How to drive more economically

If somebody offered you a few hundred notes in your pocket – for nothing – you probably wouldn’t turn them away.

After all, enough free cash to buy a new MP3 player, mobile phone or laptop sounds pretty decent. But unless your lottery numbers come up, you’re probably not counting on any free cash any time soon.

Drive a bit more carefully though, and over a year you could end up saving enough dough to splash out on some really cool new kit. Not convinced? To prove it, we took two identical cars from London to Anglesey in North Wales, then back again – a round trip of over 500 miles. 

Sam’s car needs 28.2 litres of petrol, which is around a quarter more than Carla

One was driven by boy racer Sam and the other was piloted by economy driving expert Carla, who set out to prove that if you drive smoothly and economically, you can save a bundle. The trip starts in Watford, just north of London, with Carla and Sam setting off for Anglesey in North Wales.

Both of our drivers are 21, but Carla has been on an eco-driving course; Sam hasn’t. While Carla never strays beyond 2000rpm and always looks well ahead, second-guessing what everyone else is about to do, her progress is amazingly smooth. But Sam is out to have some fun; he uses the revs, brakes late and corners aggressively.

The difference in driving style soon becomes evident when we refuel the cars at the half-way point in North Wales. Sam cut more than an hour off Carla’s seven-hour drive, but while Carla’s careful driving had used up 22.3 litres of unleaded over the 255-mile journey (that’s 52mpg), Sam managed just 41mpg.

That means Sam’s car needs 28.2 litres of petrol, which is around a quarter more than Carla. At £1.32 a litre he’s spent nearly eight quid that he didn’t need to – and we’ve still got to get back home…

* To work out how much a journey in your car will cost you or what your car's fuel economy is, check out the Nationwide Vehicle Contracts fuel calculator.

Top tips 

  • Drive smoothly, with no hard braking or accelerating.

  • Read the road ahead, so you can drive more smoothly.

  • Don't rev the engine unnecessarily and use the gears correctly, by changing up early.

  • Stick to speed limits – sitting at 80mph uses a lot more fuel than sitting at 70mph.

  • Don't warm up the engine for ages before setting off in the morning.

  • Be sparing with the air conditioning and don’t open windows at high speed; it increases drag.

  • Keep your car serviced properly, to maintain engine efficiency.

  • Avoid excessive idling of your engine; it’s often more economical to switch it off altogether.

  • Fuel prices at the pumps can vary significantly – so shop around.

  • Avoid short journeys; the first two miles use up to 100% more fuel.

  • Ditch any unnecessary junk, to cut weight.

  • Maintain tyre pressures; underinflated tyres use more fuel and need replacing more regularly.

  • If possible, travel at quieter times; getting stuck in jams is inefficient.

  • Plan your route, so you don’t cover unnecessary miles.

  • Reduce drag by not sticking things on the roof or tailgate, if they’ll go inside the car. Keep weight to a minimum too.