How to save money when filling your car

Simon Heptinstall 4 July 2022

British fuel prices are soaring to record heights. There’s no escaping the rising prices—but there are ways to mitigate the cost

We asked a former fuel station manager and pump operator to reveal some expert insider’s tips to help save a few pence each time you fill your car

Every little helps 

It normally makes sense to fill with fuel at a supermarket when you do your shopping. You won’t be making an extra trip, and the supermarket forecourts are usually the cheapest for miles. 

"It’s exactly the same stuff that they sell at the most expensive garages"

Some car-owners are still prejudiced against supermarket fuel. The bar-room banter is that it’s like buying "own brand" baked beans instead of classic Heinz. This is not correct. It’s exactly the same stuff that they sell at the most expensive garages, and as there’s such a high turnover at supermarket forecourts it may even be fresher and better fuel than at a quiet rural pump that is rarely restocked. 

Buy the cheapest fuel 

Unless you are driving a vehicle with a very sophisticated engine, the standard normal fuel is easily good enough. Unless your manufacturer specifically says you need specialist fuel for your type of engine, simply buy the cheapest. In times like these, don’t waste precious pence on putting higher grade or higher octane fuel into a car that doesn’t need it, just in case you think it might do the car some good. It will cost more and there will be no benefit.  

Use a free app to find the closest cheap fuel 

There’s no point driving miles to find the cheapest pump prices—the cost of the fuel you use doing so will outweigh the benefits. And don’t rely on your memory, as forecourt prices are changing rapidly at the moment. Last week’s cheapest can soon become this week’s most expensive. 

Person choosing fuel at petrol station

A bit of research can help you find the cheapest fuel

Yes, consulting an app on your phone may be a slight palava, but it could save you pounds at the pumps. Try downloading one of the free apps available at app stores. For example, petrolprices.com is completely free and compares 8,500 petrol stations daily. It allows you to see the distance to a forecourt, the price and even offers route guidance to get there in the most economical way!

Don’t be a drip 

The high price of fuel now means that even a tiny amount is valuable. Spilling just 50ml of fuel, the size of a tiny perfume bottle, will cost you around 10p. 

If you fill your car tank until it overflows on to the forecourt, you may waste many times that. Even letting the pump dribble or drip can be wasting fuel that you have paid for. Where else would you be so slapdash about buying something for £100?  

"Spilling just 50ml of fuel…will cost you around 10p"

As the tank approaches its full point there should be a cut-off system on the nozzle. Sometimes these become blocked and don’t work, sometimes the pump is operating too fast or sometimes the car has an air blockage that can cause a blowback of fuel. So take it slowly, and be extra cautious towards the end of filling.  

Best of all, try tipping the fuel nozzle to drain as much from the hose as possible. You have paid for what has passed through the pump, and the rubber hose itself can hold more than a litre of fuel.

Air time 

Tyres

Checking your tyre pressure can save you money

You may consider it an unnecessary chore, but checking your tyre pressures is a way of saving money too. Of course you maximise the life of your expensive tyres by keeping them at the right pressure—but did you know that the tyre pressure significantly effects your fuel economy, too?

The industry figures roughly show that a tyre which is under inflated by a third (that’s a typical 30psi tyre actually being 20psi) will use around ten per cent more fuel to cover the same distance. It’s easy to find what your car’s correct tyre pressures should be: visit www.tyresafe.org/ and enter your registration. 

Don’t drive to the garage just to do it though, that’s a waste of fuel. Also, most outlets have sadly switched to pumps that charge to give you air. So it’s only worth doing at the same time as filling with fuel—even then, factor in the cost of the tyre pump. It may be worth filling at a garage with free air if you are lucky enough to know one. 

"Did you know that the tyre pressure significantly effects your fuel economy?"

Or save money in the long term by doing the tyres yourself! A reliable digital AA tyre pressure gauge to check your tyres at home costs just £8.99. More usefully, their DIY portable air pump, powered by a car lighter socket, costs £14.94 (amazon.co.uk). 

When you replace your tyres, it’s also worth noticing the little-known fuel efficiency rating on every tyre. The "A" rating is best, and it decreases to "G", which is worse. The difference can be as much as 2.5 miles per gallon!

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