduce your fuel economy is the air-filter: this can add 10% to your fuel consumption if clogged or dusty, so give it a good clean or replace it with a new one. 

Not only is maintenance imperative for safety – yours and others – it also ensures that everything is working as it was designed to, and at its most efficient. And don’t feel you need to pay a pro to do all your maintenance; many repairs can be easily carried out at home with minimal tools or expertise. Yes, we do have a book for that: in fact, we have a handful. Check the list at the end of this post.

Lose the fat

When it comes to performance, horsepower may be the poster boy, but as Colin Chapman once summarised, "subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere." Chapman may have been talking about speed on track, but if you swap 'faster' for 'use less fuel' the saying becomes the perfect mantra for efficient road driving. 

Checking what you carry in your vehicle, removing unnecessary kids’ toys, empty bottles, boot organisers, etc, only has a small effect – but it is cumulative; that’s why race engineers go to extreme lengths to shave mere grams off each component.

It’s not all small change though; one item that can usually be removed easily and offers a much bigger effect is the spare wheel. Installing run-flat tyres or carrying a foam puncture repair kit can bag you a 20kg saving.

If you’re confident fuel prices won’t sky-rocket between fills, don’t brim your tank when you get fuel. An average fuel tank with a 55 litre capacity weighs roughly 41kg to 46kg when full, depending on fuel type. Half-fill your tank instead, and you’ll only be carrying 20kg to 23kg of fuel. If you do this and swap the spare, and you could see an almost 40kg reduction – a difference you’ll feel behind the wheel, as well as at the pumps. Speaking of which …

Pump it

Tyres have a huge effect on fuel economy, and while safety is the keyword for tyre manufacturers, lightweight and efficiency now command a large part of their development. While you can opt for low rolling resistance tyres offering less drag, you don’t have to shell-out on new boots for improved efficiency. According to the National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US, for every 10% under your tyres recommended pressure, you’ll increase fuel consumption by 2%. 

To put actual numbers to that stat, if you're running a typical tyre with an optimal rating of 35psi at 10% lower pressure – that’s at 31.5psi  – you’ll loose 2% fuel economy. That’s quite a drop for such a small difference. Make sure you set your tyres at the correct pressure, measured when the tyres are cold (the hotter the tyre, the higher the pressure reading), and double check every week or two, as your tyres may lose air at differing rates.

Hyper inflation?

Tyres have a range of operating pressures for different loads and speeds, but, sometimes, a driver might lower or raise the pressure to get better grip or control in certain situations. Now that’s not something the average driver should ever need to do, and go too far in either direction, and you’re in potentially dangerous territory, both in handling and safety terms.

The optimum pressure ranges for a vehicle's tyres are usually shown on a plate attached inside the door shut of your vehicle, showing the pressure to use with differing loads (in the US, it's a legal requirement to mark maximum pressure on the tyre sidewall). These should be used as your minimum inflation values. Increasing the pressure by just a few PSI – say +3 to 5psi – can improve economy by a few percent. Small, yes, but it all adds up. 

Smoother, slower

If there’s one thing guaranteed to burn fuel, it’s hard braking and acceleration. Acceleration is an obvious fuel-burner, but braking is simply converting your speed – speed that you spent hard-earned cash attaining – into heat … not the most efficient use of your fuel, I think you’ll agree. 

Smooth acceleration and braking can have a massive effect on efficiency, and could even save you a small fortune in fuel bills: European economy tests have shown that aggressive driving, with frequent rapid acceleration and hard braking, can increase fuel consumption by around 40%. Reduce your speed just a little, too, and you’ll save even more: just 5mph-10mph slower can increase economy by 7%-14%, 

Add the numbers, and you could potentially see a 50% improvement in your fuel economy. That's quite a saving from simply not flooring it away from the lights, not maxing the speed limit, and learning to anticipate the road ahead. Accelerating gently, staying under the speed limit, and allowing your car to slow naturally for corners and junctions are all tricks that you can use not only to reduce your fuel bill, but also improve your driving techniques and road awareness. 


Obviously, there are many more steps that can be taken to reduce your fuel spend: limiting your use of air-con, removing roof bars and drag-inducing items, not idling for more than 10 seconds, changing gear at the correct engine speed, etc. Even if you only implement the steps above,  you could see economy improvements, potentially, of up to 50%; imagine the improvement you could make if you combined the tips above with other efficiency tips!

Queue The Efficient Driver’s Handbook. This pocket-sized tome of wisdom may have been in print for a few years, but it's more relevant today than ever before. Penned by Dave Moss, a motoring journalist for over 30 years, and a long-time researcher of economy driving techniques, this guide should be your first port of call for all your efficient driving tips, hints and techniques. Not only does it cover every aspect, from choosing an energy efficient vehicle, to driving techniques that lower fuel use, it even covers gadgets, future fuel technologies, and government guidance. And while it has forensic levels of detail, it’s easy to read and easy to understand, presenting genuinely useful tips that anybody can learn and use to improve their driving efficiency and safety.

The Efficient Driver's Handbook

Your guide to fuel efficient driving techniques and car choice

ONLY £9.99

SKU V4351

Specification Paperback • 21x14.8cm • 96 pages • 32 colour pictures

ISBN 978-1-845843-51-9

UPC 6-36847-04351-3 

FIND OUT MORE or BUY NOW – don't forget to use your On the Grid new subscriber discount!

If you want to make even more efficiency savings, learn how to look after and maintain your car, bike or scooter with our range of RAC Handbooks

Did we forget something?

There are dozens of ways to make your vehicle and fuel use more efficient, but do you use an efficiency tip or trick that you’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere? Let us know in the comments below … it could even bag you a discount on Veloce books!

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