Something surfaced during last year’s MPG Marathon that generated a little bit of discussion, when the regulations revealed that the results were to be judged purely on calculated miles per gallon, not on how much fuel you actually used to cover the reasonably flexible route.
The novel 2013 event format gave teams freedom to navigate their own way between A and B, B and C etc., within the allowable stage time – meaning choosing roads and terrain that were good for fuel economy, and yet obviously as short as possible within that context.
But in theory, a team could choose a long flat route instead of perhaps a slower and possibly hilly shorter journey and actually use more fuel than a team selecting the shorter option, but produce a better mpg figure. In practice we don’t think this had any effect on the final results, but planning the routes did make us think about distance, cruising speeds, avoiding urban traffic, and how steady speed cruising on quiet, straight, level roads can be very economical, if the traffic flow lets you make decent progress without much overtaking. It’s potentially more economical than stop/go motoring using busy A-road cross-country routes, or faster motoring on busy motorways for a long holiday journey. Stopping to fuel up and take a toilet break at a decent dual-carriageway filling station can also be a lot quicker, and a lot cheaper for fuel and other shopping than motorway service areas.
With such long holiday journeys in mind, intelligent route planning can be the key to good fuel economy, minimising any hassle, and saving money when possible. We took a sample route from somewhere south of Manchester to the Norfolk coast and, using Michelin’s on-line route planner, produced some figures for journey time, distance, and estimated fuel costs. Three alternative routes were offered, with journey times from 4hrs 5mins (237 miles) to 4hrs 51mins, (232 miles) but with an in-between route taking 4hrs 39mins over 215 miles that offered the lowest fuel cost for a medium diesel hatchback of £23.82, at 57.5mpg, with fuel priced at £1.40 a litre. On the latter shorter route, the system suggests you should average 46mph, and save fuel compared with the 22 miles longer fast route, on which you’ll average 58mph and 57mpg, and save 45 minutes. But there’s no substitute for experience and inside knowledge, and we’re sure you would struggle to average 58mph and 57mpg on the long route via the A14 and M6 in summer daytime, and we would only ever choose this route for after 7pm evening journeys, when the high number of trucks that use that route are mostly parked up.
With a car full of kids, or older folk who need frequent comfort stops, mixed routes using quieter motorways or good dual-carriageways with regular service stops are probably the best overall bet for time, cost, and safety. With passengers aboard, you’ll be well advised to drive at respectable and steady speeds, well below your car’s potential, and plan for frequent, but speedy breaks, every 90 minutes to two hours. Holiday journeys can often be long and tiring and you’ll save fuel and stamina by setting off as early as you can, pacing yourself, and giving you and your passengers a decent lunchtime break. Better still, save money and hassle by planning a nice picnic, using maps or online route planners to find somewhere pleasant and convenient to stop, and there will be far less cries of “Are we there yet?” from the back seats. With this approach, you can clock up some quite impressive fuel economy figures, and the journey will seem less stressful. This philosophy also very much applies to those towing caravans and boats, when long, fast, motorway routes will often incur heavier fuel costs and probably be quite tiresome, too.