19 driving mistakes that could cost you money (and how to avoid them)

What Car? gives its tips on how to drive better, safer, and more comfortably.....

Driving mistakes - opening your door dangerously

When it comes to nasty surprises, unexpected motoring bills can be some of the worst. Fuel bills, repairs, servicing costs and driving fines can quickly rack up into large expenses. And, as fuel and energy prices and the cost of living continue to rise, we all need to look for simple ways to cut costs – especially when it comes to the expense of owning and driving a car.

So, let’s dive into the 10 motoring mistakes that could cost you money (and how to avoid them).

1. Misfuelling

It’s something every parent has told their new-to-driving teenager: “don’t use the wrong fuel!” But the reality is, even if you’ve been driving for decades, a brief lapse in concentration at the pump could put you in a world of costly pain.

If you have put in the wrong fuel, you’re not alone: around 150,000 Brits misfuel every year. If you find yourself in this position, don’t start the engine! The majority of damage from misfuelling comes from starting the ignition.

The RAC will charge £290.99 for its misfuelling repair service, so always double-check the pump before you start fuelling if you don’t want to spend out – especially if you’re in a car you’re not familiar with.

Parking fine

2. Avoidable fines

Generally, there are two types of driving fines: ones issued on private land, and those issued by the council or law enforcement. Parking on double-yellow lines, stopping in box junctions, driving in bus lanes, and speeding are some of the most common offences on British roads – and each can be as costly as the last.

Research by the DVLA suggests that between April 2021 and April 2022, UK drivers were handed over 8.6 million parking notices by private firms – that’s 23,000 a day – with tickets costing up to £100 each.

Further data suggests that TfL issued over 5.6 million parking fines in London alone, while figures show that a massive £226.5 million is collected every year from speeding fines.

Furthermore, one bus lane in Slough caught over 7,000 drivers in 12 months, while the cost for being caught stationary in a yellow box junction can be as high as £160.

The point is, avoidable fines like these can add up to become major bills over the course of several years. Always be vigilant and aware of your surroundings, and always stick to the speed limit.

3. Poor maintenance

Data collected by Kwik Fit shows that drivers will spend an average of £191.50 a year on routine servicing and maintenance. While that might sound like a big investment that you can ignore or skimp, neglecting your car’s needs will always cost you more in the long run.

In fact, further data shows that the average motorist will spend an additional £159.09 a year on unexpected breakdowns and repairs – jobs that could easily be avoided with regular servicing.

Regular maintenance and servicing could also ensure your car has a better value when you come to sell it. Data shows that 50 per cent of driver’s wouldn’t buy a car with incomplete service history.


4. Crashes and potholes

This one sounds obvious, but you’d probably be surprised just how much silly scrapes, knocks and pothole damage costs the average driver each year.

Research by MoneySuperMarket suggests that the average cost of a car accident is just over £400, meaning a momentary lapse in concentration when you’re in stop-start traffic or parking your car can quickly add up to a big expense.

Additionally, data from Kwik Fit claims that repair bills from hitting potholes cost UK drivers £1.7bn in the last year alone. While it’s not always possible to avoid nasty potholes, you could be eligible to claim for pothole damage to your car. If you’ve hit once recently that’s caused damage, contact your local council.

Park away from SUVs and people carriers where possible. Children have a tendency to throw open car doors with little care for what’s around. Save yourself the damage and park slightly further away.

5. Aggressive driving

A study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed that aggressive driving – sudden braking and harsh acceleration – can reduce fuel efficiency by between 10 and 40 per cent in stop-and-go traffic, and between 15 to 30 per cent at motorway speeds.

Pair that with the fact that drivers are, on average, already spending an extra £32 a month on fuel compared to this time last year, and gentle acceleration, smooth braking and sensible cornering can all add up to save you a lot of money.

Many modern automatic cars are designed with fuel efficiency in mind, meaning the gearbox will change up early and keep your revs low. But, in manual cars, it’s down to the driver. Try changing up at around 2000rpm in diesels, and 2500rpm in petrols, to improve overall efficiency.

Car boot

6. Carrying extra weight

Another way to hamper your fuel economy and increase your fuel bills is by lugging around unnecessary weight and keeping empty bike racks and roof boxes fitted when you’re not using them.

The fuel consumption of a mid-size car increases by about one per cent for every 25 kilograms of additional weight it carries, while an empty rack can increase drag by up to 16 per cent at around 70mph which will further hurt your consumption. Don’t use your car as storage!

7. Underinflated tyres

A study by Michelin claims that UK motorists waste roughly £246 million on fuel every year down to underinflated tyres.

Driving a vehicle with tyres underinflated by just 8psi can increase fuel consumption by up to four per cent and reduce tyre life by 6,000 miles. Not only is this dangerous, but with the average cost of one tyre between £45-70, it can be costly too. Make sure to regularly check your tyre pressures, it only takes a few minutes.

On newer cars, the recommended tyre pressure is normally listed on a sticker inside the driver's door. If there's no sticker on the door, you can usually find the specs in the owner's manual.

MOT station

8. Driving without MOT or tax

Research by Kwik Fit has revealed that 19 per cent of all motorists without a valid MOT certificate didn’t know when their MOT had expired, while 16 per cent didn’t know their car even needed an MOT test at all. Additionally, the number of cars without valid road tax has trebled since tax discs were scrapped in 2014.

The penalty for these crimes can be quite severe, with fines up to £2500 and £1000 respectively. By putting a simple reminder in your calendar, you could save yourself thousands.

9. Fast lane mentality

On a free-flowing motorway, it’s easy to get into the mindset of middle-lane or outside-lane driving to avoid slow inside-lane traffic. But it’s easy for your speed to drift up, which not only could put you above the speed limit, but also is less fuel or energy efficient.

In fact, research shows that a petrol car will increase its fuel consumption by 12.8 per cent when travelling at 75mph compared to 60mph, while a diesel’s consumption can rocket by 17.7 per cent.

In-car tech like cruise control and speed limiter can actually help boost your fuel economy by keeping your car at a steady speed. If you’ve for the features, use them.


10. Don’t idle in heavy traffic

According to a study by the DHEC, an average idling engine can use nearly two litres of fuel per hour.

Not only will this hurt your wallet, but massively increase your personal carbon footprint. When you’re stationary for more than one minute, switch your engine off to save money and fuel.

11. Use the recirculation button

You may have a vague idea that this is the button you press (circled here) when you're trailing behind a 2003 Ford Transit van belching black smoke behind it like it's the Emma Maersk. And this would indeed be the right thing to do. But you shouldn't use it in winter after entering your car, because it will take a lot longer to de-fog the windows. 

But you should use it at least temporarily on hot days at start-up because it will get the temperature down the quickest. And while we're on the subject, on a hot day lower all the windows to allow the hot air out of the car before first setting off; then close them after a few minutes to get the full benefits of your air conditioning. 

12. Use the parking brake

Even some modern automatic gearboxes don't automatically engage the parking brake when you engage Park and switch off the engine. But you always should engage it, since relying on the gearbox entirely to demobilise what might be a heavy car on a hill puts it under a lot of stress it could easily do without. 

Additionally, when you go on holiday and are driving that Fiat Grande Punto rental car around the hills of Italy, having forgotten the habit of using the handbrake after you park your car could cause you a great deal of trouble. 

13. Leave space around you in traffic

When pulling up behind another car in traffic, always allow a space of around 3-4 feet from the car in front. This allows enough space to always overtake them when they break down or become otherwise immobile. 

14. Don't stand on the brakes - unless you have to

If you need to stop quickly, stand on those brakes. Modern brakes are very powerful, and modern tyres are very effective in stopping you too. Let them do their work; don't worry about locking up – all cars sold since 2014 have anti-lock brakes (ABS) fitted as standard, and most have stability control and automatic wheel-brake distribution too, which will also help. 

Many accidents occur not only because drivers don't brake early enough, but also not hard enough. If your car has automatic emergency braking, even better – but don't ever switch it off. 

15. Check your tyres

This may sound like a simple one, but it's something that's so readily ignored, and yet your tyres are so important. After all, the only contact your car physically has with the road – whether it's a sports car, a city car or an SUV – are those four small patches of rubber. 

So, the law requires you to have 1.6mm of tread on your tyres. How to check? Just place a 20p coin into the main tread on your tyre. So long as the outer band is obscured, you're good to go. Tyre-makers recommend you check your tyre tread depth and your air pressure level once per month. 

16. Turn the music down

We're all guilty of it. Your favourite song comes on the radio so you automatically crank up the volume. But did you know that playing loud music, while enjoyable, also has a detrimental effect on your ability to focus? This was demonstrated by research conducted by the Memorial University in Canada, which showed a direct link between a higher sound volume and reaction time. 

Incredibly, when music was played at just 95 decibels (your average smartphone speaker is capable of over 100 dBA), reaction times increased by 20% across all participants. Additionally, loud music can also mask the noise of your engine, which can make judging your speed more difficult. So if you're planning on going for a spirited country drive, make sure you turn the radio off. 

17. Check your blind spots

Being continuously in another driver's blind spot on a multi-lane road can be perilous. Try to drop back or accelerate to remove yourself as soon as you can. 

If it's unavoidable - for example because there are cars close behind or in front of you - then a handy tip is to rest your hand on the horn (usually the centre of the steering wheel) so you can quickly remind the other car of your existence if they show any sign of trying to pull into your lane. 

18. Sit comfortably - and correctly

If you want to be in control of your car, it's absolutely vital that you find a good driving position. Now, your driving instructor may have led you to believe that the most 'comfortable position' is the correct one, but unfortunately that is not the case; we've all seen new drivers sitting far too close to the steering wheel. 

Thankfully, finding the correct position is fairly straightforward. In a manual car, you start by depressing the clutch to the end of its travel. Your leg should be slightly bent; if your leg is straight you need to move your seat forward. Once this is sorted, focus on your arms. You should be able to rest your wrists on the top of the steering wheel with your arms slightly kinked. Use your reclining adjustor to tailor your position. 

In terms of seat height, this will vary dependant on your own height, but ideally you should have an unobstructed view to all sides and all displays on the instrument panel. Finally, you should adjust the upper edge of the headrest to the same height as the top of your head so that you don't risk whiplash in the event of a rear end shunt. 

If done properly you should be able to reach the pedals, gear stick and steering wheel comfortably. 

19. The Dutch reach

You may open your car door without looking around you, but you'd be mistaken. Sure, you can take a glance in the wing-mirror to ensure the way is clear, especially of a passing cyclist who you may not be able to hear. 

But you may miss them if they're very close in your mirror's blind spot, and thus a dangerous accident can result. There were 474 such 'dooring' incidents in 2015 in the UK, and there was a fatality arising from one in 2013 in Leicester. 

Instead, employ the 'Dutch Reach.' Originating in the Netherlands in the 1960s, this method (in the UK version, for right-hand drive cars) involves always opening the driver's car door with your left hand, which forces the head to look directly to the side and towards the rear of the car, eliminating the blind spot, and allowing for full visibility of the immediate area. 

This very useful practise is a required section of the Netherlands driving test, and is even taught in Dutch schools. Pressure group Cycling UK is lobbying the government to do the same here. Time for you to get ahead of the game - especially as the Dutch Reach was added to the Highway Code in early 2022.