Action 007: Drive like a pro!

Car tachometer dial at low revs

Date: 07 January
Action: 007
Cost of taking action: £/$/€ SAVES MONEY


Ideally, of course, we would all be transferring right now to electric vehicles (EVs), shared transport resources and public transport. However, we have to be realistic about things – the infrastructure for that is not in place right now, the cost of purchasing new EVs is still too high, and we are dealing with an automotive industry which will be transitioning for many years yet. On top of all that, second hand petrol and diesel vehicles will be on our roads, with a healthy second-hand market, for at least a decade after new fossil fuel vehicle sales are banned in any given country.

So, we will be driving petrol and diesel vehicles for many years yet. This blogger, admittedly, is guilty as charged, in fact!

So, if you drive, action 007 from us is to learn to drive like a pro! Car owner and car Professional drivers drive with economy, environment, safety, and courtesy in mind.

As a qualified HGV2 (truck) driver myself, I’ve been through the training; we are taught to accelerate smoothly, use gears properly if manual, think ahead far more than when driving a car, use engine braking, and to brake smoothly and gently. Top truck, coach and bus drivers are guided by safety, their tachometer (revcounter), load, road conditions, weather conditions and the environment). The best car drivers will do the same.

Simple measures when driving can reduce fuel consumption in your average family car or typical hatchback by over 30%, according the RAC in the UK. A 30% reduction in fuel consumption is a 30% reduction in resource use and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as being a 30% reduction in the load on your wallet.

Driving like a pro means you will:

  • save money through fuel efficiency
  • reduce fossil fuel use
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduce other local pollution such as N2O and CO
  • reduce particulates from not only burnt fuel, but also brake dust and tyre dust
  • be safer
  • be less stressed

Again from the RAC, some of the measures you could take include …

Make sure you maintain your vehicle

Regular maintenance and servicing improves the efficiency of your vehicle, and therefore can improve your fuel consumption. Tyres should be inflated to the correct pressure because underinflated and overinflated tyres both adversely affect fuel economy. Remember that the idea tyre pressure will vary depending on the load you are carrying: for example if you have four passengers and luggage then you will need your tyres inflated to the maximum recommended pressures.

Gentle right foot: highest gear possible

Car driverSpeed is – by far – the biggest fuel-guzzle factor so having a light right foot and ensuring all acceleration is gentle is very important to fuel-efficient driving. You will always have to accelerate a number of times on any journey, but that doesn’t mean you have to pull away like you’re on the starting line at Silverstone race circuit!

A big contributor to high efficiency is driving in the highest possible gear for your vehicle (while keeping within the speed limit of course!). The best advice in town is to change up through the gears quickly – and even miss one or two – with the lowest revs possible. Remember: the faster an engine spins, the more fuel it uses.

This optimum fuel economy speed will be different for every car, but when the RAC completed its Record Road Trip in an Audi A6 Ultra, their most economic speed was 52mph in seventh gear on the flat. Over many years the speed of 56mph has been cited as an optimum speed but this was only due to old fuel consumption tests being run at three speeds – urban, 56mph and 75mph – and 56mph was always, unsurprisingly, the most efficient of these. Typically, cars are actually most efficient at around 50mph.

Try not to lose momentum

Keeping the car moving at the right speed is essential to fuel economy. Obviously, this depends on traffic conditions and what’s happening on the road ahead, but slowing down and having to accelerate again naturally uses more fuel.

Drive as smoothly as possible, gently using the steering, accelerator and brakes. When slowing down, it’s really important to remain in gear as the fuel cut-off switch in a fuel injection engine is then activated, meaning virtually no fuel is used while braking.

Like a professional driver, try to anticipate what’s going to happen by looking well ahead. This way, for example, you’ll see the traffic lights on red, or a sharp bend, meaning you can ease back on the accelerator or slow down naturally and potentially keep moving as opposed to coming to stop at the red.

Driving up hills destroys fuel economy; try to accelerate a little beforehand, then ease off as you drive up. The extra momentum should be enough to minimise additional fuel consumption.

Use cruise control efficiently

Cruise control only aids fuel economy when driving on a constant flat surface, hence why it is usually best reserved for motorway driving. This is because one of the keys to saving fuel is driving at a constant speed and cruise control can do this effectively on flat surfaces, making your driving as fuel efficient as possible by negating unnecessary acceleration.

However, if you use your cruise control all the time, not on flat roads, you will increase your fuel consumption. This is because your cruise control is slow to react to gradient changes, meaning when reaching the brow of a hill – at which point you would normally take your foot off the accelerator to maintain more of a constant speed when descending – your cruise control will keep the power on for a longer as it’s unable to see the gradient change in front of you.

Interestingly, the most fuel-efficient roads are motorways (freeways). This is where you can leave the car in top gear and gently cruise along, using minimal fuel.

Drop the drag

Don’t leave roof bars or a roof box on because they create wind resistance and cause your car to use more fuel through the ‘drag’ effect. This is increased the faster you drive. An empty roof rack adds around 16% drag when driving at motorway speeds, and a roof box around 39%, making your vehicle much less fuel efficient. Even things like little flags can increase your fuel use.

Also, did you know that driving with an open window has a similar dragging effect?

Spare the air conditioning and heating

Don’t use your air conditioning unless you really have to as it uses (a lot of) engine power and very significantly increases fuel consumption.

This goes for heating too.

Remember, the energy for changing the temperature in your car – up or down – has to come from somewhere, and it comes from burning more fuel.

Combine journeys: a warm engine is more efficient

Parked carIf you can, make a round trip rather than several short trips. Once the engine is warm it will operate at its most efficient whereas several cold starts will increase fuel consumption even though the total mileage could be the same. For it’s record breaking trip in the A6, the RAC team kept going continuously, only stopping for 20 minutes at a time on the way to setting a world record of driving through 14 countries on one tank of fuel. That was 1,158.9 miles, driving at an average speed of 45mph and achieving an incredible 75.9mpg. We are not sure we condone the trip as “necessary”, but it does illustrate the point superbly.

Lighten the load

It’s obvious that the heavier a vehicle is, the more fuel it will use; for that reason, don’t keep unnecessary items in your car as they all add weight to your vehicle, which is not going to help your fuel economy in the long run. 5 litres of oil and 5 litres of screen-wash weighs over 10 kilogrammes, and the energy to move it again has to come from somewhere, i.e. burning more fuel.

More quick tips

Turn off the ignition if you will be stationary for more than 1 minute, this saves more fuel than is used to restart the engine.

Park a little out of town … 5 minutes’ walk is healthier and you won’t be burning fuel looking for a parking spot!

Plan your route! Getting lost costs fuel and time.

Drive off-peak, clearer roads allow you to drive more economically.

If you have other ideas, share them with us in the comments section below.

The RAC record drive

Professional racing driver Rebecca Jackson and motoring journalist Andrew Frankel broke a world record for the most countries visited on a single tank of fuel, so they know a thing or two about how to drive economically. Rebecca said “(for fuel efficiency) you have to be looking ahead as much as possible … this is a good general driving habit but it was absolutely crucial for us. It’s all about keeping moving and not losing momentum. Accelerating from being stopped is very costly in fuel (as is) going up any steep incline.

“We tried not to use the brakes as much by easing off the throttle to reduce speed. If you can keep moving slowly rather than stopping in traffic that’s good, but you do have to be conscious of not being a pain to other drivers. You need to listen to the engine to make sure you don’t use excessive revs but you need to use enough, so it’s a fine balance as you don’t want the car to be labouring too much either.”

Andrew added “If you are coming up to a roundabout you need to know whether you will be able to get through without slowing down too much by adjusting your speed very carefully before you enter … if you have a hill coming up you need to judge not just the gradient, but its likely duration too. If you can see it’s just a short rise it’s better to coast up, lose the speed and stay in gear rather than change down early. Each hill is therefore different and there is of course an element of guesswork.”