Car maintenance

Cars are more efficient when they’re firing on all cylinders, so to speak. Modern cars require far less maintenance than they used to but ignoring the service intervals laid down by the manufacturer is a recipe for all kinds of trouble, including reduced fuel economy.

When that little spanner illuminates on the dash, it’s time to book it in at the garage. Not wait another 3,000 miles or so.

  • get the car serviced regularly (according to the manufacturer's schedule) to maintain engine efficiency
  • your garage should be trained to optimise economy: they can change worn fuel filters and spark plugs, perform wheel alignments, and inspect your exhaust and emissions systems
  • make sure you use the right specification of engine oil (check the handbook)
  • Dirty air filters can decrease MPG by 1-2 miles. This is a quick and cheap fix to see immediate improvement.


Specialist eco-friendly tyres might cost a little more than the bargain basement options but they’re designed to save you money in the long run.

  • For every 5% (equivalent to around 2 PSI) that a car’s tyres are underinflated, fuel consumption increases by 1%. Tyre wear increases too.
  • On warm days, tyre pressure can increase above suggested guidelines. If you keep your tyres inflated to the higher end of the range, then be vigilant to prevent over inflation.


It always pays to plan your journey in advance; you should get there quicker and use less fuel en route. The most direct route is usually best but adapt it to avoid congestion and to use faster roads. Motorway travel is always more fuel efficient than stop-start urban trips.

Think about making journeys at times of day when the roads are quieter. A car’s engine uses more fuel while it’s warming up so batching your travel will help the pocket.

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    Leave promptly:

    Don't start the engine until you're ready to go as idling wastes fuel and the engine warms up more quickly when you're moving; in the winter, scrape ice rather than leave the car idling to warm up

  • Don't get lost:

    plan unfamiliar journeys to reduce the risk of getting lost and check the traffic news before you leave

  • Combine short trips:

    cold starts use more fuel so it pays to combine errands such as buying the paper, dropping off the recycling, or collecting the kids

  • Consider alternatives:

    if it's a short journey (a couple of miles or so) could you walk or cycle rather than taking the car?

Eco driving

The perfect way to travel is at a constant speed (ideally around 50mph), and in the highest gear (five or six). So if you're a patient driver, you'll have lower fuel bills – it's as simple as that.

his one always surprises people. It's not just to do with what gear you're in. You may be in a high gear and travelling at a sensible speed, but if you're pushing the accelerator down a long way to avoid changing into a lower gear (into third from fourth, for example), then you're actually using more fuel not less.

  • Lose weight: extra weight means extra fuel so if there's anything in the boot you don't need on the journey take it out
  • Streamline: roof-racks and boxes add wind resistance and so increase fuel consumption. If you don't need it take it off – if you do, pack carefully to reduce drag
  • Rolling: if you can keep the car moving all the time, so much the better; stopping then starting again uses more fuel than rolling
  • Change up earlier: don't labour the engine but try changing up at an engine speed of around 2,000 rpm in a diesel car or around 2,500 rpm in a petrol car.
  • Cut down on the air-con: air-conditioning increases fuel consumption at low speeds, but at higher speeds the effects are less noticeable.

Before you buy

Think about what you’ll use it for, where you’ll drive it and how many miles you’ll do. Then choose a car that does the job but doesn’t have size, performance or features that you’ll hardly ever use.

Remember that even a single mile-per-gallon extra on that official combined economy figure can mean big savings when multiplied out over the years that you could be running the car.


One car is almost always more efficient than two so taking someone along for the ride is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. It’ll save you money too, provided they return the favour.