Motorists could face their biggest fuel bills ever in 2006, as pump prices start the year up to 10 pence higher than at the same point in 2005.
Average pump prices for a litre of petrol stand at 89.4 pence per litre this January, compared with 79.6 pence per litre at the beginning of 2005, says the AA Motoring Trust, which monitors fuel prices around the UK.
Diesel starts 2006 at a UK average of 93.5 pence per litre, 8.7 pence more than in January 2005.
While 10 pence a litre might not seem much to pay, over the course of a year the AA Motoring Trust says the average family will be spending £340 more to fuel up in 2006.
While pump prices always traditionally peak during the winter as demand for oil increases to heat homes, the AA isn't confident that costs will drop later in 2006 either.
Price analyst Ruth Bridger says: 'The rising cost of crude oil and the prospect of political pressure on Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, does not augur well for the cost of fuel this year. Motorist must expect car fuel prices to be volatile.'
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Click through to the second page of this article for some tips on how to cut down on fuel bills. You can also try a new website, www.petrolprices.com, which will show you the cheapest prices in your area if you register and then type in your postcode.
Fuel saving tips
You can expect fuel consumption to be worse than the official combined figure. As a rule of thumb, expect 10-15% less mileage than this figure suggests due to the fact that real-life driving is more demanding than the official EU tests.
Accelerating as slowly as possible is not considered the best option to save fuel – and it can also irritate other road users. Accelerate normally through the gears to your desired speed and then change to the highest gear possible.
When cruising, try to use fifth gear from around 30mph up, and aim to keep the engine speed to between 2000rpm and 3000rpm in petrol engines, and between 1750rpm and 2300rpm in diesels.
Switch off the engine if you're going to be at a standstill for more than a minute.
Look at the routes you frequently take – your drive to work, for instance. Are there less-congested roads you could take? They may add miles to your trip, but, if they cut out stop-start motoring, you could be quids-in.
Keep windows and sunroofs shut, and make sure your tyres are at the right pressure. Wind resistance and drag from under-inflated tyres will increase fuel bills. Always remove roof racks and bike racks when not needed, and don't carry unnecessary items in your boot.
Use of the stereo, rear demisters, lights and especially air-conditioning adds to the fuel bill.
A dirty engine with lots of sooty deposits can worsen fuel economy. Changing the oil can help to improve things here.
There are lots of fuel potions on the market, which supposedly improve performance and lower fuel consumption and emissions with simple tablets, magnetic strips or a squirt of additive. If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Don't assume that buying a diesel-engined car will save you money. They cost considerably more to buy and, with higher pump prices, to fill up.
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