Cost of living: 7 ways to cut the cost of petrol
By the middle of June, petrol prices had hit a new high every day for a month, adding around £11 to the price of filling up a typical car — and taking the cost of a full tank to more than £100.
Huge price differences around the country meant for some drivers things were even worse, with plenty of petrol stations charging £2 a litre — or £110 for a tank.
It’s a world away from the early days of the pandemic, when the price of petrol dropped below £1 a litre.
According to the RAC, eight in 10 people rely on their cars, so this enormous hike in petrol prices is hitting us hard. It means we all need to consider how we can cut costs. There are seven options worth exploring.
1. Talk to your employer about hybrid working
The Building Societies Association says 17% of people are trying to cut back on car journeys like the daily commute.
With around one in five employers offering more opportunities to work from home, it’s well worth checking if your employer has a hybrid working or flexible working policy you can take advantage of.
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While there may be good reasons for being in the workplace, ditching the cost of the commute is an excellent reason for spending at least some of the time working from home.
2. Plan to avoid extra journeys
An awful lot of unnecessary journeys are because we’ve made last-minute plans, so look ahead and consider your trips carefully.
For example, try to avoid getting in the car for top-up shops by keeping a running shopping list and checking through the cupboards before you start the weekly shop.
Likewise, if there are multiple family members to drive around, check ahead and ask about lift-shares with friends.
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If you can’t cut down on the number of journeys you need to take, then you can try to combine them. Even if you end up driving the same distance as you would for two trips, you’ll save petrol, because a warm engine is more efficient than a cold one.
3. Consider the alternatives
For an awful lot of people, there’s no alternative to the car for many journeys, because public transport isn’t available, it’s too far to walk to go by bike, or the load is too big to carry any other way.
However, if you have fallen into the habit of driving because it’s more convenient, then it’s worth considering whether this is coming at too high a price now. If you could save significantly by walking, cycling or taking a bus, then it might be worth the extra time and effort involved.
4. Shop around — sensibly
It doesn’t make sense to go out of your way to find cheaper petrol, because you’ll burn all the cash you save getting there.
However, it pays to check for cheaper petrol at the places you pass on your usual routes. This can just mean keeping an eye out, or checking petrolprices.com to see what they’re offering before you go.
5. Lighten the load
This doesn’t just mean taking all the unnecessary rubbish out of your car, it’s also worth considering only filling the petrol tank up half way, so you’re not carrying the weight of all the extra petrol.
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If you opt for this approach, you’ll need to be more organised about finding cheaper places to fill up, so you don’t risk running out of petrol on the motorway.
6. Keep on top of the maintenance
It makes sense to have your car serviced regularly, because things like clogged air filters or thickening engine oil will make your engine less efficient.
You also need to do routine jobs like making sure that tyres are properly inflated and that roof bars and boxes are removed when you’re not using them.
7. Work on your driving style
The smoother your driving style, the better your fuel consumption.
Ideally you should drive at lower speeds, in the highest appropriate gear, while avoiding harsh braking and sudden acceleration. Part of developing this style is about anticipating what’s going to happen next, so you don’t need to make any sudden moves.
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All these steps will certainly help, but the cost of petrol also comes down to government policy. Right now, on a £1.87 litre of fuel, the government takes 53p in fuel duty and 31p in VAT. It brings the total tax to 84p, or 45% of the total cost.
So while the 5p cut in fuel duty was welcome, it was a drop in the ocean. It means the government has the power to significantly reduce the cost of driving.
At the same time as fuel duty fell back, the government was making more in VAT, because the more petrol prices rise, the bigger the VAT take. It means there may be room for the government to do more.
Given the lengths drivers are having to go to in order to save money, an awful lot of people would welcome a significant cut to the eye-watering level of taxes on petrol.
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Sarah Coles is a personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown and co-presents Switch Your Money On podcast.