Bad weather and a big hike in prices at the pumps led to a near-10% fall in petrol sales at the beginning of this year.
Petrol purchasing was down more than 450 million litres in January to March 2013 compared with the same period last year, Government figures highlighted by the AA showed.
Compared with the pre-recession period of January to March 2008, sales fell more than 1.36 billion litres.
Retail sales of diesel, though, held up well in the first three months of this year - increasing nearly 18 million litres - a rise of 0.47%. But this was still 5.32% down on the January-March 2008 total.
AA spokesman Luke Bosdet said: "Although the coldest March in 50 years will have contributed to the fall in petrol sales, by far the biggest cause over the first quarter was the third 8p to 10p-a-litre price swing in 12 months.
"During all three price shocks, sales suffered because there was no more give in family budgets. The only alternative was to leave the car on the driveway."