‘The cost has become absurd’: UK motorists lament £100-a-tank petrol

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“I won’t be going away nearly so often if this continues, and I’ve already had to come out of retirement to meet rising living costs,” says Carol Halliwell – one of many motorists making a pitstop at Burton-in-Kendal services on her way to the annual horse fair in Appleby.

Sipping tea in her camper van as she plots out the route northbound, Halliwell shares stories of her travels around the UK, but explains it won’t be long before petrol prices become prohibitively high and she has to sell the van.

On Thursday, figures published by data firm Experian showed that the average cost of filling a typical family car with petrol had exceeded £100 for the first time.

Burton-in-Kendal services, on the M6 where Lancashire meets Cumbria, is the last petrol station drivers pass before they hit the Lake District, and it is one of a number across the country now charging more than £2 a litre of unleaded fuel.

View image in fullscreenCarol Halliwall from Darwen says if prices go up much more she’ll have to sell her camper van.
Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Paul Friday, from Liverpool, has stopped off with his family en route to a weekend break in Scotland. “Luckily, I filled the tank before we left, and I’m very glad I did. The cost has become absurd,” he says.

Like Friday, Jim Wight was “shocked” to see the prices when he pulled up. “I’m driving from Torquay up to Dunoon in Scotland to see my dad,” he says. “I just need enough fuel to get me over the border. Fortunately, I can afford to absorb the price increase, but there’ll be many who can’t.”

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View image in fullscreenMark Tyme, a biker from Blackpool, says he’s never had to worry about the cost of filling his tank before. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

It isn’t just car drivers who are feeling the pinch. Mark Tyme, a biker from Blackpool, explains that in 40 years of motorbike ownership, this is the first time he has had to worry about filling up his tank. “I attend rallies throughout the year,” he says. “It’s what I love. But since I retired I have to stick to those happening within a 50-mile radius of where I live – a year ago it was £18 to fill the tank. Now it’s £30.”

Across the forecourt, Steven McGregor is about to head back to Scotland having been the driver for a north-west coach tour. “Coach tours really picked up again after the pandemic, but recently a lot have been cancelled due to the fuel crisis and for those which are still going ahead, the cost is being passed on to passengers.”

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A few feet away, HGV driver James Cunningham is on a break from his job delivering goods to supermarkets across the country. “The only thing we don’t deliver is kids,” he says, smiling briefly before straightening up and leaning in to share that it now costs £1,000 to fill up his lorry – almost twice as much as it did in 2020. “We’re being asked to make a lot more drop-offs per route, and a lot of drivers are calling for strikes. Something like that would bring the country to a standstill.”

View image in fullscreenJames Cunningham, from Glasgow, says it now costs £1,000 to fill up his lorry. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

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Despite the dual pressures of rising fuel and energy costs and a worsening cost of living crisis, the mood at the start of a sunny weekend in Cumbria is generally upbeat. By far the biggest smiles, though, are on the faces of hybrid and electric vehicle owners such as Denise Walsh, who is travelling from Sheffield to the Lake District with husband Steve and Lottie the dog. “The upfront cost of our car was high, but it was well worth it for us. We will get from Sheffield to the Lakes and back without topping up once.”

View image in fullscreenDenise and Steve Walsh are pleased to have their hybrid Toyota car, despite the high upfront cost. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

For those who can’t afford the steep cost of an electric car – averaging at £25,800 for a secondhand vehicle – the AA are advising motorists to “walk or cycle to save money” and “cut out shorter journeys”.

Meanwhile, RAC fuel spokesperson Simon Williams said it was “becoming clearer by the day that the government must take further action to reduce the enormous financial burden on drivers.

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“A temporary cut in VAT on fuel, or a deeper duty cut, are surely what is needed now.”

Asked about the issue on Thursday, Boris Johnson said: “We made a cut already … the biggest cut ever in fuel duty. What I want to see is those cuts having an impact on the pumps.”

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Exiting the forecourt, two NHS paramedics are parked up. “We won’t fill up here. It’s already costing us £50 more than it used to, and it’s going to be the taxpayer who picks up the bill.”

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