Lifestyle Guides

How to improve your van’s fuel efficiency

van driving in a city

Running a van isn’t cheap. As with any vehicle, you’ve got to include Vehicle Excise Duty (VED or road tax), van insurance, servicing, tyres, repairs and MOTs when budgeting. We don’t have much control over most of these, but what about fuel? 

You might say: "I always go to the supermarkets, they’re cheaper." That’s a great start, but wouldn’t it be better if you could run your van spending even less on diesel or petrol? 

Here are some tips to keep you away from those pumps...

1. Roof and ladder racks

Vans aren’t always the most aerodynamic things but you can make them much more efficient by keeping the roof clear of unnecessary obstructions. Granted, it’s probably not realistic to remove the roof or ladder rack every time it’s not required, but do you need all those ladders every day? 

And the pipe carrier – if it’s a few weeks since that job where you needed it, consider taking it off. Savings here could be considerable, especially if you’re off on a motorway trip.

2. Tyre pressures

When was the last time you checked them? Don’t rely on the tyre pressure monitoring system fitted to many recent vans, as it’ll only alert you to a tyre dropping in pressure in relation to the others. If they’ve all lost 4psi, you’ll be none the wiser. 

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the USA suggested that for every 10% tyres are under inflated, fuel consumption increases by 3%. So that means a van that usually achieves 30mpg could be costing you £52 a year if your tyres are incorrectly inflated to 36psi instead of the recommended 40psi, and your annual mileage is 10,000 (assuming a fuel cost of £1.15 per litre).

3. Loads

Think about it – you know when your van is fully loaded just by the way it’s not quite as nippy off the mark at the traffic lights, or because you’re having to change down to third gear going up that hill when normally the van will scamper up in fourth. 

All that extra effort uses fuel. Now, it’s a van and its job is to carry loads, but just take a look in the back. Is there a pile of junk, full bin bags, tools you used on a job weeks ago or some leftover building materials shoved into a corner? All that stuff is costing you money in fuel every time you drive. Have a clear out and you’ll also benefit from all that loadspace you’d forgotten you had!

Don’t forget the cab area too. All that rubbish might not look much but, it adds up. Formula One teams spend hundreds of thousands just to reduce the weight of their cars by a few grams. It’ll cost you nothing to ditch those food wrappers, half empty drink bottles and magazines. 

And, to really reduce cab weight, do you need your mate to come along with you to every job...?

4. Fuel

We all do it – we run the van to empty then fill it to the brim. But, every time you drive you’re dragging around a load of weight in the tank. 70 litres of diesel weighs over 57kg, so if you run your van with no more than half a tank full, you’ll save driving around with 28kg of excess weight. That’s a third of a person, or a bag of cement.

OK, you’ll be going to the fuel station twice as often, but, if you pass everyday and always drop in for a takeaway coffee, it’s no great burden, is it?

5. Air conditioning

Many vans have air con now. It’s great in the summer, but does yours stay on all year round? You really don’t need it on during the winter (apart from for demisting windows) so try and remember to only turn it on when you really need it (and more importantly, turn it off again). 

Air conditioning uses a lot of fuel and using it unnecessarily will also mean it’ll need regassing far sooner than it should.

van driving down a road

6. Windows

Maybe you don’t have air conditioning, and instead you rely on opening the cab windows.  That’s fine, but all the turbulent air that batters the cab occupants doesn’t come for free. It’s created by the van no longer moving as cleanly through the air as it was before you pressed that switch, also affecting your fuel consumption. So whenever possible, keep the windows closed.

7. Servicing

Having a regular service will help keep your van running more efficiently. A blocked air filter can have a savage effect on fuel consumption, and sticking brake callipers mean you’re effectively driving with your foot slightly on the brake. 

Sometimes, you’ll only realise your engine needs a tune when it fails the smoke test at MOT time. Regular servicing should nip these issues in the bud.

8. Towing

Can’t be bothered to unhitch the trailer between jobs when you don’t need it? Fine, but it’s going to cost you in fuel...

9. Plan your journey

One of the simplest ways to reduce fuel consumption is to drive less. Careful route planning can save time as well as fuel, and a check of Google Maps with the live traffic overlay prior to setting off can be invaluable, highlighting bottlenecks and delays. The app will suggest the best route taking into account any congestion en route. 

Is the journey really necessary? Can you combine it with tomorrow’s tasks? Not only fuel is being saved by reducing mileage, but also wear and tear on the vehicle, not to mention depreciation. Oh, and your time.

10. Driving technique

Last, but definitely not least, driving smoothly can reduce fuel consumption considerably.

  • Anticipation: Treat the brake pedal as your worst enemy (while still driving safely, obviously!). Applying the brakes creates friction and heat in the discs and drums, and this energy was created by burning fuel. Reading the road ahead and lifting off the accelerator as early as possible is an excellent habit to get into.
  • Avoid harsh acceleration: Move gently through the gears. Ideal change points differ by engine but typically it’s most efficient to change up where maximum torque is developed. If in doubt, and your van has a rev counter, try around 3000rpm. There’s little point revving as high as possible through the gears as you’ll use a lot more fuel (and annoy the neighbours).
  • Cruising speed: It goes without saying that the faster you drive, the more fuel is used. It’s a compromise, especially during a working day and you’ll probably want to stay as close to the speed limit as possible. Driving at 60mph on the motorway is a lot more economical than 70mph though. And, if you’ve got cruise control, use it.

I started my career selling vans in the mid-eighties, progressing through dealer groups to management level. In 2010 I joined vehicle valuation company CAP, being made responsible for forecasting future used values for all makes and models of vans and trucks, this data being used by leasing companies and manufacturers to assess future risk. This role entailed very early exposure to new models including extensive testing across Europe.

In 2016 I started up my own consultancy business dedicated to the LCV industry. In addition, my freelance written work has been used by a number of clients and I am a regular contributor to WhatVan? magazine. I’m also a judge for their annual ‘Van of the Year’ awards.

To relax, I enjoy travel, walking near my Yorkshire home and spend much of my time being bullied by my pet cat, Leo.

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