Read our comprehensive guide to electric vehicles and find out about the most efficient vehicles for you.
Choosing a car or motorbike
The growing range of fuel-efficient cars on the market offer big savings – and it's becoming easier to buy a used car that's fuel efficient too. Low-emission company cars can cut your tax burden. There are also options for motorcyclists and scooter riders interested in fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.
Within just a few years, the choice of frugal, low-emission cars has increased dramatically. There are more options across all categories - from MPVs to superminis - and all engine types: petrol, diesel, hybrid and all-electric. As a general rule, though, smaller cars with smaller engines use less fuel.
Choosing the most efficient car in its category could save you up to four months' fuel each year. New car showrooms display fuel economy details for cars; in car advertisements, fuel economy and emissions data is always published.
Cars emitting less than 100 grams carbon dioxide per kilometre and meeting Euro 5 emissions standards attract no road tax (vehicle excise duty) and are exempt from the London congestion charge. N1 class vans are not eligible for the congestion charge discount, irrespective of their emissions performance.
Choosing an engine
Petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric: which is the most efficient?
- Diesel - diesel powered cars are often more fuel efficient than a petrol equivalent, but cost more to buy, and diesel is currently more expensive. As a result, they are generally more cost effective for high-mileage drivers who drive primarily on motorways.
- Petrol - cars with petrol engines are typically cheaper to buy than diesels and the fuel is cheaper. Therefore, they are typically cost effective for lower mileage drivers. However, engine technology is improving and very fuel-efficient petrol engines are now available.
- Hybrids - combining a battery with a conventional engine, hybrids are more expensive to buy than petrol or diesel models, and are at their most fuel efficient in urban driving.
- All-electric - the growing range of all-electric cars are more expensive to buy than conventional or hybrid vehicles, even with the plug-in vehicle grant. Running costs are lower as they are cheap to refuel and benefit from tax breaks. However, they have a limited range, typically around 100 miles on a single charge. They are typically suitable for shorter, commuter-style journeys. Discover whether this is the option for you on our electric vehicle page.
A low-emission company car can cut your tax burden. The days are long gone when fuel efficient meant boring. Today, many major manufacturers and prestige brands offer cars that combine performance and style with low fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. For company car drivers who can select a vehicle, this means a good choice of cars in low tax bands.
It's an important issue, because company cars in the UK are taxed both on their value and their carbon dioxide emissions. Cars of a similar value can have very different tax levels, so it pays to look for low emission models. Working out the tax levels can be complex, but help is at hand:
- The Energy Saving Trust has produced a comprehensive guide for drivers to help you choose your next company car
- The Comcar website has a range of calculators and guides to help you work out and compare tax levels, fuel consumption and fuel benefits.
- Go to the HMRC site for full guidance, information and calculators about company cars and taxation for both employees and employers
Buying a used car can save you a considerable sum on initial depreciation. The newer a car is, the more likely it is to have better fuel consumption and lower carbon dioxide emissions.
Used car buying tips
- A good service history will give you confidence that it's been kept in good condition and running efficiently.
- To check carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption data for thousands of used cars, go to the VCA section of the Directgov website.
- For a comprehensive checklist and guidebooks, go to the What Car? website.
- For a range of advice on buying a used car, and services such as data checks and vehicle inspections, go to the AA's website.
- For tips and a Car Buyer’s Guide with environmental ratings of all new cars on the market, see the Environmental Transport Association's website.
- Find reviews of new and used cars at the RAC website.
Because of their light weight, motorcycles and scooters offer relatively good fuel efficiency. Even very high performance models perform better than many cars, and small mopeds and scooters can run for over 100 miles on a gallon of fuel. There are some electric bikes available on the market too: check these out for zero tailpipe emissions and very low running costs.
For riders wanting to reduce fuel costs and emissions, it's about your choice of two-wheeled transport and how you ride it:
- bike choice - in general, the smaller the engine capacity, the better the fuel efficiency. However for longer journeys, small bikes may not be a practical choice. Motorcycles with the fullest possible fairings tend to be more aerodynamic and fuel efficient - they are also more comfortable for riders over long distances.
- riding style - smarter driving applies to motorcycles as much as cars. Smooth riding, planning ahead and conserving momentum all keep fuel costs down.
- aerodynamics - clothing, luggage and riding position all make a difference on a bike. While it may not be practical to get the 20% fuel saving that's achievable by lying almost prone on the bike at speed, wearing non-flappy clothing and using luggage only when necessary will improve your fuel efficiency.
For businesses looking for help in selecting the right vehicles, find out how the Energy Saving Trust's free consultancy services can help.
To search a database of all the new cars commercially available in the UK according to many criteria including carbon dioxide emissions, fuel economy, car tax band and price, visit the Best in Class tool.
For news, reviews and a complete overview of greener cars, visit the Green Car Guide's website.
For help finding cars with the lowest emissions and running costs, visit the government's car fuel data site.
Find full details of tax bands on the Directgov website.