The last thing rural dwellers need this week is the Grangemouth oil strike. Though the Scottish refinery’s output theoretically should have minimal impact on prices on the forecourt, on the back of the industrial unrest and against a backdrop of unprecedented high crude oil prices, many garages took the opportunity to raise their charges to historic highs with one Scottish petrol station in Kirkaldy demanding an eye-watering £1.30 per litre of diesel.

As consumers are effectively held to ransom by the fuel companies, accusations of profiteering have been rife, but how does this rise in costs translate to the shooter? As Shooting Times discovered earlier this year (Budget 08/09, 31 January), shooters face higher prices for fuel, wheat, poults and covercrop seed. On a typical 1,500-bird, eight-day syndicate shoot this looks likely to cause a year-on-year rise of 14.2 per cent in total shoot expenditure next season. Of these, fuel is one item shoots have to shell out the most on. How can you save money in the eye of this inflationary perfect storm?

Slow down, take care

It stands to reason that if you use your 4×4 less, then you are using less fuel. If you can walk where previously you would have driven, consider it. Or if you can take the Fiesta instead of the Range Rover, do so. It’s not glamorous advice and not always practical with several hundredweight of corn to lug a mile, but it could translate into fewer trips to the pumps. Equally, routine fuel-scrimping techniques such as closing your windows, turning off the air conditioning, engaging two-wheel drive, driving smoothly in a high gear and having the vehicle serviced regularly all apply. These measures really only apply to more commonplace journeys, however — not the kind a typical shoot vehicle will make on pen visits or hopper duties, when fuel economy is generally lower as a rule. With a 4×4, correct tyre pressure is especially significant, particularly for those who run it low for better grip off-road. Take the time to inflate the tyres when necessary.

The diesel advantage?

These common-sense fuel-saving tips are very worthy saving fuel saves money but which fuel is the best to drive on? Diesel is currently more expensive than petrol (approximately 10 per cent). Therefore, in order to make a saving with diesel, it is key that two essential factors (the vehicle’s purchase price and the increased economy of the diesel engine) combine to give an advantage. In the case of the vehicles shooters drive, a diesel variant is markedly more expensive to buy than a petrol one. The image of the gas-guzzling V8 is not positive, and inevitably you will make more trips to garages, but the reduced purchase price, which might be several thousand pounds, can, over the course of 30,000 miles (three years’ worth of typical fuel bills), equate to an overall saving.

The examples below do not factor in costs such as road tax, servicing and insurance, but they do show how diesel may not always be the wisest choice. Other factors such as the towing ability and torque characteristics of a given engine apply as well, but with a new vehicle such as the basic Nissan X-Trail, the increased cost of the diesel version and the increased cost of the fuel mean that after 30,000 miles the diesel buyer would be more than £1,000 worse off.

Differences can be even more marked in the second-hand market, where bigger-engined petrol 4x4s are as popular as semi-autos on a grouse day. Using Parkers as a guide for purchase prices (www.parkers.co.uk), over three years or 30,000 miles a 2001 V8 Discovery works out at £500 per year more expensive to buy and fuel than its Td5 diesel equivalent. Hammer the purchase price down on the unpopular petrol version and that difference grows smaller. Equally, will you be using it as an everyday car as well as a shoot vehicle, or do you only need something to pootle around in which comes into its own in the season? Drop the mileage to a realistic 5,000 miles per year for a V8-engined shoot vehicle, and on fuel and purchase price alone it becomes £350 or so per year cheaper than the Td5 (based on the fuel prices below). However, at 16mpg visits to your local forecourt will be more frequent.

The LPG benefit?

Converting to LPG is not a new concept, and companies exist nationwide to carry out the process. The biggest savings to be had in fuel terms come at the LPG pumps, with fuel costing an average of 56p per litre. That sounds a great deal, but unless you buy a vehicle which has already been converted either new or second-hand, you will have to pay for the job to be done. It costs from around £1,600 and thanks to their popularity, grants for LPG conversions are no longer offered. Suddenly the benefit looks less appealing but, using the V8 Discovery example, an LPG conversion could still win the day. Thirty thousand miles on LPG at 16mpg works out at £4,773. A purchase price of £5,820, conversion at £1,600 and the fuel cost still deliver a saving of more than £1,400 over 30,000 miles compared with a Td5 diesel. But due to its lower calorific value compared with petrol, you will see a slight drop in fuel economy on LPG.

Increasingly, LPG-converted vehicles are available on the second-hand market. Jeep Grand Cherokees are a popular choice. Concern over running out of LPG miles away from a filling station is also unfounded, even in rural areas. The network is expanding and you can always flick back to your existing petrol tank in an emergency. You can reduce costs further too by installing your own LPG storage tank, particularly useful for larger estates.

Conclusion

At a time when fuel prices are just one element of the spiralling costs affecting shooting, the need to save money in whatever way possible is imperative. But the traditional diesel-is-cheapest attitude simply doesn’t apply to shoots. Very often shoots will utilise a dedicated vehicle which won’t travel more than a couple of thousand miles a year the purchase price can be offset considerably against the lower price per litre of petrol, meaning it can work out cheaper to run what, on the face of it, seems a more expensive option. When it comes to saving on fuel, paying out a little in the short term, as with LPG, to save in the long term could pay off, but do your homework first.

The rest of this article appears in 1 May issue of Shooting Times.

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