save fuel - save the environment - save your $$$

Does your fuel disappear quickly? Don't want to contribute to air pollution? Here are 20 practical petrol saving tips.

Save fuel and save the environment - picture showing a full petrol gaugeLearn how to make your tank last for longer!

We all know that vehicle pollution is a significant problem. The environmental and public health risks are enormous (even in little New Zealand). Our population is growing fast, as are the number of cars on the roads.

The combustion of petroleum produces carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases. Smog forms over congested areas and harmful particle matter can get into the lungs.

If you can get away with being a one-car household great, but let's be honest, it's near impossible with our super busy lifestyles to accomplish this. Two working parents, taking children to school and the likes.

Having said this, we encourage everyone to seriously look at how much unnecessary fuel you use and start making various adjustments. As a bonus, think about the money you'll keep in your bank account (yippy!). Petrol is expensive, and the cost of living is high, so we hope this helps.

Twenty of the Best Petrol Saving Tips

Green pig money bank on wheels

1. Take Fewer Trips

Carefully plan to do all your errands in one go instead of making several trips. Check with others in your household first to see if anyone else needs a ride into town or items picked up.

2. Don't Drive in the Rush Hour

Traffic jams are never much fun. Constant braking and accelerating use up more petrol than driving at a steady pace. If you can't avoid the daily rush hour because of work etc. then try sharing rides (see carpooling below). Another option may be to take the back roads to bypass any gridlocks.

3. Avoid Idling for too long  

Do you fumble about in your parked car while it's running? Time to stop that habit, here's why. Idling burns up petrol and releases toxic gas emissions. Idling uses up more fuel than turning a vehicle off and on again (most people believe the opposite)! Of course, there​​​ are situations when it's necessary to idle, such as at traffic lights, but otherwise, it's not recommended.

Modern cars are technologically advanced, so stopping and restarting the engine won't cause any extra wear and tear. Excessive idling can be harmful to modern engines, as fuel residue damages the piston rings, spark plugs and cylinders. Newer vehicles are efficiently warmed up by driving them rather than idling. Older cars may take a few minutes to warm up properly.

Therefore, if your engines warm, your battery is good, and you expect to be stationary for longer than three minutes, it's best to switch off. Just not in the middle of the road or at intersections for safety reasons. 

4. Plan Your Route Ahead of Time 

Google road map on a cellphoneDon't go driving around in circles

Know where to go and avoid the traffic. Getting lost is a total waste of time and petrol, so if you're unfamiliar with your destination, check a road map before you get behind the wheel. Find out the quickest and easiest way for a smooth run.

5. Stick To the Speed Limit

Fuel consumption increases with speed, so stay within limits and be safe! Speeding on open roads or motorways at 120km/h instead of 90km/h can raise your fuel consumption as much as 20% (not to mention how incredibly dangerous this is). Remember that 100 doesn't have to be a target.  

6. Check Your Tyre Pressure / wheel alignment

Keeping your tyres at their correct inflation pressure (PSI) helps to save petrol. Underinflated tyres have an increased rolling resistance on the road surface. As a result, more energy is required to move them. Low tyres reduce fuel efficiency by 3%-8%. Proper tyre pressure is essential for on-road safety, plus it lengthens the life of your tyres.

If your wheel alignment is out of whack, this can reduce fuel efficiency by up to 10%. Uneven tyre wear also means your tyres won't last as long as they should (they're not cheap).

Nowadays, you can purchase special "fuel-saving tyres". These are designed to have a lower rolling resistance than conventional tyres without compromising on quality or safety. They can save you up to 5.7% on petrol costs.     

7. Air Conditioning or open windows?

Dog with head out a car windowThis guy prefers an open window

Air conditioning uses a car's engine power to work, which can increase fuel consumption by 5-20% depending on low or high settings and your speed. Using the flow-through vents, or the re-circulate button help slightly with fuel efficiency.

- The air conditioning uses more fuel when travelling slower than going faster.

- A/C units don't work well when a car is stationary and will cause petrol wastage.

- When using the A/C to defrost windows, don't forget to turn it off once the windows are clear.

What about opening your windows instead? Driving with your windows down can disrupt airflow and increase fuel consumption as well. What's advisable then, the A/C or windows?

If it's sweltering, roll down your windows for several minutes before you hop in to release the trapped hot air. Open windows are proven to be more fuel-efficient when travelling under 80km. Air conditioning is more fuel-efficient from 80km and over, as the TV show Mythbusters demonstrated. 

8. Don't Carry Around Unnecessary Weight

The heavier a car is, the greater the inertia and rolling resistance will be. Manufactures now recognize this fact by using lighter materials in vehicles. However, the weight you put inside (or attach to) your car makes a difference with the energy and fuel consumption.

On average, for every extra 45kg fuel economy decreases by 2%. This amount is relative to the size of your vehicle. Smaller cars have a harder time lugging around weight than bigger cars. Remove any items from your boot and back seats that you may have accumulated (tools, sports gear, boxes full of junk, etc.) and put them away elsewhere! It all adds up.

9. Remove the Roof Rack or storage box From the Top of Your vehicle

Take off your rack or box if you're not using them to improve your car's aerodynamics and fuel economy. Air is like a wall that a vehicle has to move through. The faster a car goes, the stronger that wall of resistance becomes. Even an empty roof rack or bike rack creates drag which requires excess energy and can increase fuel usage up to 10%.

10. Good Driving Techniques / keep it smooth

A winding road through the countrysideNew Zealand has some tricky roads to navigate - Waikato countryside

The techniques below can save you anywhere from 20%-50% off fuel usage.

patient driving

Aggressive drivers always have higher costs than patient drivers! Fast acceleration and hard braking use up considerably more petrol than if you ease onto the accelerator pedal gradually and drive at a consistent speed.


The AA recommends to change up in gear earlier rather than later for economical driving. Around 2000 RPM (diesel) or 2500 RPM (petrol), as long as the engine isn't labouring (shaking and rattling). You'll get the feel of this easy enough. If your vehicle has a gear shift indicator (in newer models), then take advantage of it.

take notice of other traffic

Look ahead to anticipate what the traffic is doing. When you know that traffic is slowing down in front, lift off the accelerator and let your car slow down naturally.


Take corners smoothly instead of hard braking then accelerating out. Gently reduce your speed before the bend and change down in gear if necessary. Ease out of the curve in a light throttle. If you have children in the back seat, this may avoid car sickness!


Build up velocity before reaching uphill stretches. Before the hillcrest lift your foot off the accelerator and use the vehicles own momentum to go over the top (this may take a bit of practice).

11. fifth or sixth gear for economical motoring

Gear stick with 5 gearsI met a lady once who didn't know what the 5th gear was for!

Gone are the days of there being only four forward gears in a vehicle. It's surprising that some people hardly use their 5th or 6th gears, as they're designed to maintain the desired top cruising speed and conserve fuel. They keep the engine running at lower RPM'S.   

If you have a five gear car, use 5th for a speed range of 60km and above (usually on flat roads), or for when you reach your motorway cruising speed.

Six speeds are a step-up economically. You tend to change through the lower gears a bit quicker and use 6th for the highest cruising speed, e.g. straight open roads and motorways.    

12. cruise control

Use cruise control when travelling on lengthy stretches of road. This feature helps to save petrol by adjusting the throttle and keeping the vehicle moving along steadily. Excellent when going on a big journey.

Quick note - Cruise control isn't intended for slippery surfaces in winter.

13. Don't Coast Downhill in Neutral

Many people think that coasting downhill in neutral saves petrol, but it doesn't. While a car is in neutral, it's idling and still using fuel. When you travel down a hill, lift off the accelerator (in gear) and the engine management system (around since the '80s) will induce a fuel cut to the engine automatically.  

Coasting in neutral is dangerous as you don't have full control of your vehicle. You can't accelerate to get out of a difficult situation or a potential accident. Furthermore, you won't have your engine braking to slow you down, which heightens the risk of overheating your breaks. Also, going back into gear while coasting could damage your transmission if you accidentally shift into the wrong setting (ouch!).

Engine braking (releasing the accelerator while changing down in gears) is more economical than "foot on the pedal braking".

 14. Keep Your Car Well Maintained

Abandoned children's car outsideAhem... time for that tune-up?

Getting your vehicle serviced regularly will ensure it's running at optimal performance. Replacing worn spark plugs, a change of air and fuel filters, and an oil change, all help to conserve fuel. Using the correct grade of oil for your car is important for fuel economy (check your owners manual). The oil must be the right viscosity for your engine and the conditions. An inadequately maintained vehicle uses between 10%-50% more petrol depending on the issues and may emit up to 50% more greenhouse gases.

15. Carpooling

Sharing rides with others travelling to and from the same destination (work, school, clubs etc.) is far more eco friendly than being in a vehicle alone. Did you know that while city driving, as much as 50% of a vehicle's energy is used just on acceleration? Commuting to and from your job can take out a massive chunk of your weekly pay.

Start by checking if your work has a carpooling plan on offer. If not, start one up yourself. Shared driving arrangements will save you money on petrol, parking fees, and you may even make a few good friends along the way! 

16. Use Public Transport

Catching the bus, train, or ferry saves on fuel and reduces congestion on the roads. Takes away the hassle and stress from having to drive yourself. Bookmark your local public transport timetables on your phone for convenience. 

17. Bike or Walk

If you're heading somewhere nearby, then why not get some exercise at the same time. You might even like it. Get those legs moving!

18. Choose a Fuel Efficient Vehicle

Vehicles parked up along the roadKiwi's love their road trips so take care while driving - Punakaiki

Before your next car purchase do some research between prospective models for their fuel economy (see below).

Automatics used to be more fuel-hungry than manuals back in the day. Now, the newer automatics with additional gears are making fuel usage comparable if not better.

There are lots of factors to consider when looking for a vehicle to buy. We recommend the EECA Energywise website's page that compares fuel economy labels for your specific driving needs. You can adjust the settings to get a realistic idea of the costs involved.      

19. Drive a vehicle That's the Right Size for Your Distinct Needs

For example, a single person who doesn't usually travel far probably doesn't require a big car with a large engine. If you're a family of five or six who goes away most school holidays, then you'll need a roomier vehicle or van, with sufficient engine power. 

20. Give Yourself a Weekly Fuel Budget

Work out a suitable petrol allowance for the week. Try to stick to that amount. Allow more for special occasions such as holidays.

Article by Justy

Note - Percentages used in this article were gathered from numerous sources. Some sources differed slightly from others with their stats, so I used the most common numbers.

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