Here’s how you can save fuel in real-world driving conditions

File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng / Africa News Agency (ANA).

File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng / Africa News Agency (ANA).

Published Jun 6, 2022


Johannesburg - With petrol hovering around the R24 per litre mark following June’s massive fuel price increase, South African fuel prices are no longer a problem, they’re a full blown crisis.

But is there a feasible way to save fuel? Unfortunately, apart from buying a more economical car, there is no silver bullet, but by developing the right driving and car maintenance habits you can certainly soften the blow.

To help you on that journey, our motoring team has put together a compilation of fuel-saving tips that we’ve collected over the years, from the insane to the impractical to the ones so obvious you’d think everybody would be using them already.

Here's our pick of the 10 most practical fuel-saving tips, things you can do in your daily driving - without having to re-invent your entire lifestyle - that, taken together, can reduce your monthly fuel bill.

1. Keep it smooth

Fast pull-offs from standstill will dramatically increase your consumption while a light right foot is your budget's best friend. Keep your speed as steady as possible while cruising and lift your foot early for stops rather than braking as late as possible.

2. Find your car’s sweet spot

Conventional thinking says to change up as quickly as possible when accelerating, to keep the engine revs down - but this can cause the engine to labour, sending expensive unburnt fuel down the exhaust pipe.

All engines have a sweet spot, where they run most efficiently - usually just below the torque peak, which you can look up in the owner’s manual. Accelerate gently until you reach that sweet spot, and then change gears. If your car has a gear-change indicator, that’s exactly what it will tell you to do

On a car with an automatic gearbox, you may have to learn some fancy right-foot moves to keep the revs in the most efficient part of their range, but if your car has drive modes, that’s what the ‘economy’ setting is programmed to do. Use it.

3. Not too fast, not too slow

Air resistance rises as the square of velocity (that’s a law of nature), so at 110km/h your car is using 15 percent more fuel than it would at 100km/h and 25 percent more than it would at 90km/h - bearing in mind that driving at 90km/h in the fast lane of a 120km/h highway will make you a danger both to yourself and other motorists.

Lower speed isn't always on your side, as consumption dramatically increases below 50km/h.

4. Pace yourself in traffic

Rather than using the brakes to burn momentum and then burning fuel to get it back, use that momentum to your advantage. Easing off the throttle when there's a red light ahead means it's more likely to turn green before you get there.

5. Don’t ride the clutch

Use your handbrake for hill starts; riding the clutch will not only shorten its life but the corresponding accelerator movements will also cause your car to use more fuel.

6. Aircon off, windows up

Unless you're on your way to a job interview or hot date, keep your air conditioner off as much as possible, even if it means using it intermittently. The aerodynamic drag caused by open windows will also increase your car's fuel-consumption. While we're on that topic, roof racks and any other protruding objects that affect your car's ability to slice through the air should be removed immediately.

7. Get smart with your phone

Going online for real-time traffic information on Google Maps or Waze can help you avoid the worst of the congestion on your commute. Keep your finger on the pulse by reading or listening to up to date traffic reports and monitoring your GPS for faster routes. Just don’t do it while driving!

8. Clean the car out

Most people with a busy lifestyle will be embarrassed to find out how much unnecessary clutter they carry around with them. You don't need Colin Chapman to tell you that lightening a car, even by a small amount, will measurably reduce fuel-consumption.

9. Check the tyres

Wrap your head around the fact there is no such thing as a car tyre that doesn’t leak. Keeping the tyres inflated to the correct pressure will optimise fuel use (even slightly deflated tyres will have an impact on fuel consumption), so get into the habit of having them checked them every time you refuel. It won’t cost you any time or effort and it will save you money.

10. All the other basic maintenance

This is really a topic all on its own; the better maintained an engine is, the more economically it will run. Even if you can’t afford a full service, replacing a dirty air filter will make a measurable difference, as will correct wheel alignment (almost as important as correct tyre pressures) and asking the wheel-alignment technician to check that the brakes aren’t binding - that’s a real fuel-waster.

This may sound like blasphemy to dedicated petrolheads, but modern oils are amazingly durable; as long as there’s enough oil in the engine (if you don’t know where your car’s dipstick is, ask the pump attendant when you fill up) an engine can go beyond its service interval if you have to - just try not to run for longer than a year on the same oil.

The same goes for spark plugs - a strong spark means cleaner, more efficient combustion - and you’ll go further on every litre of fuel.

Advanced fuel-saving

If you’re prepared to modify your lifestyle, you can carpool - commuting in your own car only one week in four will automatically save you a lot of fuel - or go to work at 5am when there’s no traffic (that one really works).

Combine several trips into one (most moms are very good at that - watch and learn) and, if your navigating - or computer - skills are up to it, try to plan a circular route, for the fewest possible stops and smoothest traffic flow.