No doubt you had a shock the last time you filled up your car. Of course, one answer is to reduce the number and/or the length of your car journeys, perhaps by choosing to go somewhere closer, or by car-sharing . Unfortunately, in the rural environment we often have little alternative. If you have to drive petrol prices are now painfully high, so here’s a new game to play with the mileage meter in your car. Gold is not won by the fastest journey time but by the highest mpg (miles per gallon) for the trip. The gold goes straight into your pocket. Save money while you drive. With petrol at 140p per litre getting 55 mpg instead of 45 mpg will save 250 every 10,000 miles, enough to pay for the road tax – at least this year. Here are some more tips.

Before you start make sure the car is as efficient as possible. Check the tyre pressures. Don’t carry unnecessary ballast around in the boot. Don’t leave the roof rack on, and remember to have the car serviced regularly. After starting the engine it's best to drive off immediately. Idling pollutes the environment and leads to excessive fuel consumption as well as increased engine wear, so switch off in a queue that is likely to last longer than 30 seconds. Keep in the most efficient gear, which depends on the car, but staying around 1500-2500 rpm for a diesel and about 2000-3000 for a petrol car is best for the engine. Change up if possible in the middle of these ranges. Accelerate briskly but not with a heavy foot to reach your desired speed. While on the move, the golden rule is to look well ahead and keep a good distance from the car in front. Maintain a steady speed as unnecessary acceleration and braking not only costs fuel but frayed nerves as well! A highway speed of less than 75 per cent of the vehicle’s top speed is also generally economical and depending on the car this could be between around 45-55 mph. It results in fuel savings of up to 50 per cent with only a negligible loss of time.

Using a car for short journeys is bad news for your overall fuel consumption. In the first 5 miles or so from cold the car will be from 50% less efficient than after it has warmed up properly. Just using the car for these short journeys (e.g. local shopping or the school run) will ruin your overall economy. Better to walk or cycle, if you can: it will also be healthier.

When it comes to changing your car make fuel efficiency the major factor in your decision. Many medium sized cars are now highly economical to run and if they run on diesel have efficient filters for small particulates. The added efficiency of a diesel makes it well worth investigating. Not only is a lot of energy used in producing but 20 to 25% of the pollution generated during the whole of a car's lifetime occurs in its manufacture, so choosing one that lasts a long time and not changing too often will also help the environment.

April 2008