Lower emission driving

Changing your behaviour could save energy (and money too)

What does it mean to be a good driver? You might be a pro at parallel parking, always stick to speed limits and never hog the middle lane. But it’s not all about slick manoeuvres and road sense.

So-called ‘lower emission driving’ (also called ‘fuel efficient driving’) sees you adopt techniques that help you use less energy behind the wheel. In turn, according to Energy Saving Trust, that means you could lower your tailpipe emissions, reduce your contribution to air pollution and save money.

If you have an electric vehicle (EV), this driving style could also help you to squeeze more from your battery and boost the distance you cover – using even less energy and reducing your bill further.

It’s also worth noting a new EV has just a third of the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions of an equivalent new petrol car, even when taking into account battery production and disposal.

With expert advice from Energy Saving Trust, here are 10 smart ways to help you hone your road skills. Better still, most of these techniques work whatever you drive, whether it’s a trusty old runabout or the latest electric car.

1. Make smooth moves – avoid harsh braking and accelerating

The easiest way to use less fuel or energy? Going gently on your pedals. If you regularly speed up and then slam on the brakes, you increase the amount you use. Instead, aim for a smooth driving style. This will help you maintain momentum so you won’t use and lose as much energy or fuel accelerating and braking unnecessarily. Even tips as simple as lifting your foot off the accelerator when approaching traffic lights and roundabouts or - in a petrol or diesel car - changing gear early (at around 2000rpm) could begin to make a difference.

2. Look ahead to anticipate the traffic. Can you time it just right?

When you’re behind the wheel, it’s a given that you should always anticipate the road ahead. But if you become skilled at judging other cars’ speed and distance, you can play your part in keeping the traffic flowing – and that’ll help you to keep a steadier, more fuel-efficient driving style. For example, if you face oncoming traffic but your side of the road is blocked by a series of parked cars, easing off the accelerator a little earlier than usual could mean you don’t have to stop. And that means you won’t need to accelerate as much to get going again – saving you energy (and, in a petrol or diesel car, reducing emissions). 

3. No need to speed, you’ll only use up more power

There’s a straightforward rule for speed and energy use: the higher your speed, the higher your energy consumption. According to Energy Saving Trust, the most efficient speed for diesel and petrol cars is between 40 and 50mph (PDF, 827 KB), and it helps to drive in the highest gear possible. Electric car energy consumption (and therefore range) is affected by high speeds too. However, at lower speeds and in urban stop start traffic where petrol and diesel cars are least efficient, EVs are at their most efficient. This means that any reduction in EV driving range when driving at motorway speeds can be more than compensated for around town.

4. Keep an eye on your MPG or miles per kWh

Watching your miles per gallon (or miles per kilowatt hour if you’ve got an electric car) is a great way to get instant feedback on whether you’re driving efficiently – the greater the number, the better. In many cars it’s possible to set the trip computer to record a journey’s miles per gallon or miles per kWh. You can then use this to see how your energy-efficient driving skills are developing and discover the best cruising speed for your model. 

With EVs, you could expect to drive (PDF, 354 KB) at between 2 and 4 miles per kWh, depending on the size and weight of your car. Again, you should be able to reset the trip computer and work on your driving skills to try and change this figure. As a rule, if you can match or beat the official advertised fuel or energy consumption for your particular car, you are driving efficiently. 

5. Get to know your car’s ‘eco mode’

If your car is reasonably new, it probably has an eco (or ‘economy’) mode. This helps you use less fuel or battery charge by altering the way some of your car’s internal systems work. The changes triggered by flicking the ‘eco’ switch will depend on the car and manufacturer but you could generally expect acceleration to feel slower and any air conditioning may reduce its output. You may also find, particularly in automatic petrol and diesel cars, that you shift to higher gears sooner.

Part of the fuel-saving technology fitted to petrol and diesel cars is so-called ‘stop/start’. This will help you to save a little more fuel, particularly around town, if you leave the stop/start mode switched on.

6. Learn to love regenerative braking if you drive an EV

Electric cars use regenerative braking to help you get more miles from your battery. When you take your foot off the accelerator to slow the car down, the electric motor acts as a generator, returning electrical energy to the battery and slowing you down in the process.  

If you’re new to EVs, it can take a little time to get used to regenerative braking as you may find your car slows down more quickly than in a petrol or diesel version. It’s a more pronounced slowing than that achieved if you change down a gear to help you slow down, but similar in feel. The energy you are able to recover through regenerative braking could be more than 10% and depends on factors such as driving conditions, the level of regenerative braking and where you’re driving e.g. in a hilly area or flat city suburb.

Most electric cars let you set a level of regenerative braking when you’re behind the wheel. This way, you can become more comfortable with how it works. Start off with the lowest setting and then adjust it as you adapt. You should be able to recoup more energy the higher you set the ‘regen’ and, as a bonus, it will save a little brake wear too.

However, if you are driving at higher speeds on dual carriageways or motorways it may be best to reduce the regenerative braking strength. This is so that any relaxation on the accelerator doesn’t result in you inadvertently slowing down more than anticipated, and then having to accelerate again.

7. Go easy on the aircon (when you can)

If you drive a petrol or diesel car, turning on the air con burns fuel. With an EV, using the heater to keep the car toasty on a cold day can similarly drain your battery’s charge. Many EVs now include heating features for seats (and even steering wheels) which could be more efficient. Most EVs, however, can be heated up in winter or cooled down in summer while plugged in for a charge. This means that the heater and air conditioning doesn’t have to work so hard when you get in to drive which will use less battery energy. Plus, you could climb into a toasty car with de-iced and de misted windows in winter (or get into a fresh cool vehicle in summer) all at the touch of an app from the comfort of your home.

Dressing for the weather could also help you save energy. For example, where feasible on warmer days, this might be as easy as ditching jumpers and winding windows down.

8.Take stock of your tyre pressure

Your tyres lose pressure over time, and this can be a problem for both safety and efficiency. When they’re under-inflated, their rolling resistance is higher – and to overcome it, your car uses more fuel or battery charge. In short, you expend more energy than you need to. You can usually find the recommended tyre pressure for your car stamped on the inside of the driver’s door frame. As a rule of thumb, give them a check at least once a month, and always before long journeys.

9. Lose the load and make your car more aerodynamic

The heavier your vehicle, the more energy the engine or battery needs to move it forward. So if you’re guilty of car clutter, now’s the time for a clear-out. That includes bike carriers, roof boxes and roof racks plus luggage in the boot too. If you’re not using them, they’re only adding to resistance and holding you back (literally).

10. Ensure your car engine is as efficient as possible

For petrol and diesel cars, one easy way to reduce your tailpipe emissions is to make sure your engine is running as well as possible. This means making sure your car is serviced as recommended by the manufacturer.  

And finally...

If you are really keen to reduce your transport costs and contribution to climate change, then you can explore lift sharing, or reducing your car use by using park and rides and replacing shorter, everyday journeys with active travel – walking, wheeling and cycling.

These are a few options that could offer even more environmental and cost savings than fuel-efficient driving, alongside other benefits such as reducing congestion and improving your health and wellbeing.

All information and estimates provided by Energy Saving Trust as at 5 May 2023. 

This article does not constitute advice and is for general guidance only. Always undertake your own research before taking any action.

If you decide to access any of the third-party websites, you do so entirely at your own risk.

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