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Fuel for thought: Improve your fuel economy

One perennial gripe of motorists is the cost of fuel, ignoring for a moment the fact that at a national average of £1.30 and £1.37 for a litre of unleaded and diesel respectively, it’s barely more expensive than some brands of bottled water.

Yet while we’ll happily hand over cash for something that’s babbled out of a spring, we begrudge paying for something that’s been expensively drilled, refined and transported for thousands of miles to be conveniently available from pumps only a short drive from where we live and work.

But moan we do, resigned to the fact that there’s little we can do to influence swingeing duty cuts to bring the prices down. We can, however, reduce the amount we spend on the forecourts.

How? No, nothing as drastic as walking or cycling, nor as wretched as enduring the abject misery of public transport either. The answer is to drive smarter, boosting your efficiency in the process.

These six steps will help to improve your fuel economy and don’t require much in the way of effort to get to grips with.

Gently does it

The more measured your driving inputs are, the more you’ll be rewarded with fuel-saving glory. Learn to press the accelerator and brake pedals softly, as though there are eggs under them you desperately don’t want to crack the shells of. If you’re stamping on the pedals as though you’re hammering nails in with your feet, you’re burning fuel excessively. Sticking to speed limits also reduces fuel wastage, as well as keeping your licence squeaky clean.

Gearing up

Many modern cars with manual gearboxes have indicators on the dashboard suggesting the optimum moment to change up or down the ratios. These prompts come from the car’s on-board computers, monitoring all road and engine speed parameters, and are displayed to encourage you to drive more efficiently. Don’t ignore them – they’re not nagging you.

Stop and go

Most cars sold over the past few years have a stop-start system that cuts the engine out when the vehicle’s sat stationary and when the gearbox is put into neutral (or even left in ‘Drive’ on many automatics). Take advantage of the system – some of Lincoln’s traffic jams can leave you rooted to the spot for several minutes at a time, so why waste fuel doing so? If your car’s older and doesn’t have an automatic stop-start function, then take control and turn it off yourself, particularly if it looks like you’ll be sat still for over 30 seconds.

Don’t lose your cool

As summer (probably) approaches, being comfortably cool in a warm car is vital, but here air conditioning is your friend. “Doesn’t it worsen fuel efficiency?” I hear you ask. Yes, typically by around 3%, but drive with windows lowered and you’ll have a negative effect on the car’s aerodynamics. The penalty for that could be as high as 10%. Plus leaving your air-con on all year round reduces the likelihood of the system needing expensive and premature repairs in the future.

Good housekeeping

Ensuring your tyres are at the correct pressures not only improves handling, it prolongs the life of the tyre and maximises the mileage from a tank of fuel. Skipping services is a false economy too: the more regular the fettling, the easier the engine will find it can run, sipping less fuel in the process.

Lose weight

Counting your own calories more effectively will benefit your own health long before your car shows a positive return with less frequent visits to the pumps, but shedding your car of clutter and on-board detritus may well improve matters considerably. Is your boot permanently full of “stuff” just in case you might need it? Saving weight is one of the primary reasons many newer cars no longer carry spare wheels – they’re heavy and infrequently used. Declutter and spend less in the process.

Keeping a log of what you spend on fuel before and after making the changes to your driving style will reveal how much you’ve saved – it won’t be too long before you’ve recouped a tank’s-worth. Now all you’ve got to do is start drinking water straight from the tap again.