With that in mind, we spoke to AA Cars CEO James Fairclough to get his advice on maximising a car’s efficiency and some of the affordable used cars with the best economy.
James told us: “Driving your car more efficiently can save you a lot of money in fuel, and will also cause less wear and tear, reducing your overall maintenance costs over time.
“For manual cars, shifting up a gear earlier can reduce fuel usage as the engine won’t be running at higher revs. However, be sure not to labour the engine as that can cause long-term damage.
By anticipating what other road users will do and situations down the road, you will also be able to accelerate and brake more smoothly and safely, which can keep fuel usage down. Equally, by taking your foot off the accelerator and letting the friction of the tyres and engine help slow the car you can also cut fuel consumption and reduce wear on your brakes.
Make sure your car isn’t carrying any excess weight, as it will mean the engine will have to work harder, and if the engine works harder, it’ll use more fuel. Only have essentials for the journey in the car – don’t fill your boot with clutter.”
The most fuel efficient affordable used cars
While driving techniques can help maximise economy, how much you spend on fuel is largely dicated by your car’s economy, so it’s important to consider this when looking for a new vehicle.
Engine technology in new cars, especially the introduction of hybrid systems, has helped improve economy for many models but for drivers with more modest budgets there are still plenty of older cars out there with impressive efficiency.
Here are 10 of James’s most fuel efficient used cars for less than £6,000.
Volkswagen Up. Up to 55mpg
This VW is practical and fun to drive, while its engine size keeps it cheap to run. It is primarily a city car and ideal for nipping around narrow streets, but is equally pleasant to drive on motorways. It is often a popular choice for new drivers owing to its maximum five stars on the Euro NCAP safety rating. As an added bonus, it’s among the cheapest cars in the country to insure.
Toyota Aygo. Up to 58mpg
Toyota recently replaced its popular city car with the new Aygo X. The good news is there are plenty of Aygos available on the secondhand market to suit all budgets. The Aygo is a very affordable car to run, and its compact size makes it ideal for congested streets and tight parking spaces. There’s generous leg and headroom in the front seats of the Aygo, but the back seats are a little cramped for adults.
Citroen DS3. Up to 78mpg
The Citroen DS3 is a discontinued supermini, with its most efficient 1.6-litre diesel returning more than 78mpg. Its petrol counterpart is much less efficient, though. It’s a striking car to look at, with high quality interior but it has substance to go along with that style. It has strong grip and feels alert and agile around corners.
Volkswagen Golf. Up to 74mpg
The Volkswagen Golf has a well-earned reputation as a great all-round family hatchback and its larger size might suit some people better. It has a roomy cabin with a suitcase-friendly boot, and you’ll find it a quiet, comfortable drive. At our price point, you’re looking at sixth-generation models, where even “performance” diesel versions offer economy of 55mpg and the economy-focused Bluemotion models manage up to 74mpg in official tests.
Toyota Prius. Up to 65mpg
The original Toyota Prius was one of the first mass-produced hybrid vehicles on sale and remains one of the best available on the secondhand market, along with the second-generation model. Its fuel economy is one of its greatest strengths, but it also offers a quiet, relaxing drive. The Prius has proven itself to be a very reliable vehicle, and Euro NCAP awarded the Toyota Prius five stars out of five owing to its great safety features.
Honda Insight. Up to 61mpg
The Insight was one of the first hybrids to go on sale in the UK, and fuel efficiency remains one of its biggest selling points. The earliest versions of the Insight could be a bit of a bumpy ride, but more recent models have much improved suspension to make journeys go a lot more smoothly. It comes with excellent safety scores and Honda has a great reputation for reliability, meaning problems are few and far between.
BMW 3 Series. Up to 60mpg
The BMW 3 Series with its 318d engine promises low running costs combined with the performance features you expect from a brand like BMW. Its light steering makes it a smooth drive and feels well balanced around bends. As is to be expected from a BMW, you’ll find an attractive interior with a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustments.
Peugeot 208. Up to 83mpg
The Peugeot 208 is a highly-efficient supermini, with even petrol models scoring upwards of 60mpg in official tests. However, anyone regularly travelling long distances could really benefit from one of the diesel models, which in the first generation 208 offered claimed economy as high as 83mpg. As with all the cars on our list, those figures are from lab testing and are difficult to achieve in the real world, but the 208 remains a hugely efficient option for drivers on a budget.
Skoda Fabia. Up to 83mpg
Skoda Fabias offer great fuel efficiency even in petrol guise but the Greenline models with their 1.2-litre diesel engine are especially worth a look at as they have been optimised for fuel economy and geared towards comfort. Despite this, the Greenline does possess a reasonably loud engine and can be a bit sluggish to drive. In terms of maximising fuel efficiency, it is a winner but merits a test drive first to see how you feel about its handling. Even less economy-focused models, such as newer 1.4 TDIs still return up to 68mpg in official tests.
Hyundai i40. Up to 67mpg
The Hyundai i40 is an ideal family car with its spacious cabin with enough room to sit four comfortably, and five can fit fairly easily too. It glides easily over the bumps and potholes making it a comfortable journey, though it can generate some more engine noise than some of its main rivals.