What is ‘eco-driving’?
‘Eco-driving’ is a term used to describe driving practices that minimise fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.
Of course, the ‘eco’ prefix could refer to both “economical driving” and “ecologically aware driving”.
We will all, no doubt, be driving electric cars before too long. However, until then, there are many benefits for both the motorist and the planet when drivers opt for eco-driving. These include:
According to the AA Driving School, it is possible to reduce annual fuel expenditure by up to £500 a year when adopting basic eco-driving principles. There are also many other savings associated with fuel efficiency, such as reduced wear and tear on your vehicle and reduced taxes.
Reduced impact on the environment
Public awareness about climate change is growing rapidly, and we all know that we need to lessen the impact of our journeys on the environment. Choosing vehicles with lower CO2 emissions and eco-driving practices can help greatly in the fight against environmental issues such as climate change.
Safer driving and fewer accidents
It stands to reason that if you drive more slowly and carefully, your risk of being involved in an accident is greatly reduced. Eco-driving is not only safer for you, but also for other road-users and pedestrians.
Reduced wear and tear on your vehicle
Bad driving habits such as braking too often and too hard or riding the clutch can damage your vehicle over time, as well as burning more fuel. Becoming a more mindful, better, safer driver will actually save you money on replacement parts and your vehicle will also last longer!
The amount of Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax) you pay depends on your vehicle’s fuel type and its CO2 emissions. The tax rates are much lower for fuel-efficient cars, and drivers who own vehicles with very low emissions (less than 100g/km of CO2) are completely exempt from paying anything at all.
Congestion charge exemption
Motorists whose vehicles emit less than 75g/km of CO2 are exempt from paying the Congestion Charge for driving in central London.
As well as the more obvious measures we are mostly all aware of — for example, keeping our speed down and getting regular maintenance services — there are many more ways in which we can reduce our fuel consumption and drive more efficiently.
Here are a few eco-driving tips which can be implemented quickly and easily.
Buy a manual, fuel-efficient vehicle
A fuel-efficient vehicle reduces running costs and can extend your car’s lifetime. Manual vehicles tend to be far more fuel-efficient than automatics. According to the AA, automatics burn up to 15% more fuel than manual cars during non-motorway journeys. Diesel engines are particularly cost-efficient when it comes to fuel, but unfortunately they are not the best environmentally aware choice, not least because of the air pollution issues.
Get rid of unnecessary weight
Carrying excess weight will cause your vehicle to drag. This can increase fuel consumption significantly, particularly at high speeds, as your car’s engine has to work harder when accelerating. Travel as lightly as you can by unloading any unnecessary heavy items from the boot and passenger seats, as well as removing roof-racks, bike carriers and top boxes when not in use.
Don’t be idle
Gone are the days when car engines had to be warmed up before driving! Modern engines warm up more quickly when you’re actually moving, so there’s no need to start the engine until you’re ready to set off. It’s also a good idea to turn your engine off when stuck in traffic for more than a couple of minutes or so. Leaving your engine idling will only waste fuel and potentially cause your engine to overheat.
Plan your journey and use a satnav
Planning ahead will help you to avoid congestion and road works, and can also prevent you from getting lost on unfamiliar journeys. Check the latest traffic news on the radio or online before you set off and install a satnav which will not only direct you to your destination, but will also detect any issues on the road up ahead and automatically divert you accordingly. This will ensure you don’t waste valuable fuel (and precious time!) sitting in traffic jams or driving around in circles for hours.
Use the correct engine oil
Check your vehicle handbook to ensure that you are using the correct grade of engine oil. The wrong type of oil — or very low quality oil — may affect the amount of fuel you burn, and may even damage the engine.
Check your tyre pressure
Tyre pressure should be checked once a month at a minimum, and always before long journeys. Under-inflated tyres will increase fuel consumption and can also be dangerous. Check your vehicle handbook for the manufacturer’s recommended tyre pressure levels. Bear in mind that the pressure may need to be increased when carrying heavy loads — again, check the manufacturer’s recommendations. According to the RAC, driving with tyres inflated to the correct pressure level can reduce fuel consumption by up to 2%.
Turn the air conditioning on/off
Many people are unsure of when they should use their air conditioning and when they should just simply open the windows instead. The key principle to bear in mind here is aerodynamics. When driving at low speeds, it is more efficient to open the windows. When travelling more than 60 miles per hour, it is advisable to close the windows and use the air con. This is because wind resistance causes an aerodynamic drag on your vehicle when windows are open at speeds of 60mph, and this causes your fuel consumption to increase.
Deactivate your electrics
Leaving your rear window heater, demister fan, headlights and other electronic devices switched on when you don’t need them increases the electrical load on the alternator, meaning that it consumes more power from the engine, which in turn causes fuel consumption to increase.
The faster you drive, the more fuel you will burn. The most efficient speed for driving is 45–50mph. According to the AA, driving at 80mph uses around 25% more fuel than driving at 70mph. Dropping from 70mph to 60mph (where appropriate) can save a further 10%.
Finally, adjusting your driving technique can really help to minimise fuel consumption. In fact, one of the most effective things you can do to reduce fuel consumption is to change the way you drive.