Personal Finance

How to save on your driving costs 

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Image Rob Flynn
Staff Writer

Owning a car is costly, now more so than ever. With the price of petrol and diesel at a record high, we look at some of the simple things you can do to be more fuel efficient and drive down your motoring costs.

Driving a car has never been more expensive. 

With that in mind, there’s no better time to assess your driving habits and examine the small things you can do to help maximise your fuel efficiency and drive down your motoring costs.

1. Avoid driving on an empty or full tank 

How much fuel your car uses isn’t just down to its engine size or how far you drive. There are quite a few things that can have an effect on your vehicle’s fuel economy.

One of which is driving on a near empty or full tank.

Driving your car until the fuel almost runs out isn’t good for the engine, and can even cause whatever fuel you have left to run out even faster. However the main thing is that too low fuel can damage your car’s fuel pump as it’s working harder to draw petrol in, with a high potential to suck up unwanted bits of dirt and debris that could cause damage.

At the same time, try not to fill your tank up to the brim if possible. The more fuel your tank holds the more it will use. Also, try to avoid overfilling at warmer times of the year as this can lead to fuel evaporation. Make sure your tank is securely closed and park in the shade.

Additionally, when it comes to buying fuel, you should naturally avoid buying premium fuels if you want to keep your costs down.

2. Slow down 

This hasn’t proved a popular suggestion in recent times with members of the public baulking at suggestions to drive slower to conserve fuel in light of rising prices. 

However, this does work and can decrease your car’s fuel consumption. What’s more, there’s historic precedent for this piece of advice.

Back in 1979 during the last big energy crisis, the Irish Government introduced a reduction in the general speed limit to 55mph (89km/h) from 60mph as an energy conservation measure.

And while no such change is happening this time around, it is something we could take on board as one of many ways to cut down on fuel costs.

For context, Professor in Astrophysics & Mathematics at Dublin City University, Turlough Downes, pointed out on social media that ‘if you drive over longer distances and at higher speeds, then you can easily reduce your fuel costs by more than 40%’.

In other words, an increase in speed over longer distances reduces your car’s fuel efficiency and driving slower makes a big difference.

Take the following as an example.

Here’s what a car with a fuel efficiency of 8 litres/100km will cost while driving a 10km stretch on a motorway at the following speeds:

80km/h - €1.60*

100km/h - €2.40

120km/h - €3.52

*The above examples have been calculated using today’s fuel prices with the physics of drag taken into account.

According to the Professor, while driving above 80 km/h, the majority of your fuel is being used to push the air in front of your car out of the way. So by reducing your speed, you're reducing the forces of drag that slow you down.

3. Drive consistently 

Driving more consistently rather than accelerating and decelerating within short periods of time can also help to save on fuel consumption. This is something most of us are guilty of, especially around areas with speed bumps, ironically. Also, try to anticipate drivers' actions in front of you and give yourself time to slow by easing off the accelerator and not using your breaks, for example.

4. Keep your tyres inflated

This will be one for all the F1 fans, excited about the specifics of what makes a car faster and slower, but in short, having low tyre pressure increases drag. 

Therefore, if your car’s tyres need considerable pumping, not only is this dangerous, it will also decrease your fuel economy. 

It’s also worth noting that in the colder winter months as temperatures decrease, so does your car’s tyre pressure. So it’s always worth keeping an eye on the pressure reading during this time period. We’re not saying be like Lewis Hamilton and make regular pit stops, but if you haven’t inflated your tyres during the last number of months, you might have less pressure than you think, which could be costing you money.

To find out what pressure your car’s tyres should be, check in your vehicle’s handbook.

…and if you know a garage that doesn’t charge for its air/water maintenance, go there!

5. Rotate your tyres 

A car’s front tyres wear down more quickly than its rear ones, so you can save money by rotating them to make sure both sets wear evenly. 

Again, look in your owner’s manual for when to do so.

6. Clean out your car

You’d be surprised how much junk we have in our cars. Whether it’s CDs filling up the side doors or a fish tank in the boot (is Pimp My Ride still a thing?). Chances are we can all declutter somewhat - and it all makes a difference.

Because unsurprisingly extra weight decreases your car’s fuel economy. So get rid of everything bar the bare essentials. Remove roof and bike racks out of season too, anything that would unnecessarily weigh your car down.

7. Improve gear changes

Going up in gears sooner than feels natural will help cut your fuel costs. So going from first to second once you take off, and moving to fifth as soon as possible instead of labouring in fourth will help to use less fuel.

According to Aviva Ireland, ‘driving more efficiently, correct use of gears, and changing up into a higher gear as soon as conditions allow can save you up to 15% off your fuel bill.’

8. Air con and windows

Using air conditioning in your car, be it for heating or cooling, is a major factor in how much fuel you use. As a way of saving on your costs, consider alternating between using AC and opening your car windows.

However, having a window down causes considerable drag, especially the faster you’re travelling. So as a general rule of thumb, use your AC when you're driving at high speeds and open the windows at low speeds.

9. Keep your car in good condition

Keeping on top of your car’s servicing can help avoid major mechanical problems down the road. Regular servicing will also bring down day-to-day costs, through lower oil use, for one.

Importantly, you should never ignore a warning light that appears on your dash, at the very least for your own safety. It might save you money on a mechanic in the short term, but not in the long term, especially if you were to fail a future NCT. Putting an issue on the long finger will only add more to your costs!

10. Avoid the car wash

Consider hand washing your vehicle and not bringing it to the carwash. 

Most people won’t wash their car more than once a month, but it’s a few bob you could easily save by washing your car at home with a sponge and bucket and/or your own power washer.

As well as that, make sure to clean underneath the wheel arches and other hard to reach places where a car wash can’t get to, which will help stave off rust, and other unnecessary wear and tear.

11. Turn off your engine

This might seem like an obvious one, or even something that may seem impossible or unnecessary, so hear us out.

Depending on where you are and the situation, it might be worthwhile to simply turn off your car's engine. There are a number of scenarios in which we let the engine run idle where we really shouldn't be. This is costing you more money than turning it off and on again in many instances.

The classic example is letting the engine run to warm up and de-ice the windscreen on a winter's morning. Try not to do this. Also, if you're dropping someone off to get a few messages, don't keep the engine running in anticipation of them being quick. These examples only eat into your car's fuel unnecessarily. You will save more money on fuel most of the time by simply turning off the ignition!

Not to be forgotten, if you're a driver of a newer car, remember not to deactivate the car's Start/Stop feature for the reason explained above. This system automatically shuts down and restarts the internal combustion engine to reduce the amount of time the engine spends idling, thereby reducing both your car's fuel consumption and your own costs, not to mention emissions!

12. Shop around for cheaper car insurance 

Irish consumers are pretty good at seeking out better value for their car insurance each year. However some of us still overpay by not shopping around for better value come renewal.

Check out this article for simple ways to reduce your insurance costs.  

And remember we recently launched our new car insurance service at bonkers.ie. You can now get a discounted, direct quote from insurers and be covered in just a few minutes.

It’s quick and easy to get a quote and it can all be carried out online. And best of all, our service is completely free! 

13. Use alternative modes of transport

We’re aware that not everyone will be able to ditch the car and hop on the bus or the train to save money, but where possible, it might be worth considering looking at other transport options, especially now the cost of fuel is so high. 

One of the best things you can do, if it works for you, is to invest in a bike, either electronic or plain old manual, by availing of the Cycle-to-Work Scheme.

The Cycle-to-Work Scheme was launched in 2014 and aims to encourage people to cycle to and from work.

Under the scheme your employer can pay for a bike or bike equipment for you, which you then pay back through your salary over a period of up to 12 months. However you won't have to pay any income tax, PRSI or Universal Social Charge on your repayments.

There is a limit of €1,250 per bicycle purchased (increased from €1,000 in August 2020) and €1,500 for electric bikes. The purchase can be made in any cycle shop.

So if you're a higher-rate taxpayer and you purchase a new bike for €1,000, it'll only cost you just over €500, spread out over 12 monthly payments.

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