Top Gear’s eight favourite ways to save fuel
Fuel prices have never been higher. Here’s how to get the most for your money without all that ‘drive slower’ nonsense
Think like a racing driver
That the racing line is the quickest way through a corner is absolutely entry-level knowledge in the world of motorsports, learned just after ‘car go fast’, ‘engine go brrrrm’ and ‘watch out for Pastor Maldonado’. But it’s also invaluable in eking out maximum miles per gallon*. If you maximise corner speed, you aren’t wasting fuel on acceleration, or indeed deceleration. After all, braking is merely the conversion of useful speed into useless heat.
You’ll find that lower, lighter cars will a) be better at maintaining speed through corners, and b) generally use less fuel than the laundry list of leviathans that somehow pass themselves off as family cars these days, purely by dint of being smaller and lighter. So, for the best results from Top Gear’s (in no way) patented fuel-saving method, buy a Lotus and go full Jim Clark through the corners.
*Other measurements are available, but that’s apparently the one we’re stuck with, even though we buy our petrol in litres. Because logic.Advertisement - Page continues below
Think MORE like a racing driver
Now, maintaining momentum through corners – aside from pesky concerns about legality and which side of the road is actually meant for you – is all well and good. But what about other racing manoeuvres?
Well, drafting is great in theory, but it does rather contravene the highway code – and indeed common sense – when it comes to following distance. On the other hand, being smooth can get you all sorts of partners. Also better fuel economy. Looking as far ahead as possible is good advice, but complaining to the stewards less so.
This is literally as old as the bible. As it says in the book of John, ‘little children, keep yourselves from idling’. Or at least something like that.
Regardless of what dear John actually said, the fact remains that letting your car idle is perhaps the best way to waste fuel and wear out your engine faster. Case in point – American police cars (and many more besides, but we’ll try to keep things specific for once) are actually fitted with an engine idle timer, which clocks how long the car sits still with the engine running. And that’s important from a maintenance perspective, because the rule of thumb is that one hour of engine idling is equivalent to between 25 and 60 miles on the odometer.Advertisement - Page continues below
Stop warming your car up
But what about warming your car up? Well, that’s one of those awful hangovers from the old days, like fascism or side partings.
See, back in the days of carburetors, there was a very real need to warm things up. Broadly because the carburetor itself – being the finicky pain in the posterior that it is – would never seem to want to do its job until it was good and ready. And we know the results of this from personal experience; we had an old Japanese bike with four cylinders and therefore four carburetors. And rolling on the throttle first thing in the morning – even after a few minutes idling as we donned our gear – was generally an exercise in compu’er says no until the hateful things had warmed up. Which made the first roundabout from our house quite interesting, in a life-flashing-before-our-eyes kind of way.
Oh, and as for the ‘you need to warm up your engine oil’ bit – engines don’t warm up well when idling. If you do possess mechanical sympathy, just drive gently until your oil’s up to temperature.
Those who live somewhere properly cold – like Norway or Canada or north of the wall with the Wildlings – already have block heaters and ice scrapers and winter beater cars to see them through the worst of the frigid months. If you can start your car and see out of it, just get going.
‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.’ So goes the centuries-old quote by Benjamin Franklin. Setting aside that it’s the sort of thing that comes out of the mouth of your average David Brentian middle manager, it actually does apply here. Or at least a modified version – if you fail to plan, you must be planning to fuel up more often.
A bit of forethought and planning will work wonders while on your drive and before it. So coast up to intersections instead of braking, look up traffic before setting off and take quieter routes, use highways and main roads without traffic lights if possible, travel outside of peak travel times if you can. Your mother’s birthday is coming up, so don’t leave the card to the last minute again. Put your bins out the night before so you don’t have to get up early. If you cook extra tonight, you can have leftovers later on in the week. Planning, people. You really can’t lose.
It’s a pretty obvious fix – if petrol and diesel are ruinously expensive (tick), buy a car that uses neither. Charge up at home on off-peak power to really make the most of the savings, or fit a full solar system and give the middle finger, forks and various other inflammatory gestures to the energy industry in general. Sounds ideal, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, for various reasons that are both infuriating and copious enough that we could probably list them alphabetically without missing a single letter (Austerity, Brexit, Corruption, Decline of democracy...), a lot of people will find it somewhere between tricky and genuinely impossible to stump up for an electric car, to say nothing of a home solar system to go with it. In that case...
Ditch the car
Well, if going electric was already fairly obvious, leaving the car at home and walking is somewhere around the ‘Oh, I just wear this wedding ring so people don’t try to pick me up’ mark.
Using good old-fashioned bipedal locomotion is hardly fashionable. But then consider that the height of fashion in 2022 is apparently to dress like you’re going to a early-2000s rave and carry a handbag big enough to smuggle Vito Corleone. So how much do you really want to be fashionable, anyways?Advertisement - Page continues below
Two wheels good
Yes, we know. As car lovers, we’re supposed to despise cyclists and motorcyclists and yada yada yada. But let’s make marmalade from this low-hanging fruit yet again and declare that it’s wheels that are the fun bit, not just an arrangement of four wheels around some form of power source.
We, and countless others, have had all sorts of fun on pushbikes, motorbikes, tricycles, quadricycles, six-wheelers, and even eight-wheelers like the Avtoros Shaman. We’ve even seen people fall off unicycles and it was an uproariously good time.
So whether you use less fuel on a motorbike, a skerrick of the stuff on a moped or none at all on something pedal-powered, you’ll be ahead in more ways than one. Unless you ride a unicycle, of course. That’s just a shortcut to losing in every conceivable way.