Petrol prices: March worst month ever at the pumps

Petrol prices: March worst month ever at the pumps 2
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Motorists endured one of the ‘worst months ever at the pumps’ in March as fuel prices grew the largest amount on record, despite the Chancellor’s efforts to cut the cost of petrol and diesel by lowering fuel duty.

The average cost of a litre of petrol at forecourts rose by 11.6p from the beginning to the end of the month, with prices hitting 163.3p on 31 March, analysis of Experian Catalist data found.

Diesel prices rose even more sharply, up 22.1p per litre to 177.3p.

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The RAC confirmed this was the most substantial monthly rise since records began back in 2000, gulfing the previous jumps of 7.4p a litre for petrol last October and an 8.4p leap for diesel recorded in May 2008.

'Worst month EVER at the pumps': Petrol and diesel prices soared 11p and 22p a litre respectively in March as motorists endured the largest monthly spike in costs to fill up

‘Worst month EVER at the pumps’: Petrol and diesel prices soared 11p and 22p a litre respectively in March as motorists endured the largest monthly spike in costs to fill up

The impact of the almost-daily price rises on drivers’ wallets was ‘severe’, the motoring group said. 

The UK average cost to fill a 55-litre family car’s fuel tank rose to £89.80 by the end of March, which was £6.38 more than it did at the start of the month and £21.93 more than a year ago – a rise of almost a third. 

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The effect of the rise in diesel prices was even more pronounced with the cost to brim a tank up £12.13, from £85.38 on 1 March to £97.51 by the close of the month.

That’s around £15 more than it cost to fill a diesel car’s tank at the start of January, and £27.84 more than a year ago – a massive 40 per cent rise. 

Northern Ireland saw the biggest regional average rise, with the price of petrol and diesel accelerating by 15.01p and 25.06p a litre respectively from the start to the end of the month.

The rest of the UK saw similar average price increases throughout March. 

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Analysis of Experian Catalist data found that the average cost of a litre of petrol rose by 11.6p from the beginning to the end of the month, with prices eventually hitting 163.3p

Analysis of Experian Catalist data found that the average cost of a litre of petrol rose by 11.6p from the beginning to the end of the month, with prices eventually hitting 163.3p

Diesel prices rose even more sharply in March, increasing by a massive 22.1p per litre to 177.3p by 31 March

Diesel prices rose even more sharply in March, increasing by a massive 22.1p per litre to 177.3p by 31 March

Forecourt prices across the country were sent into orbit on the back of the war in Ukraine and concerns over supplies as countries committed to rejecting Russian oil.

The cost of a barrel started the month at $112.99 before peaking at a 14-year high of $137.72 on 8 March, two weeks after the war began. 

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While the price fell to $109.98 by the end of March, rises earlier in the month had already pushed up wholesale fuel prices, causing drivers to pay even more to fill up. 

Such was the alarming increase in pump prices that Rishi Sunak was forced to end the 11-year freeze on fuel duty on 23 March, cutting taxation on petrol and diesel by 5p a litre.

The cost to fill a 55-litre family car's fuel tank rose to £89.80 on average by the end of March, which was £6.38 more than it did at the start of the month and £21.93 more than a year ago

The cost to fill a 55-litre family car’s fuel tank rose to £89.80 on average by the end of March, which was £6.38 more than it did at the start of the month and £21.93 more than a year ago

The cost to fill up has remained high across the country following the Chancellor's fuel duty cut on 23 March, which was essentially wiped out within days by rising oil prices

The cost to fill up has remained high across the country following the Chancellor’s fuel duty cut on 23 March, which was essentially wiped out within days by rising oil prices

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While some supermarket filling stations immediately lowered fuel prices by 6p per litre – taking into account the additional 1p a litre impact on VAT – that evening, many retailers refused to pass savings onto consumers until they purchased fuel at the reduced cost. 

What is fuel duty?

Petrol prices: March worst month ever at the pumps 3

With the Chancellor announcing a 5p-a-litre cut to fuel duty from 23 March, it presents an opportune time to give you a refresher course on what it actually is.

Rishi Sunak confirmed in his Spring Statement that he has trimmed the levy on every litre of fuel from 57.95p-a-litre to 52.95p as part of efforts to ease the burden of record petrol and diesel prices on motorists.

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It is only the second cut to fuel duty in 20 years (the first was in March 2011) and the lower rate of duty will be kept in place until March 2023. The RAC calculates that it will reduce the cost of filling a typical 55-litre family petrol car by around £3.

Here we explain how much fuel duty contributes towards the total cost of petrol and diesel, when it was first introduced, how expensive it is in comparison to taxation in other countries and what the future is for the levy when cars switch to electric power… 

> Read our fuel duty explainer here 

The Chancellor’s duty cut unfortunately took place on a day when the oil price jumped by $6 a barrel and forced wholesale prices higher, instantly nullifying the impact of the tax break. 

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However, if the Chancellor hadn’t cut duty when he did, drivers would have been paying even more for their fuel then they had been. 

Despite this, average petrol and diesel prices have so far fallen by a disappointing 3.73p and 2.61p respectively since the Chancellor’s address to the Commons.

Simon Williams, RAC fuel spokesman, said March 2022 would ‘go down in the history books as one of the worst months ever when it comes to pump prices’.

He added: ‘Without question, these figures show in the starkest possible terms just how much fuel prices are contributing to the cost-of-living crisis which will be affecting households up and down the country.

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‘Drivers might well be feeling aggrieved that the Chancellor’s ‘historic’ fuel duty cut announced in the spring statement just two weeks ago has done nothing to protect them from price increases.

‘The fact pump prices have fallen so little reflects the fact that the cost to retailers of buying fuel had been going up ahead of the spring statement.’

Williams says the prices are not likely to change drastically in the coming weeks, which is bad news for those looking to travel during Easter holidays. 

‘Sadly this Easter, traditionally the biggest getaway time of the year on the roads, is shaping up to be the costliest on record for drivers and there’s very little they can do to escape the high cost of filling up,’ he said.

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Ten tips to drive efficiently to avoid soaring fuel prices: With petrol and diesel at record highs, it's imperative that motorists drive as efficiently as possible to make the most of their fuel

Ten tips to drive efficiently to avoid soaring fuel prices: With petrol and diesel at record highs, it’s imperative that motorists drive as efficiently as possible to make the most of their fuel

Ten eco-driving tips to help you reduce your fuel consumption

With the nation’s motorists currently paying more for fuel than they’ve ever had to before, many will be looking at ways to cut their petrol and diesel bills where possible.

Experts and bookmakers say the possibility of drivers paying sky-high prices for some time, meaning little respite for Britons already facing a cost of living crisis. 

But there are things YOU can do to extend the time between visits to forecourts – if you’re willing to change how you drive and prepare your vehicle to be as economical as possible. 

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Using really simple eco-driving techniques – like those listed below – ‘can easily save the equivalent of 9p-a-litre’, says the AA. 

For motorists desperately wanting to get the most out of the expensive fuel they’re currently pumping into their cars, This is Money has compiled our top 10 best tips to drive as efficiently as possible…

1. Make sure the vehicle is in tip-top running order 

If you drive an older car that hasn’t been serviced for a few years, now might be the time to get it booked in to ensure it is running as efficiently as it possibly can be. 

Sticking brakes, ageing tyres, faulty sensors, old oil and general poor engine maintenance are just some of the factors that could hit your car’s optimum miles per gallon (mpg) performance. 

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Ensuring tyres are correctly inflated is one of the easiest ways to ensure your car isn't being inefficient with its fuel

Ensuring tyres are correctly inflated is one of the easiest ways to ensure your car isn’t being inefficient with its fuel

2. Check tyre pressures

One of the easiest fixes to ensure your vehicle is running at peak efficiency is to regularly check that the tyres are inflated to the correct level. 

Underinflated tyres are estimated to impact a car’s fuel consumption by up to 10 per cent. 

Check the car’s owner’s manual to find out what the optimum pressures are. Most models also have the tyre pressure info detailed on a sticker on the driver’s door sill – while modern cars might also display the pressure in the instrument cluster, or alert you to pressure that is incorrect. 

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Most modern cars have adjustable driving settings that modulate how quickly they accelerate. If yours has an 'ECO' mode, like the one pictured, you should use it

Most modern cars have adjustable driving settings that modulate how quickly they accelerate. If yours has an ‘ECO’ mode, like the one pictured, you should use it

3. If your car has an ‘eco’ mode, use it

Many modern motors are now fitted with adjustable driving modes. 

If yours does, it likely has an ‘eco’ setting. Using these mode will restrict how quickly the car accelerates. 

Slower and smoothers acceleration will but will help reduce fuel consumption. 

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4. If your car doesn’t have an eco setting, be gentle on the throttle

If you have a car that doesn’t have adjustable driving modes, try to replicate what it does with your right foot. This means taking it easy on the throttle pedal when you can.

Excessive speed is the biggest fuel-guzzling factor so having a light right foot and ensuring all acceleration is gentle is very important to fuel-efficient driving.

When you set off from a standstill, such as at traffic lights and junctions, try not to react like you’re on the starting grid at Silverstone.

The RAC says choosing a higher gear will mean you're not overworking the engine and therefore lessening the demand for fuel

The RAC says choosing a higher gear will mean you’re not overworking the engine and therefore lessening the demand for fuel

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5. Use the highest gear possible 

The RAC says that the biggest secret to achieving high mpg is driving in the highest possible gear for your vehicle while keeping within the speed limit. 

‘The best advice in urban areas is to change up through the gears as quickly as you can with the lowest revs possible, probably at around 2000rpm,’ it says. 

6. Anticipate well ahead to preserve fuel when braking

Heavy acceleration will sap fuel economy, but braking too heavily also has the same impact, as you can use less fuel by coming to a standstill more gradually.

This requires a driver to anticipate traffic flow ahead, but is a great way of limiting fuel use.   

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If you're a long-distance driver who relies on cruise control, it might be worth avoiding using it while petrol and diesel prices are as high as they currently are

If you’re a long-distance driver who relies on cruise control, it might be worth avoiding using it while petrol and diesel prices are as high as they currently are

7. Cruise control isn’t your friend if you want to save fuel 

While many will believe that using cruise control functionality will provide the lowest fuel use, this isn’t always the case.

Cruise control is most likely to benefit mpg on motorways with a constant speed and a flat surface.

However, if you were to use your cruise control regularly and not on flat roads, you would see fuel consumption increase.

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‘This is because your cruise control would be slower to react to gradient changes, meaning when reaching the brow of a hill – at which point you would normally take your foot off the accelerator to maintain more of a constant speed when descending – your cruise control will keep the power on for a little longer as it’s unable to see the gradient change in front of you. 

‘Driving in this way regularly would lead to worse fuel consumption,’ says the RAC. 

Don’t use your air conditioning unless you really have to as it uses engine power and therefore increases fuel consumption.

8. Avoid using the air-con and heater

Don’t use your air conditioning unless you really have to as it uses engine power and therefore increases fuel consumption by as much as 10 per cent on shorter journeys.

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This shouldn’t be an issue during the cooler months, though using a car’s heater will have a similar impact, with it running off the engine power and therefore lowering fuel economy.

Dress accordingly for the weather, is the best advice.

9. A warm engine is more efficient, so run multiple errands in a single journey

Once an engine is warm it will operate most efficiently, whereas several cold starts will increase fuel consumption.

So if you have a number of errands or trips in a day, try to do all of them in one go.

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The AA adds that the changing season from winter to spring should also help improve fuel economy.

Warmer temperatures should improve mpg ‘significantly’ with an extra three miles to the gallon ‘almost guaranteed for most’, it claims. 

Having an empty roofbox fitted to the top of your car will make it far less drag efficient, which means the engine will have to work harder - and use more fuel - to counteract this

Having an empty roofbox fitted to the top of your car will make it far less drag efficient, which means the engine will have to work harder – and use more fuel – to counteract this

10. Lighten your car’s load

While this isn’t going to make the biggest difference to your mpg figures, emptying heavy clutter from your car will fractionally improve its fuel economy.

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And if you’re not using roof bars and a roof box, take them off as it could make your motor less drag efficient.  

According to the Energy Saving Trust, an empty roof rack adds 16 per cent drag when driving at 75mph. At the same speed a roof box adds 39 per cent, making your vehicle much less fuel efficient.

Driving with a window fully open also has a similar effect.

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