Cheapest cars to run

Roman Danaev

With finance repayments, fuel costs, cleaning bills, tax and insurance, cars can be expensive to run. In order to keep costs down and make car ownership manageable, you need to choose the right kind of car. For example, buying a Range Rover and trying to cut corners to reduce costs is a fool’s errand and simply won’t work. At the same time, buying the worst car you can find may be cheap, but it may not fulfil your needs. In this guide, we’ll discuss the characteristics of a car that cheap to run so that you can make the most informed purchasing decision.

First things first, it’s important to establish what you need from a car. If you have a family, you’ll need to factor in the number of seats you’ll need, or perhaps you own a large dog which you regularly take out with you, in which case you’ll need enough boot space for them. Also, where you plan to do most of your driving will influence the type of car you’ll buy. For driving in the city, your car will have to be fuel efficient while enduring the ‘stop-start’ nature of city driving, whereas for regular long journeys, you’ll need a car that can reliably maintain motorway speeds. You’ll also need to take into account the size of the roads you’ll likely be driving on; small country lanes and narrow inner-city streets will require a smaller, nimbler car than open roads and motorways. Once you’ve established these needs, you can then begin your car search with a clear vision in mind.

Factors that affect car costs

Engine size

Engine size contributes to the fuel efficiency, and therefore fuel costs, of a car. A smaller engine will generally less fuel than a larger engine, but it really depends on how you drive the car. Smaller cars with smaller engines are designed for short, easy journeys in cities and towns, and if this describes your driving habits, then a smaller engine is best for you. However, driving long journeys will require a smaller engine work harder than it’s designed to, and will therefore result in lower fuel efficiency than a larger engine. Not to mention the increased risk of damaging a small engine by constantly pushing it to the limit. So, if you tend to drive at high speeds or for long distances, a larger engine may actually be the most fuel-efficient and cheapest option for you in the long run.

Fuel type

The type of fuel your car uses will significantly affect its running costs. Diesel engines are often more fuel-efficient than petrol engines, so people tend to believe that diesel cars are cheaper to run than petrol, but it’s not as straight-forward as that. Diesel cars usually come with a higher price tag and, in the UK at least, diesel costs slightly more to buy than petrol. If you’re making regular long journeys and driving in order to maximise fuel efficiency, then a diesel car will be cheaper in the long run. However, for shorter trips that aren’t at a constant speed, such as in and around cities, your car’s fuel efficiency will suffer, and the petrol option may actually be cheaper due to lower petrol costs and the lower upfront cost. It really depends on your driving habits.

Contemporary alternatives to petrol and diesel include hybrid and electric cars. They’re often noticeably cheaper to run thanks to their excellent fuel efficiency, but come with higher price tags. Electric cars make up for this higher price tag by making journeys cost far less overall. For instance, a 100-mile journey with an electric car will cost between £2 and £4, whereas a 100-mile journey in a petrol or diesel car will cost up to £16.


Taking CO2 emissions into account is not only important from an environmental perspective, it can also have economical benefits. The lowest-polluting cars tend to be the most fuel-efficient, which provides inherent savings by needing to buy fuel less frequently. They also receive significant tax breaks from the government, in the form of both reduced road tax and reduced congestion charges in London. Cars below a certain CO2 emission threshold actually exempt from the congestion charge, so if you drive around London a lot, buying a low-emission car can result in huge savings.


It’s often overlooked, but even the type of gearbox a car has can affect its fuel efficiency and running costs. Manual cars, on the whole, are cheaper than automatic for a number of reasons. Manual gearboxes are lighter and have more gears than automatic gearboxes, allowing for more efficient use of fuel and a lighter car, both of which contribute to increased fuel efficiency and lower fuel costs.

Manual gearboxes have fewer parts than automatic cars, meaning they’re less likely to breakdown, and when they do, they’re easier and cheaper to repair as a result. While automatic cars may be less hassle to drive, opting for a manual gearbox is better from a cost-saving perspective.


Car insurance can be the largest ongoing expenditure that you have when you own a car. As such, to keep costs down, the car insurance you’ll be liable to pay should be factored in when deciding on which car to buy. As a rule, smaller cars are cheaper to insure than larger cars, as are cars with higher safety standards and lower repair costs. There are a number of factors unrelated to the actual car that affect your insurance rates, and they’re mostly about you and your driving habits, but by picking a sensible car that’s appropriate for your needs, you can help to lower costs.

Using our guide, you should be able to find the most affordable car for your particular needs. Of course, a major factor in the cost of running a car is repayments on finance, which is where we at Car Finance Plus can help. We specialise in helping people find affordable car finance options, even if they’re in difficult financial situations or have struggled to secure loans in the past. For more information on how we can help you secure the best car finance for your budget, get in touch with us today.

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