Fuel-efficient driving

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Smooth drivers leave the jerks behind

Old habits, they say, die hard. But changing the way you drive could save more energy than changing what you drive.

Fuel-efficient driving has a huge impact on our fuel use and hence our emissions - so much so that it will be included in driving tests from 2008. Nor is it a tricky thing to master. In fact this action is really lots of little actions - everything from checking your tyre pressures to taking a few miles an hour off your motorway speed.

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Photo: Fuel-efficient driving

Saves about 300kg of CO2

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • A cold engine uses almost twice as much fuel, and catalytic converters can take five miles to become effective
  • 56 per cent of drivers exceed the 70mph limit on motorways; 19 per cent of them exceed 80mph
  • Enforcement of the speed limit at 70mph could save around one million tonnes of carbon a year
  • If one million cars stayed parked for just one day, 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions would be eliminated
  • It can reduce your CO2 emisssions by 300kg per year - that's about as much CO2 as halving how much beef you eat
  • The way we drive can cut annual fuel consumption by 10%
  • More efficient driving could translate to savings of around 120 a year for a typical car - and the larger the car the bigger the saving
  • Enforcement of the speed limit at 70mph could save about one million tonnes of carbon a year, according to the Commission for Integrated Transport
  • Driving at 70mph rather than 80mph cuts CO2 emissions by almost a third

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What's the debate?

"If I'm so fuel-efficient, why don't I take another trip?"

An economic theory (the fantastically named Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate) suggests that there is indeed a danger we spend the cash saved through fuel efficiencies on consuming more fuel - in this case by driving further. Of course this can be overcome by keeping an eye on your mileage. Taking a bus or train can help keep it down.

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How do I do it?

To knock 10% off your fuel use this year:

  • Make sure you get your car serviced regularly - cleaner oil and a new air filter means more efficient motoring
  • Cut down on use of air conditioning
  • Keep your tyres inflated to the correct pressures
  • Improve aerodynamics by leaving the roof rack at home and closing the windows and sunroof
  • Be stingy with your right foot - rapid acceleration takes a heavy toll on your fuel tank
  • Avoid unnecessary gear changes as they waste fuel
  • Don't idle. Idling uses more fuel in ten seconds than turning the engine off and on
  • Try not to let your revs reach inefficient levels. Move up a gear before 2,500rpm in a petrol car and 2,000rpm in a diesel
  • Don't carry around unnecessary weight - empty your boot
  • Avoid short trips - a cold engine gets through fuel almost twice as quickly as a hot one. (Conveniently, these journeys are the easiest to walk or cycle)

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What's stopping me?

"If I close the windows and switch off the air-con in July, I'll cook"

If you're overheating on the motorway, it's more fuel-efficient to use air-con than opening the window or sunroof. At lower speeds, opening windows is more efficient.

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Reggie, Taunton 2008-10-05

p.s. how does the 'don't idle' and 'cold engines' advice square?

if you leave home and immediately get stuck in traffic, is it better to let the engine warm up before you start turning it off and on again each time you get stuck in a queue?

Reggie, Taunton 2008-10-05

I'm not sure that this isn't quite dangerous - you often need to accelerate and drive quite aggressively in towns and cities these days, and even on motorway slip roads.

It may be an action that's more suitable for open road-type driving.

alistair, Scottish Borders 2008-09-11

I have recently changed cars and some may say that what I have is a big thirsty, inefficient brute - totally wrong. It is a 3ltr diesel BMW 5 series and as it is regularly serviced and maintained, and I've changed my driving style, I get in excess of 46mpg. I also use this car to tow a caravan on British holidays and get 28mpg. It IS possible to have luxury and efficiency at the same time - just choose the right car, keep it in good condition and drive more efficiently.

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Carbon is the fourth most common chemical element in the universe, and carbon compounds - in other words, carbon chemically combined with other elements - are the basis of all known life forms on earth. Pure carbon appears in many apparently diverse forms, from diamond to graphite to charcoal, but it is much more commonly found in substances such as coal, oil, natural gas, wood and peat that we use for fuel. When we burn these substances to provide energy - either directly in our homes as heat, or in power stations to produce electricity - the combustion process produces 'oxides' of carbon, including the gas CO2.
Ordinary diesel, like regular petrol, is refined from oil but it is a thicker, heavier liquid with a higher 'energy density' - meaning it offers better fuel economy. On the down side, unless you buy an air filter, diesel exhaust is a significant source of particulates and other sources of air pollution. A type of diesel not derived from petroleum is increasingly widely available, commonly referred to as biodiesel.

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