/ Motoring

Is fuel economy your most important car-buying factor?

Car fuel dial

Gone are the days of bragging to neighbours about how fast and desirable your car is as you polish it in the driveway. Instead, we’re boasting to buddies about just how frugal our latest vehicle is…

According to CAP, the car valuation company, motorists are putting fuel economy ahead of all other factors when considering what car they’re going to buy next. And purchase price and running costs trump non-financial considerations such as practicality, looks and performance.

The survey asked 500 motorists to rank the 16 most important criteria of their car ownership experience in order of priority. The five that featured highest were all based around costs: purchase price, fuel economy, running costs, overall cost of ownership and service and maintenance costs.

Propping up the list in 15th place was ‘being seen in the right car’, clearly indicating that looks and brand awareness are far less important to car-buyers at the moment.

How Which? can help

However, those looking at economy as the most important factor of a car purchase should do so with caution.

Official fuel efficiency claims are always plastered across adverts, billboards and new-model brochures. But these figures are not always achievable in the real world, and it’s those that make the boldest claims that we’ve found are often furthest from the mark.

These miles per gallon (mpg) figures are based on official EC tests, however, we feel that our tests are more realistic and achievable for UK drivers. You can read why in our guide to how Which? tests mpg.

When we last investigated this, the models that were the worst offenders for missing their mpg claims were ultra-efficient small cars – the models that will appear most attractive to buyers who rank costs above driving performance.

Of all the cars we put through our fuel economy tests in 2012, the top 10 furthest from their claims all promised wallet-friendly fuel returns between 67 and 85mpg. The Peugeot 208 e-HDI diesel achieved 61.4mpg in our tests, which was 21.7mpg shy of the official figure. That’s why we think it’s a good idea to check our figures before relying on the numbers presented to you in the showroom.

Cars: something to enjoy or an A-to-B necessity?

While I do agree that, in these times of austerity, factors such as fuel efficiency and purchase price are more important than ever, I don’t think the broader aspect of car ownership should be overlooked.

The process of buying a car is one of great importance. For many, it’s the second biggest area of expenditure after buying a property. With this in mind, I think buying a car has to be a more rounded consideration of the package on offer rather than how much it will save you. You wouldn’t choose a well-insulated shed over a four-bedroom house, would you?

What a car is like to drive, how much room there is inside and in the boot, and how comfortable it is are equally as vital to me as how well a car pinches pennies. Though this does raise the question of whether car ownership is more about necessity than enjoyment. I would certainly consider myself in the latter group, but is that the case for you?

What's most important to you when you're buying a car? Pick three options:

Reliability (25%, 943 Votes)

Purchase price (18%, 669 Votes)

Fuel economy (17%, 647 Votes)

Practicality (8%, 289 Votes)

Comfort (7%, 278 Votes)

Servicing/maintenance costs (5%, 204 Votes)

Depreciation (4%, 152 Votes)

Handling (4%, 140 Votes)

Performance (3%, 102 Votes)

Insurance (2%, 94 Votes)

Car tax (VED) (2%, 85 Votes)

Equipment/kit (2%, 80 Votes)

Styling (2%, 80 Votes)

Being seen in the right car (0%, 17 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,360

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Because my next car will have a small engine and my annual mileage is low then fuel economy is not my main consideration. I am just as concerned about build quality, reliability, ease of maintenance for DIY jobs and low maintenance costs. I would like to have a spare wheel instead of a can of gunge and I also wish to have a heated or ‘clear’ front windscreen.

The deal-breakers for me would be no spare tyre, lack of reliability, expensive road tax (my Fiesta 1.3 is £200 per year). I do no more than 1200 miles a year but my Fiesta doesn’t get 30mpg so fuel economy is on my list because years of crap economy have put it there.

So why do you own a car?? at 1200 miles a year it would be cheaper to take taxi or hire a car

firefly1 says:
1 November 2013

When my late Father (93) stopped driving, he used taxis locally and never moaned about using them, in fact he made friends with the drivers, remembering their names etc. I have always admired him for this,. I’m not sure that I could have been so sanguine. I would be upset at losing my ‘independence’. But accept that driving is a privilege not a right. My car is 4 years old (low mileage) and I bought it pre reg – big saving, 20 miles on the clock, even if it was silver! 3 good ‘extras’ included on it though! Auto lights & wipers, climate control + I paid for reversing sensors. Renault Cleo Sport Tourer 1200 cc turbo, best car I ever had. A friend has just bought an ex demo Ford for an excellent price and says it does 30 more mpg + only £30 Vehicle tax, another good buy + all the ‘bells and whistles’ included – too many……

You might find depreciation is a bigger cost than fuel ..be careful.

I do about 8000 miles a year, mostly fairly local journeys, in a 10 year old diesel averaging around 38mpg. I’m happy with that. Fuel economy is only one part of my criteria. Overall running cost, utility and versatility (it’s an MPV so doubles as a van with the seats out), reliability, cost of spares – and depreciation that can outweigh fuel economy. I buy used vehicles to minimise depreciation.
As the intro says, deciding just what you want from a vehicle and assessing the overall running costs for your annual mileage are the important decisions, not focusing on a single issue such as fuel.

Every time I’ve run the figures, it is pretty much impossible to save money by trading an existing car for a new, more economical one, due to finance and depreciation costs (even if you buy cash, that money is now tied up in a depreciating asset not earning interest or dividends).

Each time I buy a new car, I do check the economy as part of the overall package. Cars get more economical with each succeeding generation of engine, especially as more advanced materials make their way into the bodywork.

I still always end up buying a Volvo. Life’s too short to drive a car that isn’t comfortable, and they are far and away the most comfortable for my body size and shape. No doubt things will change when I no longer have to drive for work, but right now a short journey is anything less than an hour.

Aside: why isn’t comfort in the buying factors survey? It’s my leading criterion for choice.

Does anyone know where I can find a vehicle comparator that will let me compare by features? In my next car I want:
* Driver awareness monitoring
* Blind spot warning
* Adaptive cruise
* Voice activated satnav
* Electrically heated windscreen

Most cars that have these will have the rest of my essentials list (heated seats, auto, climate control, memory seats and so on). It’s really hard to find the model spec that has each of these without ferreting through many data sheets!

I’ve added comfort to the poll Guy as there haven’t been too many votes yet, so shouldn’t skew the results.

Thanks. It’s important to us tall blokes 🙂

Fuel and other running costs, and reliability, are important to me. Purchase price and depreciation are less important because I keep cars longer than most people.

My ways of saving fuel include combining journeys, take turns with friends to do the driving and avoiding driving at busy times if possible.

Comfort is my most important criterion. I thought “Safety” would be a factor in the selection process but I suppose it’s difficult to separate that from reliability, performance, handling and equipment . . . and the way it’s driven, of course.

To me reliability comes top. Other factors also of course matter one also needs at least a minimum level of comfort, you don’t want to spend a fortune at the fuel station, and the thing needs to be reasonably safe with good brakes and handling, but there is nothing worse than having the thing konk out on you on a dark cold wet night in the middle of nowhere. Been there don’t what to go back too often

Brian Arnold says:
4 April 2014

Re your article Fuel Myths Busted.

I do not know where Which got their information from but coasting does improve the miles per gallon.

I had a car that did 26 mpg and then started coasting not only when I slow down but also down hills. By doing this I have increased the MPG to 29.

I have monitored this regularly and coasting definately increases the mpg by 3.

If you coast in neutral it can make a big difference on a long downhill road. Obviously you need to be careful that you do this safely and are in control of the vehicle at all times, but I have not had a problem in over 45 years’ driving.

Well, it may be that for some cars for long downhill sections coasting is marginally more economical. It’s not going to work for automatics or hybrids and the lack of engine retardation may lead to brake overheating. Overall, I gave up coasting years ago even in manual cars. And I care about economy: I managed to average nearly 30mpg in an automatic Volvo V70 2.5T petrol.

Sure, but if you’re suddenly driving for maximum economy you have a vested interest in seeing a bigger mpg figure. I’d want to see figures from a rolling road, to remove the human element.