Fuel Efficient Driving

 

Introduction
Fuel prices have been up and down a lot in recent years – but there’s no doubting the long-term trend is upward. We know it’s likely that we’ll all pay more for electricity, gas… and fuel for our cars.

It’s reckoned that road traffic is the second biggest cause of global warming, yet it would be hard for most of us to manage without a car. It therefore makes sense – from an environmental as well as an economy point of view – to get the maximum from every drop of fuel we’re paying for.

Therefore if you have to drive, it makes sense to drive in the most eco-friendly way possible.  If you’re already mindful of the expense that goes with having a heavy right foot, then you’ll know the savings can be significant. If you haven’t really given a lot of thought to the topic, then you probably stand to save the most!

There may be an inclination to think, “Well, what’s a few litres here and there in the general course of things…” but if we all did our bit to drive in a more eco-friendly way, just think of the millions of litres of fuel that could be saved every year.

Getting started is easy, by the way. You don’t have to be an amazingly skilled, advanced driver to make these techniques work. In fact, you’ll soon see that there’s no secret to the process of eco-driving. It’s 90% down to common sense!

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A change of attitude
OK, so the car accelerates because you depress your right foot. But, to make the change to a more eco-friendly style of driving, you need to adopt a calm, measured, defensive attitude where competing with other drivers is definitely out. If you’re already in the ‘calm’ zone, then you’ll already be aware of the benefits that come from a more measured, rational and defensive attitude. If you’re not quite there yet, or you know someone else who has yet to make the change, then take comfort from the genuine advantages of doing things differently. After all, avoiding competition reduces the risks you face and the risks you pose – as well as making your journeys more economical.

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Maintaining your car
A properly maintained car stands a better chance of running economically than a car that’s not looked after. In fact, a poorly tuned engine can use up to 50% more fuel and produce up to 50% more emissions than a car that is well looked after.
Tyres are key to saving money: if you’re running around with just one tyre deflated by 20 per cent, then you can expect your fuel consumption to rise by 5 per cent. You’ll also face the additional costs of replacing the tyres prematurely as well as compromising safety.

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Before you set off
Be sure you know where you’re going. An estimated 350,000 tonnes of fuel is wasted every year by people being lost in their cars.
Try to travel when queues will be at their shortest. Your journeys will be shorter, and you’ll save fuel (as well as stress)  by reducing the time you sit in congestion.

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Take the weight off
OK, so we don’t all drive around with heavy bags, golf clubs and a load of unnecessary paraphernalia in the boot… but if you do carry a fair old load, then it’s important to know that your fuel economy will reduce.  In fact, you can expect fuel consumption to rise by 1 per cent for every one per cent of the car’s weight you add. On a positive note, eliminating weight can go a long way toward increasing your car’s fuel efficiency.

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Eliminate short journeys
Make a point of not using your car for journeys of less than a mile if it’s practical. OK, so you won’t be able to walk back from the local garden centre with sacks of compost, but if it’s just a quick nip to the shops, then consider walking or cycling. Cold engines are thirsty engines, so that mile-long journey will be relatively expensive, however light-footed you might be.

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On a journey
The general rules are to do everything smoothly and systematically.
If there’s an opportunity to slow down, then do so.
When you’re moving off, get into a high gear promptly (but don’t so quickly that you’ll labour the engine).

Make a point of seeing what revs you’re using at different seeds and in different gears. By observing and anticipating, you can make best use of your car’s energy – energy that’s so easily thrown away by harsh braking and only restored by expensive accelerating.
Consider reducing your use of air conditioning, which is reckoned to increase fuel consumption by 10 percent.

A roof rack reduces your car’s aerodynamic efficiency, so don’t leave it in place if you don’t actually need it.

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On the motorway
It’s reckoned that most cars run at their most efficient around 60 mph. Every 5 mph above that you drive, you will lose 6 per cent of your fuel economy. Setting aside the legalities for a moment, imagine the savings you could make if your motorway speeds tend to be a bit spicey!

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In town
Research from the USA has shown that an aggressive approach to driving (hard accelerating, sudden last-minute braking) delivers a time saving on city journeys of only 4 per cent. More to the point, when compared with a more measured, environmentally-aware style of driving, fuel consumption on these ‘jack-rabbit’ journeys can be as much as 40 per cent higher, and emissions levels can be five times higher. If you can preserve your car’s momentum, you can save significantly on the fuel you’d otherwise need to build it up again. As an example, let’s say the traffic lights a few hundred yards ahead are on red. Well, don’t charge up to the back of the queue, then slam your brakes on. Instead, aim for a smoother, slower approach that will hopefully have you approaching the junction as the lights have turned to green. No need to stop, and a best use of energy.

You may not believe it, but traffic engineers do try to ensure – where viable – that traffic lights are programmed to work in harmony with speed limits. So, by accelerating at warp factor away from one set of traffic lights, you’re unlikely to see any long-term advantage over the driver in the other lane who took his time.

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Car sharing
Leaving your car at home means you’re using no fuel. Why not look at ways of sharing journeys, giving lifts to friends and family members so that only one car is on the road instead of two or three. In that way, everybody stands to gain in respect of reduced congestion and reduced risk.

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Green driving is safer driving

The connection between environmentally-aware driving and defensive driving has long been established. Smooth, progressive and systematic driving is safer because it’s tied in with observation and anticipation. There are no surprises and no last-minute manoeuvres.

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Frequently asked questions
Q: I already do everything as steadily as possible, yet my car still seems too thirsty. What should I do?
A: It may be that your car is simply a ‘gas-guzzler’. If it’s feasible, consider the economy benefits of changing to a smaller, greener car. Take a look at the journeys you do most often. Would a different car deliver a better economy? It may be time to look beyond your own efforts and think that the problem actually lies with the car you drive.

Q: Should I open my car windows rather than use the air conditioning?
A: At low speeds, opening the windows is likely to save you fuel by reducing the air con use. However, at higher speeds, open windows and sunroofs increase air resistance and therefore make the engine work that bit harder to maintain specific speeds.

Q: Is cruise control an environmental benefit, or a costly tool I should do without?
A: Maintaining a constant speed is excellent for economy, so if there’s a chance to set the cruise control and not keep fiddling with it, then you should see an improved economy. Long motorway journeys are when cruise control comes into its own.

Q: Should I perhaps only half fill my fuel tank and therefore carry less weight around?
A: No. Visits to the petrol station are not good for the environment, so you certainly don’t want to double the frequency of your visits. Yes, you will burn some fuel simply by needing to carry it in your car, but the manufacturers have spent millions on finding the optimum size fuel tank. Fill up each time, minimize the occasions when your fuel cap is open, and therefore reduce emissions and spillages.

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About 

GEM Motoring Assist are a breakdown cover company and road safety charity that has been serving motorists for over 80 years.