Drive slowly, change gear and read the road: how to make your petrol go further

With petrol prices going through the £2 a litre mark at pumps around the UK, making the most of the fuel you put in your tank is more important than ever. Here are some tips that could help your money go further, literally.

Drive more slowly

Driving quickly uses more fuel. According to the RAC, although there is no optimum driving speed for fuel economy, typically “cars are most fuel-efficient at between 45 and 50mph” – that’s below the speed limit on open roads and motorways. On a motorway, driving at 80mph rather than 70mph is not only illegal, but will cost you: figures from the Department for Transport show that it can use as much as 25% more fuel.

Change gear

You will get the most miles for each gallon if you gear up when you can – the Energy Saving Trust recommends you change up early, “usually by around 2,000rpm”.

Aim for less braking

Smooth driving is more fuel-efficient than speeding up and braking suddenly, so aim to anticipate stops and take your foot off the accelerator. In March, Kevin Booker – a “hypermiler” who holds a world record for energy-efficient driving, told Guardian readers: “Read the road ahead for traffic lights and roundabouts, so you always keep moving. If there’s a green light a fair distance off, there’s a high probability it will be red by the time you get to it. It’s all about pacing, so you get there when it’s green. With roundabouts, feed into them rather than stop.”

Reduce your load

Empty your boot of unnecessary clutter and take off your roof box if you’re not using it – any extra weight means you need extra fuel to move the car. Some analysis of roof boxes has suggested they can increase how much petrol you use by 50%, but other tests have found negligible difference. Road conditions and the shape of your roof box will play a part in fuel use.

Plan your journeys

Use a satnav to find the shortest route – or the most economical. Google Maps has been rolling out eco-friendly routing where, in addition to showing the fastest route, it will also display the one that is the most fuel-efficient (if it doesn’t happen to also be the fastest). TomTom offers the same option. Where possible, combine trips rather than making several separate journeys.

Monitor your use

Get a sense of when and where you are using the most petrol by using an app to keep tabs on your use. Fuelio is one option – you can input details of when you fill up and log your mileage and get stats on your fuel economy.

Pump up your tyres

Letting the pressure fall on your tyres will mean you need to use more fuel, so keep them pumped up appropriately to reduce consumption. The RAC cites experts as saying that correctly inflated tyres can improve the mileage you get out of fuel by up to 3%. But do not be tempted to overinflate them, as that can lead to a loss of control – stick to the recommended pressure for your vehicle.

Turn off the air-con on short journeys

On short journeys on city roads opening the windows will be more fuel-efficient than putting on the air conditioning. On long journeys on the motorway, tests typically show that the air-con becomes more efficient, but opening the windows when you first set off to let out the hot air that’s in the car will save you paying to cool it down. After that, don’t drive with the air-con on and windows open at the same time – you are just wasting money.

But don’t coast

You may have done it in the past, but taking the car out of gear to roll down a hill is an unwise way to try to save fuel. It can be dangerous, because you can not react to other traffic as quickly, and with today’s vehicles it is likely to cost you fuel rather than saving it.