Fuel prices

A green fuel pump filling up a car

Fuel prices are a huge concern for motorists, but road users may be making a false economy by driving miles trying to find cheap petrol or diesel.Fuel cost calculator

Research commissioned by Gocompare.com suggests that as many as six million UK drivers could end up wasting money by driving out of their way to find cheaper petrol or diesel for their vehicles.[1]

The January 2013 study of 2,000 UK motorists revealed that 9% of drivers would travel 20 miles or more out of their way to make a 5p-a-litre saving on fuel.

A total of 13% would travel up to 10 miles out of their way for such a saving.

The average amount spent on a top-up amongst those surveyed was £38.81, and a 5p-a-litre saving on such a sum could amount to £1.40.[2]

Millions of drivers could be spending more trying to find cheap petrol stations than they ultimately save
Matt Oliver, Gocompare.com

Researchers at Gocompare.com have estimated that, based on these figures and on driving a common petrol engine car, the saving would be cancelled out by making an extra nine-mile round trip to find cheaper fuel.[3]

How to find cheap fuel

There are a number of websites and apps available that will pick up your location or allow you to quickly enter your postcode in order to find the cheapest petrol stations in the vicinity.

Perhaps the best known of these is PetrolPrices.com, a site that also offers an email newsletter to keep you frequently updated on price changes.

In spring 2016, the stretch of the M5 between Bristol and Exeter becomes the UK's first motorway to trial comparative fuel price signs, a move designed to increase price competition and cut the cost for motorists.

Making the calculation

With a car's fuel consumption rated in miles per gallon (MPG) and fuel sold in litres, Gocompare.com believes many drivers find it difficult to calculate how many miles they can drive for their money.Advanced driving courses

Just 13% of drivers in our survey knew how many miles they could drive per litre of fuel, compared to 41% who knew their approximate MPG.

Unsurprisingly, a fifth of drivers said that fuel stations should display prices in gallons as well as litres.

"Motorists will understandably go out of their way to try to find cheaper petrol and diesel," said Gocompare.com's Matt Oliver.

"But our research reveals that, in their search for cheap petrol stations, millions of drivers could be spending more than they ultimately save.

Allow the momentum of the vehicle to dissipate naturally; a much better approach than accelerating up to the last moment then slamming on the brakes

"If you've gone out of your way to find the right deal on fuel, buy enough to make the extra driving distance worthwhile.

"Otherwise, it may make more sense to simply use the best-priced station on your usual route.

"Do, of course, try to avoid having to fill up at over-priced motorway service stations.

"Also remember that your driving habits, your choice of vehicle and the way you maintain it can have a major impact on your fuel and servicing bills, so pay attention to areas like speed, braking and tyre pressure."

Driving tips to help you save fuel

The key to fuel-efficient driving is being aware on the road and anticipating what's in front of you.

Acceleration burns petrol or diesel quickly, while braking wastes the momentum you've built up.

Heavy braking also causes extra wear and tear on discs and pads.

Pick up speed gradually, keep the revs low and change gear early.

Driving in a higher gear will improve your fuel efficiency - providing that you don't change up too early and make the engine struggle.

Anticipation will help you choose the right spot on the road and - perhaps most importantly - prepare to slow down and stop.

If you know you're approaching your destination, or if you can see traffic up ahead, get used to taking your foot off the accelerator.

Under-inflated tyres lead to more drag, negatively impacting on fuel efficiency, performance and tyre wear

This will allow the momentum of the vehicle to dissipate naturally; a much better approach than accelerating up to the last moment then slamming on the brakes.

Your speed will, of course, play a major part in how efficiently you drive.

Always obey the rules of the road and don't just slow down for speed cameras - it'll benefit your wallet and, more importantly, will make the highways safer for everyone.

A useful tip on arrival at your destination is to reverse into your parking spot.

This means that your manoeuvring has been done when the engine is warm, and when you come to drive off the cold motor can quickly get up to its prime operating temperature without having to power lots of stopping and starting.

Vehicle fuel efficiency tips

Whether you drive a modern, fuel-efficient motor or a gas-guzzling beast from the dark ages, there are steps you can take to push your vehicle's fuel efficiency to its maximum.Van insurance

Most of these measures are simple and come down to common sense.

For a start, weight matters, so check out the contents of your boot, glovebox and foot-wells, and take out any items that you don't need.

The fuel itself forms a significant part of the weight of your vehicle, so think about this when you're on the petrol station forecourt.

Filling the tank to the brim will make the car heavier and less efficient, so balance how much fuel you carry against the inconvenience of having to top up more often, factoring in any extra miles covered by having to make more trips to the petrol station.

Roof racks and storage boxes are a particular problem - they add to a vehicle's weight and adversely impact the aerodynamics, so make sure you remove them when they're not being used.

Think also about the air conditioning in your vehicle. Many people now use this as a matter of course, but it can burn a lot of fuel.

If it's not needed, turn it off… but also remember that driving at high speed with the windows down can increase the drag of your vehicle, potentially more than cancelling out the savings from having the air conditioning off.Savings quiz

Finally, pay close and regular attention to your tyre pressure, keeping it within the manufacturer's recommendations.

Under-inflated tyres lead to more drag, negatively impacting on fuel efficiency, performance and tyre wear.

By Sean Davies