Fuel Shortage: How to Save Fuel When Driving

Petrol stations across the UK have begun to close their doors as fuel supplies at the pump dwindle. Read on to find out how fears of a fuel shortage have affected fuel supplies at petrol stations and simple steps you can take to save on fuel in the long term.

Brean Horne Last updated on 29 September 2021.
Fuel Shortage: How to Save Fuel When Driving

Petrol stations across the UK began to close their forecourts in the last week of September 2021 due to the dwindling availability of petrol and diesel at the pumps.

As panic-stricken drivers rush to stock up on fuel amid fears of a shortage, supplies at petrol stations have been under even more pressure.

New government measures have been introduced to ease the strain on fuel supplies and help stations restock.

Here, we explain why petrol stations are closing and the important steps you can take to save on fuel.

Is there a fuel shortage?

The government has confirmed that there is ‘plenty of petrol’ in the UK’s refineries.

In an interview with Sky News on 27 September, Environment Secretary, George Eustice said that there is “no shortage of petrol” and advised drivers to buy fuel as normal.

There have been delays in getting these supplies to petrol stations due to a shortage in heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers. According to The Road Haulage Association, there’s an estimated 100,000 shortfall in the number of HGV drivers needed to service industries including fuel and retail.

So why are petrol stations closing?

A shortage of HGV drivers to deliver fuel to the stations has meant that some forecourts have had to close their doors due to limited supply.

Some fuel providers including BP and Tesco closed their forecourts temporarily in the week beginning 27 September due to a lack of unleaded and diesel fuel while they waited for deliveries.

Around 400 petrol stations operated by the EG Group have introduced a £30 cap to help ease panic buying at the pumps. The EG Group runs petrol stations for fuel brands including BP, Shell, Texaco and Esso.

What is the government doing?

The government has agreed to temporarily suspend competition laws so information can be shared freely to help petrol stations replenish fuel supplies.

In a statement on Gov.uk, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced the ‘Downstream Oil Protocol’ aiming to make it easier for oil companies to share information and prioritise fuel deliveries to different regions in the UK.

It follows a package of measures announced over the weekend to help ease pressures on the supply chain created by the coronavirus pandemic.

These measures include:

  • Increased HGV licence testing
  • Short-term visas for HGV drivers
  • Skills bootcamps to train up to 4,000 more people to become HGV drivers
  • Putting the military on stand by in local areas
  • Issuing letters to encourage HGV licence holders to apply for work in the sector

Five ways to save fuel while driving

Taking steps to save fuel while you're driving can help you make your tank go the distance as well as save you money. These five simple tips can help you reduce your fuel bill:

1. Drive smoothly and limit high speeds

Harsh acceleration and heavy braking are bad for fuel consumption and increase wear and tear on the engine. Anticipating the road and other road users as far ahead as possible can help you drive more smoothly and avoid any abrupt changes in speed. Driving at high speeds dramatically increases your fuel consumption. For example, a car driving at 75 mph uses around 18% more fuel than a car driving at 60 mph, while for vans, this difference increases to 37%, according to the Energy Saving Trust. So, although it can be tempting to drive at top speed, when the limit allows, keeping to a reasonable speed can help you save fuel.

2. Check the tyre pressure

Driving with under-inflated tyres means that your engine has to work harder to keep your car moving. This burns more fuel and increases your CO2 emissions. Regularly checking your tyre pressure, especially before long journeys, can help reduce fuel consumption and make your tyres last longer too. You should aim to check your tyre pressure at least once a month and before long-distance journeys.

3. Turn off the engine

Leaving your engine running when your car is stationary, or idling, uses a lot of fuel. If your car is likely to be at a standstill for more than a few minutes then it’s best to switch off your engine. Some newer cars are now fitted with a feature, called stop-start, that automatically does this for you.

4. Remove roof boxes and bike racks

Attachments like roof boxes, roof racks and bike racks add weight to your car and increase its fuel consumption. Roof boxes increase fuel consumption by around 22% at 64 mph and 39% at 75 mph, according to the Vehicle Certification Agency. So, it’s best to remove them when they’re not in use to help you save on fuel.

5. Use less air conditioning

Cutting back on air conditioning could help you save on fuel. Air conditioning can increase fuel consumption by up to 5%, according to the Energy Saving Trust. So, where possible, rolling down your windows can help cool down your car without using excess fuel.

» MORE: Car maintenance checklist: 13 tips to look after your car

Beware of misfuelling

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of drivers putting the wrong fuel in their cars in the rush to panic-buy fuel amid fears of a shortage, according to a statement issued by the AA on 27 September 2021.

Misfuelling by putting petrol in a diesel car or vice versa can significantly damage your car’s engine and cost thousands to fix.

Although some car insurance policies include cover for misfuelling, more than half of policies exclude it completely.

So it’s important to take care when you’re filling up at the pump to avoid costly damage to your vehicle.

If you realise that you’ve misfuelled your car before switching on the engine, let the service station attendant know immediately. Then get in touch with your car insurer or breakdown cover provider to arrange for your fuel tank to be drained.

If you notice an issue with your fuel after you’ve driven off, pull over in a safe space and call for assistance right away.

» COMPARE: Breakdown cover quotes

Is it illegal to run out of fuel while driving?

It’s important to keep an eye on your fuel levels and make sure your tank is topped up.

Although it’s not illegal to run out of fuel, you could run into trouble with the law if you drive carelessly when it happens.

Your empty tank could land you with a £100 penalty and three points on your licence if you break down in the road and cause an obstruction.

If your breakdown causes an accident you could face court action, receive an unlimited fine or be issued nine points on your licence.

» MORE: What should I do if my car breaks down?

Image source: Getty Images

About the author:

Brean is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. She covers a range of financial topics and has written for consumer titles including Which?, Moneywise and The Motley Fool. Read more

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