Petrol ain’t cheap – and it’s not too kind on our environment, either. But when you’ve got kids to ferry around and no-one else to take the pressure off, sometimes you need to make the most of your time by jumping in the car.

Rather than just biting the bullet and putting up with those costs, though, it is possible to reduce your fuel bill by applying new approaches to the way you drive. From preparation through taking the journey, to taking care of your car afterwards, there are plenty of tweaks you can make to your approach if you want to reduce the amount of petrol you’re burning up.

One obvious way to do so is to avoid the traffic. While of course you can always check online before you leave home, sometimes conditions change when you’re already out and about. If you carry a phone that carries the Android operating system, you can use Google Maps to get up to the minute traffic data at the touch of an icon. (It’s the little black car icon, by the way). Just be sure to do so while you’re safely parked with the engine off!

That’s not to say that getting to your destination faster will necessarily save you fuel. In fact, driving at between 55 and 65mph will use up less fuel on the motorway than taking it up to 70. Use that time you saved yourself by avoiding traffic to move a little slower on the motorway. This Zen pace should also mean you’re less inclined to push that pedal to overtake other road users – which is another fuel-burning habit.

And how are your gear changes? Most of us learn the principles of changing gear when we first learn to drive – and after that we just change gear according to what we hear and feel on the move. In fact, there are optimum moments to change gear if you want to keep your motor healthy and your petrol costs down, and they’re simple to remember: if you’re driving a diesel car, shift gear when you hit 2000rpm; in a petrol car, your target is 2500rpm.

Air conditioning has a complex relationship with fuel use. We’ll leave the physics to the experts, but it is handy to know that using air-con at low speeds will burn up your fuel quickly, but once you hit 55mph and above you will actually use up more fuel if you opt to keep the windows open instead.

Perhaps you’ve been in one of these cars that has the new-fangled stop-start system – whereby the engine cuts out at traffic lights and starts again when you hit the accelerator. While many dismiss this as some kind of black magic, it’s actually super-good for your purse and for the environment. But if you have an old-fangled car without this system, don’t be tempted to replicate it by switching off your engine for short stops – without the stop-start system in place, this only uses up more fuel. When you’re on the move, accelerate softly, keep your speed steady, and break gently to preserve fuel levels. These approaches will also save on general wear and tear to your beloved runaround.

And you can extend this care to your maintenance routine between journeys. Look out for energy-conserving engine oil in the shops, and keep your tyres inflated to let physics take some of the pressure off your fuel use. There should be a tyre-pressure advisory sticker in your doorframe or on your petrol cap, or if not then check the manual.

Saving fuel while making those essential journeys is easy once you get in the habit. For a
few more petrol-saving disciplines, check out this infographic from OnStride. It’s not always possible to avoid taking the car out, but what you can change is your philosophy to how you do so.

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Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.

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