VAT increasing to 20 per cent from January 2011 has pushed fuel prices closer to record highs.
But there seems to be less appetite for revolt now than 10 years ago when 85p a litre prompted lorry drivers to blockade fuel refineries that brought the country to a near standstill.
It is well documented that the amount of tax (including fuel duty) that we pay on fuel in the UK is among the very highest in Europe.
How can we justify such high prices when many of us now pay higher road tax, especially since the higher rates were imposed with almost £1,000 payable for high-CO2 cars in their first year?
Well, it isn’t as if these changes have come in with no warning. Car CO2 emissions have been a tool with which the government has raised money for many years.
And CO2 emissions are directly linked to fuel consumption, and a car’s CO2 emissions are measured during official fuel consumption tests. For example, a diesel car with official fuel consumption of about 63mpg on the combined cycle will have a CO2 emissions figure of about 119g/km.
Likewise a petrol car at with CO2 emissions of about 119g/km should have an official fuel consumption figure of about 57mpg.
Draw the line at about 130g/km, and a petrol car will have fuel consumption around the 50mpg mark, while a diesel car achieved about 57mpg.
But people often point to the official figures as being unrealistic. They are carried out under lab conditions on a rolling road with engines that are run in, they say. Manufacturers optimise the car being tested to try to ensure it records the best possible performance, they say.
That’s a fairly accurate assessment of the tests, but they are designed more as a benchmark to compare one car against another under identical conditions.
Some of the big consumer mags have carried out ‘real world’ tests to prove the figures mean nothing.
These tests are usually carried out in London under conditions where the official combined figure has little hope of being replicated.
And when the publisher is meeting fuel expenses, there is less of an incentive for the driver to be frugal with it.
I’ve done a few fuel consumption experiments on the road. One was eight years ago in a Vauxhall Vectra 2.2 DTi, a car with an official combined fuel consumption figure of 43.5mpg.
The test, based on roads around High Wycombe, was to see how far the car would travel using half a gallon of diesel. Sat in the passenger seat was an official from the RAC to ensure the car was driven safely.
During the test, the car averaged 56.8mpg, having travelled 27.4 miles on half a gallon of diesel. That’s a 30 per cent improvement over the official figure, or equivalent to fuel costing 30 per cent less.
If we go back 10 years to those blockades at fuel refineries which left petrol and diesel in short supply, the car I was driving at the time was a Mazda 626 2.0 Sport.
The official fuel consumption figure on the combined cycle for that car was 34.9mpg.
Despite the fuel shortages, I still had to travel for work, so had to modify my driving style dramatically. It resulted in average fuel consumption improving substantially, with a brim-to-brim measurement of 52.8mpg.
That’s equivalent to fuel costing 50 per cent less – at the time effectively making it about 60p per litre.
So if the cost of fuel really is a problem, the best course of action is to change your driving style to ensure you’re making every litre count.
And that doesn’t mean driving slowly. Tests have shown that the optimum change-up points for fuel consumption in a petrol car is about the 2,500rpm mark, and for diesel at about 2,000rpm, and reaching those points quickly is more efficient. Brisk acceleration may be encouraged.
Greater observation and planning can result in less frequent use of the brakes. Every time you use the brakes, you are wasting energy that has cost money to attain.
Luckily many modern cars use energy recuperation technology to scavenge some of this energy under braking, but it’s good practice to think carefully about how you drive regardless of the technology on board.
And yet, a drive along any road in the UK with a 70mph limit shows many people think the legal maximum is optional, and are content to burn away their fuel maybe 20 per cent quicker by travelling at 80mph or higher.
Ultimately, if everyone is doing all they can to stretch their tanks of fuel as far as they can go, then we need to look at fuel duty far more closely and work out a more equitable way of raising revenue from vehicle use.