Eco-driving - how to cut fuel costs

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With soaring petrol prices showing no sign of slowing down, saving money on fuel will no doubt be prominent in any motorist's mind. Though there is nothing you can do to cut the cost of petrol itself, the RAC estimates that changing your driving habits could save an average of eight per cent on your fuel bill.

Eco-driving tips
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Speed

A 2008 survey by What Car? magazine identified 40mph as the most efficient in terms of petrol consumption. Peter de Nayer, the fuel economy expert who led the research, recommended using top gear whenever possible, even at 40mph, as this can also affect consumption.

Of course, driving too slowly on a motorway can cause problems but the good news is that there are savings to be made on the fast roads. The research found that the average small family car driven at 60mph will get almost double the miles per gallon as the same car speeding along at 90mph.

Driving in towns presents a different challenge - stop-starting, particularly for commuters, eats up the fuel - anticipating traffic flow will reduce sharp acceleration and breaking, and cut fuel consumption as a result. Moving off smoothly and rolling to a stop by lifting off the accelerator will minimise your fuel consumption.

Don't be fooled into thinking neutral equals less fuel - in fact, when idling, your car will use more petrol than if running in gear with the throttle closed. Meanwhile, if you're stuck in traffic and at a standstill for more than three minutes, switch off to save petrol.

The car
A few simple changes to your car can also slash fuel consumption. Air conditioning, for example, uses fuel - switch it off and improve your fuel efficiency by eight per cent. As long as it's not too steamy outside, avoid opening windows and sunroofs, as this will also create drag.

Check your tyres - if your tyres are on the soft side, they create more resistance and your engine will drink more in order to work harder, potentially adding two per cent to your petrol bill. When the time comes to replace your tyres, it's worth considering low-rolling resistance "eco" tyres.

Removing excess weight will also help to make your motor more energy efficient so get rid of the rubbish cluttering up the boot and take off the roof rack if it's not being used.

If you're in the market for a new car, consider going smaller and more efficient. Modern vehicles are becoming ever more eco-friendly, so if you don't need a gas guzzler, don't get one. That way you will also benefit from cheaper tax.

Common sense and helpful hints
Most of us would admit to setting off occasionally without being terribly well prepared. By planning your route in advance, you may discover a short cut will mean you're not wasting fuel driving endlessly around searching for your destination. Satnav, obviously, is a help here and some, such as Econav, will even advise you on how to conserve fuel.

With prices at an all time high, websites such as PetrolPrices.com can be helpful. The site can show you where to find the cheapest fuel in your area (though beware of driving too far to get there or it's a false economy). And if your regular pump is at a supermarket, do take advantage of any money-off vouchers that come your way.