All this and less stress too

John Simister on how to reduce fuel consumption in town without driving at milk-float speed

If you drive a lot in town you've probably noticed that your car is rather thirstier than the sales brochures would have you believe. Perhaps you normally avoid town traffic but were forced to join it during last year's rail strikes. Again, you ma y havenoticed that your car seems to go only half as far on a gallon as it does out on the open road - and rail fares suddenly seem a little less outrageous.

But there are ways of minimising the impact on the world's oil reserves, the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content and your own bank balance, and they do not involve crawling along at milk-float speed. They call for a blend of careful technique, observation and common sense, and they should not lengthen your journey time. Even better, you will actually feel less stressed.

The secrets of economical town driving are anticipation and a cool head. Try to anticipate what other drivers will do, even if they should not be doing it, and don't get involved in competitive or confrontational situations. This way, by being proactive rather than reactive, you can plan your movements and interrupt your car's motion as little as possible. Every time you speed up, your car uses energy, every time you brake, it wastes it.

If you see a gap in the traffic, blend into it without stopping. Don't stop at give way signs and wait to see if there is something to give way to, but size up the situation in advance. This is particularly fruitful at roundabouts, where it is easy to see what is approaching from your right. If you are moving at the same speed as the approaching traffic, you will not be obstructing its progress as you slot in.

You can keep the momentum going at traffic lights, too. If they are showing red as you approach, slow down in good time so that you are still moving when they turn green. Don't overdo this, though, or you will incur the wrath of following drivers who will think you are holding them up. Similarly with speed bumps; slow down in advance, without touching the brakes, so that you can move over them at a comfortable speed. What that speed is depends on your car's suspension, so you have to experiment.

Don't, though, carry momentum-conservation to extremes, or you will undo all your efforts. This is particularly the case if you follow too close behind another car which can cause you to break abruptly or be trapped in a traffic lane should an inconsiderate character in front of you suddenly decide to turn right.

Naturally, standard economy driving practice is as relevant to town driving as it is on the open road. Imagine that there is an egg between your right foot and the accelerator pedal and that this egg must not break. This will stop you from sudden, fuel-wasting movements of the pedal without necessarily slowing your progress.

A car is incapable of accelerating at more than a certain rate, a rate which, particularly at low speeds, may be achieved before the pedal has reached the end of its travel. Press the pedal any further, and wasted fuel goes straight out of the exhaust pipe. Tyre-squealing getaways from traffic lights will rarely gain you any long-term advantage.

When slowing down, don't change down through all the gears. Instead, wait until you have finished slowing and either depress the clutch as you come to a standstill and go straight to neutral, or go straight into the gear you need to accelerate away in again.

A final taboo. Never, ever, hold the car on the clutch when stationary in an uphill queue. Use the handbrake instead. Holding the car on the clutch means that the engine has to deliver power to counteract the car's desire to roll back, which uses fuel. And it will very quickly destroy your clutch.

Follow all these guidelines, stay smooth, cool and calm, and your car will repay your efforts with a lighter appetite. And you will be a safer, more relaxed driver into the bargain.

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