Fuel prices

* Among the most expensive places to shop * Find out the figures, here * How to beat the rip-off prices...

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What Car? Staff
10 February 2011

Fuel prices

How much more do the UKs motorway services charge motorists and why?

Britain's motorway services are among the most expensive places in the UK to shop, and it seems motorists are sick of paying over the odds for a coffee, a bite to eat or a tank of fuel.

Two thirds of readers surveyed by whatcar.com said they feel ripped-off every time they shop at a service station, and a further 25% think prices are too high. Only 2% think these motorway pit stops provide a great service.

A damning verdict from the nations drivers, then, and its no wonder, given that a bottle of water can cost almost two pounds in service areas such as Moto, Welcome Break and Roadchef but only half that on the high street. Whats more, a tank of petrol for a small family hatchback costs an average of 3.50 more than it does elsewhere.

Fuel prices
This isnt a new problem. As far back as 1967, the Minister of Transport (now Secretary of State for Transport) claimed that very few motorway services could justify their high prices. Now, more than 40 years later the situation is worse than ever.

Take the price of fuel. Our research shows that motorway pump prices last December were a massive 7.4% above the national average. In the 11 service stations we mystery-shopped, a litre of unleaded cost 6.4p more than average, while diesel prices were 3.4p higher. A litre of LPG had the biggest premium, at 9.7p over the average.

Unleaded (per litre)
National average
Average motorway price
Motorway mark-up
5.2%Coca-Cola (500ml)
WH Smith high street
WH Smith motorway price
Motorway mark-up
These inflated prices mean that filling-up a petrol VW Golf would cost an average of 3.52 more on the motorway than off it, and that a tank of diesel for a Ford Mondeo would set you back an extra 2.38. Over 12,000 miles thats up to 77 down the drain.

Since most motorway services have BP filling stations, we asked the company why prices are so much higher on the motorway than on other roads.

Prices at all of our filling stations are set on a site-by-site basis, and there isnt the fierce competition on motorway services which drives down fuel prices on the high street, said a BP spokesman. We also have to factor in the higher rent, business rates and fuel transportation costs of running a motorway forecourt.

Put simply, part of the reason for the higher prices could be that BP knows people will pay them.

We also dont understand why delivering fuel to a service station would cost more, since fuel lorries already use motorways as part of their delivery runs. However, BP told us that its because some motorway sites are in the middle of nowhere, and so cant be included in the usual deliveries.

We also asked Shell to comment but received no response.